If you spend time on any media platform, you have likely been a witness to cancel culture. It refers to the popular Internet phenomenon of withdrawing support from someone, or “canceling” them. These “someones” are often public figures or companies that have done or said something that has been considered objectionable or offensive.
Although it is on the Internet, this idea is not exactly new to us. Cancel culture has often been considered to be a form of boycotting which can be acceptable. However, the extent that cancel culture takes in doing this is often disputed.
The term “canceled” had been used a joke since the 1990s, but it got its big boost in 2010, when the “Love & Hip-Hop: New York” star Cisco Rosado told his love interest, Diamond Strawberry, that she was canceled during one of their fights. The term was then used, in a comedic manner, on social media.
In the mid-2010s, the term was no longer lobbed at friends, but at celebrities and other entities who had done something to offend the person doing the canceling, and then suddenly the term was no longer a joke. Instead, it was used to draw attention to a public figure’s problematic behavior and promoted a boycott of them professionally.
Some defend cancel culture and argue that it is a way of speaking truth to power. After all, boycotts are nothing new, and where you spend your money is entirely your business. It has to be said that some good has come out of cancel culture. Various YouTubers who have done disgusting things have been held accountable because of cancel culture.
One such YouTuber is Austin Jones, a sex offender who reached out and groomed underage fans, who was exposed by a music website and an online petition made by an anonymous 15-year-old girl. This lead to him withdrawing from a tour and eventually uploading a video online admitting to his crimes.
Cancel culture has also been used against various celebrities and businesses as backlash for unacceptable behavior like the use of slurs or discriminatory practices, which typically results in an apology from the person or policy change from the businesses.
There are also many people on the Internet who condemn cancel culture for a plethora of reasons. The biggest critique that many have for cancel culture is that it’s an excuse for petty drama and that it can form a mob mentality. Fans of different artists have been known to attack and “cancel” anyone who says anything remotely negative about their favorite artists, and it can result in a bombardment of attacks from those fans.
One of the most famous incidents online includes fans of Beyoncé — the beyhive as they’re known online — to attack celebrity chef Rachel Ray, confusing her for Rachel Roy, another celebrity that had been accused of being the “other woman” in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage. And even though abuse was launched at her online, Rachel Ray took the attacks on her in stride, joked that she was flattered to be grouped with Beyoncé and thought the whole thing was hilarious. And although Ray was alright with it, many were bothered by the way people had gone about attacking her.
This leads to the second problem with cancel culture. While some call out the behaviors of others with the good intention of holding them accountable, others take advantage of the outrage to hurl degrading insults and abuse at others online. In fact, there have been many times when cancel culture spiraled into an online bullying fest, where the “canceled” individuals were subject to attacks about their looks, their loved ones and even had death threats made against them. So, while the backlash can come from a place of good intention, it does not warrant the mental anguish people are put through. After all, two wrongs don’t make a right.
Cancel culture has resulted in some good, like exposing celebrities and corporations for doing some heinous deeds, but most of the time it does nothing. In fact, most celebrities and businesses don’t suffer any hits to their career or profits. For example, Kevin Hart was “canceled” over homophobic comments he had made in the past and he withdrew from hosting the Oscars in 2019, but his movies and stand-up specials are still successful post-cancellation. Scarlett Johansson is “canceled” every now and again over comments that she makes but is still offered roles and is not blacklisted in any way. Other than stressing out the person being “canceled” to a maximum degree, a typical case of cancel culture doesn’t do much.
In late 2019, former President Barack Obama discussed cancel culture and stated that “that’s not activism.” And he’s right. Considering not much happens once the backlash dies down, in most cases cancel culture proves useless.