Is Cancel Culture working?

Why Cancel Culture is Problematic

Cancelling people has become a widespread phenomenon in the last decade. Not only celebrities, but journalists, politicians, professors, artists and across the entire media and political landscape are affected. Cancelling an individual, however, often goes beyond simply pointing out mistakes they made. It is often imbued with ideological beliefs, posing a huge threat to constructive criticism and real progress.

Understanding the Debate

Cancel Culture can be seen as a position of moral high ground which is used by an individual or a group of people to oust someone from social or professional circles. It’s often connected to social media, as it poses as an easy way to publicly point out mistakes people have made. An example where social media was predominantly involved is the #MeToo movement of 2017, in which women were encouraged to come forward with stories about sexual harassment they have experienced. A prominent figure that was – justly – cancelled was Harvey Weinstein. The case of Weinstein clearly shows one of the advantages Cancel Culture provides: successfully seeking and often rightfully pointing out grievances.

The Shortcomings of Cancel Culture

Even though there are many instances where Cancel Culture came forth as useful, inspiring entire movements, it shouldn’t be treated uncritically. Especially on social media, cancellations can happen almost at lightspeed. Earlier that day someone was a genuine, down-to-earth celebrity and from one moment to another, they are someone to avoid. Cancellation instead of conversation seems to be the mantra of such debates. James Gunn, for example, was called out when a right-wing media personality discovered offensive tweets that he posted in 2009 and 2010. The outcry on Twitter was tremendous, leading Disney to fire the director in a response to the outrage. The media backlash was mostly led by progressive leftists despite having originated from the opposite side of the political spectrum. All of this happened without taking into consideration how Gunn’s position on the matter has changed since then, rendering his personal growth in the past ten years practically invisible. Even after having apologised for the tweets that he posted a decade ago, it took a lot of effort from various actors and actresses to get him rehired by Disney. Judging people based on things they did throughout their lives doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of what they stand for today. Another shortcoming is the actual lack of reach and consequences for people that have been cancelled. Kanye West, for instance, faced a massive backlash as well after publicly supporting Donald Trump and calling slavery “a choice”. Yet the outcries have had very little consequences for his career, his music, and his fashion.

What Cancel Culture Misses

Cancel Culture can be problematic because it’s often used as a weapon more than it’s used to point out grievances. However, this isn’t to say that it can’t be used to hold people accountable. The way it is often executed is just missing vital parts of any discussion: constructivism and engagement in good faith.  Sometimes, it can be more about destroying a person and making way for personal beliefs rather than constructive criticism based on facts.

Author: Samuel Brand