October 30, 2020

Cancel culture isn’t real

 President Barack Obama once cautioned against cancel culture by saying, “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.”

Cancel culture is useless, but it is democratic. It does not work, but it does. It is a means for the powerless to use their voice to speak to power, but it is also totalitarian in nature. 

Confused? Me too. 

Cancel culture refers to the act of online shaming an individual or company by a large group of internet users. It can also refer to a boycott of one’s work to take away their public platform and power. The climate of this culture has left numerous public figures fearful for their public profiles. Some fear they may lose their current employment-based upon past comments or actions.  

Cancel culture, as it has been dubbed, grew to prominence in the shadow the Black Lives Matter movement and as a mainstay of the #MeToo movement. During the #MeToo movement, Twitter users used the hashtag to out individuals for sexual harassment or assault. One of the most notable names of the #MeToo movement is Harvey Weinstein, a notable Hollywood producer. Following a series of allegations published in The New York Times and The New Yorker, Weinstein was fired from his production company. Weinstein is currently incarcerated awaiting his second trial in Los Angeles.   

Most recently, we have seen this play out between a large group of Twitter users and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Following a series of tweets that some deemed to be transphobic, Rowling experienced a continued backlash on the social media platform. Also on Twitter, Grammy winner Adele was “cancelled” for wearing bantu knots to the Notting Hill Carnival, a festival celebrating Caribbean culture.

Cancel culture can apply to all sides of the political spectrum. American conservatives have called for boycotts of the NFL and NBA for their support of Black Lives Matter. American liberals have called for boycotts of Chik-Fil-A for their support of anti-LGBTQ+ charities and causes. 

On July 7, over 150 scholars and public figures, including linguist Noam Chomsky, signed an open letter decrying cancel culture and its climate. Chomsky has stated, “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like.”    

President Barack Obama once cautioned against cancel culture by saying, “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.”

He shares his criticism with President Donald Trump, who compared cancel culture to totalitarianism. In fact, a YouGov poll found that 52% of Americans believe cancel culture is at least somewhat of a social issue. 

Despite opposition from many notable individuals, scholars and the general U.S. populace, many have questioned if cancel culture even exists or is in fact a threat.Vice journalist Connor Garel stated that cancel culture, “rarely has any tangible or meaningful effect on the lives and comfortability of the cancelled.” 

It’s true– Adele’s bantu knots have not detracted a single dollar from her multi-million-dollar bank account, and J.K. Rowling is set to release her next book (ironically, about a cross-dressing serial killer). Cancel culture has proven to be so effective that a man could call Mexican immigrants “rapists” and still become president of the United States. 

The truth is, cancel culture is simply people attempting to organize boycotts just online. Just like in real life, some boycotts work and some do not. Calling cancel culture totalitarianism is ridiculous when you consider this is what a democratic society behaves like. In regards to prominent individuals or businesses being targeted, it is best to draw your own conclusions on why others would call for their “cancellation” than to let the notion of a spooky “cancel culture” detract you from organizing online. 

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