What started as a joke turned into a whole new movement. Cancel culture seems to be shaping the popular culture and social media world, and no one is safe.
But why is the issue so polarizing and complex, and is it even all that real? We’re breaking it all down in today’s blog.
What is Cancel Culture?
Every so often, we wake up to breaking news of a celebrity, a popular influencer, or a public figure getting “canceled.”
The story usually goes something like this – A problematic tweet, a photo, a comment, or an action of the public figure surfaces, followed by a massive reaction calling the public to immediately “cancel” the person. Meaning to unfollow all of their social media accounts, stop buying their products. And even report their accounts and contact their sponsors or employers.
It even goes as far as audiences tuning in to watch live decrease in their followers count.
Unlike the “Call-Out” incidents that serve to point to a toxic, discriminatory, or offensive behavior or a comment, a Cancel campaign is much more severe. It calls for a complete boycott of everything connected to the celebrity or influencer in question. Most of the time, we’ve seen sponsorships and massive brand deals being called off due to a cancel campaign.
Just a quick search on Twitter, for example, will show thousands of cancel campaigns you might never even heard of. If you insert pretty much any well-known name in this hashtag #_______IsOverParty, there’s a great chance a cancel campaign of a sort may pop up. It’s hard to keep up, really, as there are so many happening all the time.
The complexity of cancel culture
On the one hand, it seems perfectly reasonable to call out offensive and discriminating behavior. And have the person suffer the consequences of their own actions and words. For the longest time, celebrities have been overprotected by their divine-like status, and problematic behavior and reckless remarks were pretty well covered up. Until social media happened and exposed everyone’s true colors. Actually, it took a while before public figures started getting called out on their behavior.
With the new era of woke culture and authentic values getting to the forefront, people let no offensive action go unnoticed. And it seems just as the new wave of social media influencers emerged to the scene, so did the cancel advocates with the new norms of conduct no one is exempted from.
However, let’s take any of the most famous cases into account. We can notice that a great majority of these celebrities’ careers are still going great—some even better than before the infamous cancellation event.
Let’s take the extensively publicized Kevin Hart incident, for example. After some of his past allegedly homophobic tweets resurfaced, he was faced with a public backlash and a massive cancel campaign that cost the comedian-turned-actor a hosting gig at the 2019 Oscars.
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Even though the cancel Kevin Hart campaign was all the rave on social media for months afterward, it kind of didn’t happen. Hart is well and kicking. He’s living his best life as it appears. He’s starring in his own production company movies, appearing on major TV shows, and loving every minute of it only two years after the infamous event.
Although the most publicized, this case is far from being the only one. The Instagram influencers and YouTubers cancel culture is on another level. The public can’t catch a break with scandals, offensive tweets, and past behaviors of the popular influencers showing up each minute. With a handful number of exceptions, most of them have been able to get away with a heart-felt apology video. And their devoted army of followers just continued to soar.
How can we forget the 2018 highly-publicized incident involving a popular beauty guru Laura Lee. A typical cancel culture case if we ever saw one. After some of her old problematic tweets resurfaced, the internet world came for the successful beauty influencer with a boycott campaign threatening to ruin her every business venture and brand collab.
Two apology videos later, and we can see Lee completely getting her life and business back on track. With even more massive brand deals and her own personal brands and endeavors, it almost seems like the scandal worked in her favor.
So, it really makes you wonder if these campaigns have any real effect. Of course, we can notice positive changes and even overcompensation for past wrongful actions in most cases. However, a full-on “cancellation” of the person in question has rarely ever happened. There is an infinite amount of new audiences to entertain and new angles to cover that the actual cancellation never takes place.
But what did happen is the creation of the mob mentality. What started as a completely legitimate way to call out a generally harmful behavior has turned into full-on orchestrated attacks on people making the simplest mistakes. It seems like there’s an angry army of supervisors watching for any minor slip-up to use it to end someone’s entire career. This creates anxiety among celebrities and content creators who are compromising on authenticity out of fear.
Comedians are significantly affected by this new mentality. They used to run free and pack slightly offensive stereotypes into some of the most hilarious jokes. Nowadays, these types of bits could potentially get them canceled for good. You can hear it all the time in podcasts hosted by legendary comedians like Whitney Cummings. Whenever she or her comedian friends try to deconstruct a popular stereotype to make a joke, there’s always that underlying fear of getting canceled.
AM I CANCELED OR NOT CAN YOU TELL ME— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) November 18, 2020
Is cancel culture justified?
To a degree, it seems like it is. It has drawn some much-needed attention to discriminatory and offensive behavior towards people of color and LGBTQIA+ communities. Insane tweets, offensive online or offline comments, or weird cases of cultural appropriation are no longer turned a blind eye to. Overall, people are becoming more conscious and aware of how their behavior and words can inflict harm. Others just have too much at stake and keep quiet for fear of losing their jobs, celebrity status, and wealth.
Although it’s primarily YouTubers and influencers that have much to lose, as their currency lies in the number of followers, regular celebrities are becoming more careful as well with the relatively recent massive scandals like the 2020 Ellen DeGeneres backlash.
When put to good use, the mob mentality can do wonders. People coming together to protest police violence against black communities following the horrendous murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by police officer Derek Chauvin justifies the outrage and the backlash. Or when a celebrity is called out for a past racial slur like the famous makeup guru Jeffree Star who then apologized for using the N-word in the past.
On the other hand, when we face a new Twitter cancel campaign daily claiming that So and So should be canceled basically for expressing an opinion that doesn’t agree with the majority of the Twitter community, we have to pause and ask – who is really the offender here?
The cancel culture getting canceled
As the trend got more prominent and more insane in terms of the grounds they were based upon, the public started to get fed up. The mass hate campaigns seem to serve no actual purpose in the end. After the initial scandal settles down, celebrities and influencers always find a way to bounce back. And the masses only get more enraged and direct the hate to the next one.
If we step away for a second, we might realize that these scenarios don’t really go beyond Twitter. Just remember that 10% of Twitter users generate 80% of tweets next time you jump on the bandwagon and lose perspective. It’s pretty crazy how fast we are to believe something is trending. Everyone is out to get a particular celeb, when in reality, if you ask any real-life people, chances are most of them haven’t even heard about cancel culture.
Even if it did create massive impact publicity-wise, it’s doesn’t seem to be quite working. As many more thoughtful and more mindful people have pointed out, it’s pointless to condemn someone for their past mistakes. We’ve all made them, simply because we didn’t know any better. We should give people the benefit of the doubt if their present actions speak of growth, just like we would like others to treat us.
Another valuable insight comes from another great comedian Sarah Silverman that proposes a more sustainable way of dealing with problematic behavior. Instead of indulging in toxic cancellation campaigns and only impose more hate and harm, we could encourage celebrities and influencers to learn and do better.
As cancel culture slowly loses its flare, it remains to be seen how the tide will shift and when we will all collectively start communicating and learning better.