I don’t know what to think about cancel culture

The idea and realities of cancel culture have been running around a little in my head recently. Usually when I think about these questions, I can usually come to some kind of conclusion about what I think, but the only thing I really feel about cancel culture is that it seems to be getting out of control.

Besides that, I have so many unanswered questions about what is right and wrong and good and bad about cancel culture. The ratio of questions to answers in this post is about to be galactic.

I think that many people know the phrase, “cancel culture”, but the other day in class, my art teacher who is in her late twenties and is very cool asked about it, so here’s my definition. Cancel culture is a phrase that describes how on the internet, swarms of people will collectively outcast—or “cancel”—someone famous or someone with a public platform for saying or doing something politically incorrect/plain wrong.

Depending on the which corners of the internet you spend your time in, the stories and effects of cancelling might be non-exisistent. If you tell me about a Youtuber or some social media person that got cancelled, that will very likely be news to me, but there have been a few stories of people getting cancelled that I actually heard about as they happened.

This first person is a scenario that seems to keep repeating. New ugly information will come out about a famous deceased person, and their name will be extremely hurt by it. Last year a documentary came out called Leaving Neverland. It’s about two men who say that when they were kids, they were sexually abused by Michael Jackson.

Does that mean we should stop listening to Michael Jackson’s music? Does listening to music made by Michael Jackson say anything about what you believe about his actions? When we realize that major historical figures and artists did terrible things out of sight, does that affect how we interact with the great things they did or the great art they made? What do we do with two clashing truths?

This second person is a story in which being canceled caused disastrous consequences while they were still alive and will likely mark their whole life. This is probably the more common story. At the end of the year, a comedian named Shane Gillis was fired from SNL. Journalists had found videos of him making different comments that were deemed as racist, homophobic, and anti-Semetic.

I don’t watch SNL, so in a different circumstance this development would’ve been of no interest to me, but Shane Gillis’ story involved Andrew Yang. If you’ve never heard of Andrew Yang either, he’s one of the Democratic candidates running for president this year.

(Quick digression about Andrew Yang. I just like him. I feel like it doesn’t happen too often that you actually like a politician as a person. Okay, digression over.)

Shane Gillis made a comment that specifically referenced Andrew Yang, but instead of participating in the cancelling, Yang did something different. While he completely did not condone or brush off what Gillis said, Yang also threw out an offer-“But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like.”

From that same article is a quote from a person who disagreed with how he responded. Here’s part of the quote: “Mr. Yang took ‘a position that’s very much at odds with the Asian-American community,’ said Jenn Fang'”.

That argument is compelling to him because it raises the question—if someone is cancelled over making a comment specifically directed at someone, does it matter if the person on the receiving end forgives the offender? Should it matter?

Back to Yang’s offer. From an recent interview between him and the NYTimes, I found out the offer was actually taken. He also said some other things that I thought were interesting.

“And so then I sat down and started to figure out who Shane Gillis was, what he did for a living, and then I sat down and watched some of his comedy to try and get some context. After watching his comedy, I felt that he wasn’t a malignant racist and that his slur toward me was just very, very bad comedy run amok.”

Who gets to decide what somebody says or does is worth cancelling? What even is worth cancelling? Is there anything that is worth cancelling someone over? If the person apologizes, does that make a difference?

“Particularly because I think we’ve become unduly vindictive and punitive toward statements that people find objectionable. A friend of mine said something, he said, ‘If the online universe descends on someone, and they lose their job, the online universe moves on a week later, but that person still does not have a job a week later.”’

I don’t think the internet will remember or care who Shane Gillis is in ten years. But the people who are hiring him might. Is it a fair consequence for this man to be affected for the rest of his entire career for these ugly comments he made? Is that not intense enough?

Is it worth it if everybody realizes how much they could lose for saying unkind things, and as a result, are much more careful with their words? Or does it also create an atmosphere of fear that can stifle good dissent?

I don’t know. But I do know it feels a bit scary.

Then there’s another side of cancel culture I want to talk about, the side that people as a mass have the ability to really change things.

Imagine if this same collective power the internet has with cancelling was used to call out companies and the executives running those companies who treat their workers poorly. Or animals. Or the environment. Or companies that are being untruthful, whether it’s about the products they’re selling or what they’re doing with user information.

I think this cancel culture in some way has helped bring people to justice. Larry Nassar, the USA gymnastics coach who sexually abused so many young girls for so long is probably in prison for life. Harvey Weinstein, the American film producer who also sexually abused so many women, is on trial right now. The parents in the college admissions scandal have been sentenced to prison time.

Those people and the wrong things they did were brought to light and were punished for them because of so many reasons, but I think part of it was that the public had collectively outraged reactions and expressed much of that anger on the internet.

Would it have been harder to prosecute these people without this support? Was it easier? Would it have happened anyways? If it did matter, did it even matter to an extent that made a difference?

Is cancel culture good or bad? Would the world be better without it or with it? What part of it is good? What about it is bad? How to we make it better? How does cancel culture even work? What’s the tipping point? Is there anything we can do?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

What do you think?

18 thoughts on “I don’t know what to think about cancel culture”

  1. I don’t really know either?? I think at the heart of cancel culture is a desire for the good to prevail and the truth to come out. However, I definitely also think it’s really fickle and very subject to change at all times. For example, in the James Charles “scandal,” he got cancelled, and lost 3 million subscribers, but then now, less than a year later, he’s back to where he was before he got cancelled. So basically, it was just a bump in his career. Now we don’t really know what happened in his drama, so we don’t really know if he was really worth being cancelled, but in that case I just think it’s the internet being dramatic.

    In terms of “bigger” cases such as the Harvey Weinstein or the Larry Nassar, I think cancel culture, while not necessarily “helpful,” certainly influenced their outcomes. In a way, it’s similar to how the public used to react after the news broke something that happened, in the days where newspapers dominated the day-to-day news scene. I think in those regards, it’s just how the symbiosis between people and news is.

    Overall, I think it’s not a bad thing? But it’s deffffinitely not a good thing either. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I heard about the James Charles “scandal” when it happened too, and I think I heard people say people weren’t buying his makeup that had released at the time? But that’s so interesting, I’ve never thought to check how much the news actually affected his career. If he’s back where he was at, I agree with you-it feels like it was just a dramatic bump.

      Ohh, that’s interesting. I think it’s interesting why the public reacts so intensely to some things and not to others. Oh this reminds of something I’ve only recently learned-the Greensboro sit-ins during the Civil Rights weren’t the first ones, people had been doing them for a while until it went big in the media stream. That makes me wonder if there has to have been big sexual assault cases in the past that didn’t get covered well by the news.

      Yes, it really feels like it’s this murky, uncontrollable thing that happens!

      And thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always been a bit unsure how to think as well; in my opinion, the whole “cancel culture thing” is a bit excessive but I think at the roots of it it can sometimes help people, like in the cases you mentioned. I think we need to have at least some degree of forgiveness for people and their mistakes; it doesn’t mean what they did was right, but that they understand it was wrong and you move on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Annie, you always have the absolute BEST posts and I really wish I was as brave as you are to share my thoughts. I find so intimidating sometimes to just say: “I don’t know” when asked about something like this. Especially now, that I’m in college, I find that adults more than teenagers are always desperate for answers and you *need* to have a position on absolutely every matter. And the truth is, sometimes I don’t know enough about a topic to even know where I’d stand on it. It’s so overwhelming sometimes and I have the feeling I need to have answers for everything, so it was refreshing to see your post being filled with questions and not answers.
    I don’t know how to feel about cancel culture either. I understand that it was created by marginalized communities in order to preserve their safety. When they “cancel” someone, they were trying to create a safer environment for themselves, which is totally valid. But I do think the Internet has potentialized this to be simply about “canceling” people whenever we feel like it, and it hardly ever has a bigger impact than a two-day lasting Twitter drama. There are a lot of authors and celebrities who have been allegedly canceled are still making bank and getting jobs.
    I think one of my biggest problems with the whole “cancel culture” is that people expect everyone else to do it too. I respect if someone isn’t comfortable with listening to Michael Jackson anymore after that. Or if they decide not to read anything else by Rainbow Rowell, for being racist in one of her books. But I hate when people expect everyone to do the same and if you don’t cancel that person too, you’re just as bad as they are. There are so many other factors that come to play in here – like, maybe Michael Jackson’s music helped someone go through a really hard time; or someone saw themselves for the first time ever in a book and it was a Rainbow Rowell book. Those experiences are valid as well and everyone should have the choice on what they support or not without being shamed for it.
    I recently read the book Birthday, by Meredith Russo, and it was my favorite read of 2019. If you listen to the audiobook, you can also listen to an interview with the author by the end of it, and she talks a little bit about how dangerous it can be to carry on cancel culture into our day to day lives. One thing she mentions is how, in her experience as a trans woman, when she found herself alone, she wasn’t exactly comforted by her queer friends; but rather, by the red-necks from her small town, who would’ve been labeled as “homophobic” or “racist”, and therefore, canceled.
    The thing is that cancel culture stops us from acknowledging growth. If someone said something awful in 2012, has then apologized and changed, do we still hold them accountable for that and cancel them for it? Like, take Taylor Swift for example. She wrote more than a couple openly sexist songs, such as You Belong With Me or Better Than Revenge, with a lot of slut-shamming. Since then, she has acknowledged her problematic lyrics and has been fighting so much for women to be recognized and treated equally in the music industry. So we are not going to take her growth and change into consideration because she was once problematic?
    And that happens with social media everytime. Because *nothing* goes away in social media. Any tweet you made in 2012, any MySpace post you wrote in 2008, can be brought back and people will cancel the heck out of you for it. If I was a celebrity, I’m sure I’ll be canceled for shit I wrote back in the day, but because we’re normal people, we get to “grow” and “change”, but others don’t? It sounds unfair to me.
    ANYWAY. This topic is so extensive and hard to talk about. I appreciate so much you sharing this post, though, as it was extremely thought-provoking and made me feel more inspired to also share more discussions like this one in my blog too. Amazing job as always, Annie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHH, thank you, Lais! Whaaat, I think I don’t know can sometimes be the easier route. I think many times it’s harder to say what you believe and explain why. Yea, it does seem that sometimes people get annoyed when others seem to be wishy-washy in all their opinions. For me, I can get wrongly annoyed because this makes me assume it’s because they just simply don’t care, which is not right. I think it’s impossible to know what you think about everything in the world. I think it’s impossible to even know everything there is to know what you think about. I’m so glad this post did that-your words are very kind.
      Ohh, that’s a point Elizabeth brought up as well! Hm, I wonder what the first instances of “cancel culture” looked like. I think it would be fascinating to get data on how much these short social media campaigns actually impact people.
      Ahh, I think it artists and their work combined with cancel culture create so much gray area. Because one hand, I can see how somebody would be like, well you supporting what this artist created means you support the artist as a person. But on the other hand, you can say, they created good work and that’s true separate from whether or not they were a good person. And you’re saying, what if both are valid and good responses? Ahhh, you’re making me think as well :))
      Ohh, favorite book of 2019?? That is a strong recommendation. Dang, that is really interesting.
      Aghh, time is another huge factor in cancel culture. I feel like you’ve definitely heard of a story of somebody getting canceled because of something they did or said years ago, and in some cases, when they were young. Maybe it was something they did before they even knew it was wrong? Which doesn’t make it not wrong, but it feels wrong to not acknowledge that they might not be the same person they were then. It doesn’t feel fair to me either. Is it even possible for cancel culture to be fair? What would that even look like? I have no clue.
      No, thank YOU for your excessively thoughtful and wonderful comment. I feel so lucky that you took the time to say your thoughts. Thank you again :))

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So, I just started talking a bit about this in my latest youtube video. Just a tiny bit because I definitely have authors on my shelf which have been “cancelled.”
    Anyway – cancel culture was created by POC to protect their spaces from toxic folks. So of course, when mainstream folks adopted it, it became a whole mess. Historically minorities have to put up with so much, so they need spaces to celebrate their identities without being insulted or belittled.
    I don’t think it’s our job to police the content that is made, as consumers we can choose to not buy things content that is harmful. And ultimately, publishers and producers make the choice on whether or not to cancel a person. And often, while twitter can clamor to cancel someone, online frustration has very little clout. Consider how often Scarlet Johannson has said awful things about acting in minority roles – and et she’s still the highest paid actress in hollywood. Producers are choosing not to enforce consequences because they know audiences will still consume her work.
    There are people who have been “cancelled” – think Louis CK or Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein did go to an art event, and the artists called him out during their performance. And that’s how cancel culture should work – people like Weinstein have actively harmed communities and need to be kept out.

    When it comes to Gillis, he built his whole career on being offensive and using slurs to create clout. SNL knew that before they cast him, they shouldn’t have cast him in the first place. And while Andrew Yang was gracious, Gillis being present on SNL would only have rewarded his frat-boy behaviour.

    Anyway, lots of thoughts and a HARD topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you for talking about the origin of cancel culture. That is a perspective I’ve never considered before and one that is so important.
      I think it’s interesting how much power consumers have as a whole, and what it would look like for it to be used to change things for good on a mass level. This isn’t related to cancel culture, but there seems to be a shift right now from fast fashion to ethical and sustainable fashion because of a combination of consumer and business choices. I hope that right now in the words world that consumers and producers are doing a parallel thing to change things. Hmm, I have heard about things Scarlett Johannson have said, but I did not know she’s still the highest paid actress. I wonder whether there will be a visible change after the generation of actors begins to change over?
      I haven’t heard of Louis CK before-could you possibly explain briefly his story?
      Hm, I wonder if one of the effects of cancel culture is people being more careful with who they hire.
      Yes, definitely :))
      Thank you so much for your thoughts, Elizabeth!


  5. I live under a rock, apparently, because I hadn’t even heard the term “cancel culture” until reading your post. I don’t know how to respond to any of this either, and I find the current political/social climate to be extremely overwhelming. Honestly I don’t like to think about it much. In general people seem very polarized and quick to cast judgment on people- not that judgment isn’t deserved in a lot of cases, but it seems like as a culture we are so eager to hate everyone and be offended by everything, and it seems like the whole cancel culture thing kind of comes out of that. I don’t know. I definitely think that people should be punished for doing wrong things, but I feel like we’ve stopped really seeing people as people somehow. The internet is kind of a scary place, and it dehumanizes us in many ways, I think instead of condemning, we should focus more on how to counteract the wrong that is happening in the world. If someone else is being horrible, we should try that much harder to be a good influence on the world, instead of focusing on hating the bad things. Of course that sounds easier than it is, and I don’t really know what that looks like.I often wonder what it would look like to radically love the world.
    I don’t really know if any of that made any sense, and honestly I don’t understand much of what’s happening in the world right now. I don’t have any answers, but I think it’s good to grapple with these questions. Thank you for writing this post and making me think about it. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder when the last time it was a good amount of whelm was. I’m sure some people would say never. But one thing I always think when people say this is the worst it’s ever been is that I do not think that. Especially after reading These Truths, in recent history, I think the 1960s must have been so much more overwhelming and polarizing.
      Yes, Olivia talked about the hate too! Agh exactly-it’s that tension of how it’s good to not be easily offended but how it’s also good to be easily offended. Like neither of those things are true all the time, but I think both of them have truth in them. Radically loving the world. I just needed to repeat that phrase. To radically humanize people.
      Thank you for reading :))

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is a very good point. I agree with you that the mentality that whatever “now” is is the worst things have ever been is false. People say that way too much. And it makes sense, because “now” feels so real, but if you really look at any amount of history it’s clear that the world has had massive problems since the beginning of time, and romanticizing the past isn’t actually helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This post really made me think! In the past I have seen this happen to people and from time to time I wonder what happened to them as they seem to drop off the face of the Earth. I think justice needs to be served towards those that have actually done something wrong but it is wrong to inflict this cancel culture without evidence because then you’re just ruining someone’s life without truly knowing whether or not they did something wrong. I also think its good if this culture allows other people to come forward about what has happened to them, sometimes in this sense it can bring a positive effect for those that were done wrong by and garner a sense of community for those that are hurt but yeah there’s still a lot to think about in terms of the damage it can do. Thank you for sharing this! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, yes! Agh, I completely get what you’re saying. Sometimes cancel culture seems like it might be too harsh, but it also creates space for those who have seriously harmed. It seems impossible at the moment, but there has to be a way of shaking off one of those things without giving up the other. There has to be!
      Thank you so much, Elsie :))

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a thought provoking post! I’m with you on it all, especially the last “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.” Because I’d say I have all the same questions and wonderings as you do regarding cancel culture.
    I’ve mostly just heard of it with social media people (like James Charles last year). I hadn’t heard about the thing with the SNL comedian (I don’t watch SNL either, if any late night talk show, I watch Jimmy Fallon) or Michael Jackson. I think that’s probably because I’m not in the habit of reading the real news, which is something I want to get in the habit of doing because it’s nice to be informed.
    For the people have been brought to justice, like Larry Nassar and the college admissions scandal people, I feel like they would have been brought to justice with or without the cancel culture aspect? At least, I hope so, because if not the system would have messed up severely. I do agree that the fact that the Internet exists and so many people were weighing in their opinions probably had an affect the publicity of the events, though.
    Wow, your posts always trigger deep thinking, and I love it! I think at the end of the day, cancel culture is much more of a bad thing than a good thing. We’re here to spread love, and it exists to spread hate- I don’t think Jesus would be about it at all. To answer your “can we do anything about it” question- sadly, I can’t think of anything we can do, except not participate.
    Lovely post, Annie. :))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Agh, I know.
      Yes, it seems like James Charles was the person from social media the most people heard about last year. (Ohh okay, I don’t regularly watch late night talk shows, but I think Jimmy Fallon is the one I’ve watched the most. They play so many games.) Reading real news is a hard task. I know my news is tilted one way, and I wish it was easier to read news in a balanced way.
      Yes, I hope so too.
      Thank you, Olivia :)) Duh, of course, why didn’t I look at it from that perspective too?? I completely agree with you. I feel like maybe in the beginning, the end goal of cancel culture was justice, but then it got warped into using hate to bring about justice, which with all these events, it seems like maybe the ends do not justify the means?
      Thank you again :))

      Liked by 1 person

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