Flyer News contributing writer discusses what is wrong with “cancel culture.”
When one describes a time where the consensus was that the Earth was flat and animals were tried in court for “crimes”, it may sound like one is recalling plot elements from a fever dream. Instead, they are in fact discussing the world during the downright bizarre era of the Middle Ages.
While we may scoff at the routines of the public in these times, one common practice from the era that inspired Game of Thrones not only still exists, but has been expedited and made more accessible thanks to modern technology.
I’m talking about the practice of holding accused criminals in stocks for all to see and laugh at. Nowadays, it answers to a different, catchier name: cancel culture.
Unlike most other social media platforms, Twitter initially gained notoriety for its unique feature of allowing users to share their opinions on any topic of their choosing.
Public figures have especially utilized Twitter in a variety of ways, such as telling jokes, raising awareness for social issues, and promoting themselves. Unfortunately, it only takes 280 characters to alert the typical soldier in the “cancel culture” army.
In simplest terms, cancel culture is a form of online shaming that plays out in three basic steps: a public figure engages in words or actions that are deemed controversial, the action is brought to attention, and users call for a boycott of the figure. The act of “cancelling” someone has expanded from Hollywood A-listers to average civilians; however, both groups should be held accountable but to slightly different standards.
As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben advised his wonderful, web-shooting, wall-climbing nephew, with great power comes great responsibility. Public figures should take this motto to heart because they reach audiences on a worldwide scale of all different backgrounds. The First Amendment—in both order and importance to America—allows people to exercise rights unavailable in other countries, and Twitter has been the most dominant arena for people to share their opinions (just ask James Woods).
However, when someone makes the choice to say something that could be deemed controversial, they expose one choice they never had: to choose how others react.
If a gay man gets offended by a joke a celebrity makes that could be deemed homophobic, he is absolutely allowed to possess these hurt feelings. Thus, the celebrity should make a sincere apology—preferably not by utilizing the iPhone Notes app—expressing both remorse for their actions and pledging to be better, while informing fans on how they will accomplish the latter.
This way of condemning a celebrity for misinformed statements is complicated by what cancel culture has become. It is a field riddled with hypocrisy: we are raising the bar for what it means to be a functioning member of society so high that it seems completely unattainable. In addition, the standards for a public figure and that of an average civilian should be weighed quite differently. Many Twitter users without a coveted blue checkmark are seeing their careers flash before their eyes, and are not receiving the opportunity to explain their side of the story because they are not public figures.
Behind the inner workings of cancel culture weighs a holier-than-thou attitude that is a giant pot shouting at the top of its lungs about the kettle being black. Viewing society with a healthy sense of realism, every single person has cracked a joke or made a snide remark that could be viewed as insensitive to a minority group or victims of a disastrous event.
There have been countless instances of such hypocrisy, but perhaps none were more clear-cut than the recent cloud of controversy surrounding model Chrissy Teigen. Belonging to an elite group of people who have become household names by doing absolutely nothing relevant besides being married to someone famous, Teigen has nonetheless utilized her platform to raise awareness for some important social justice issues. Like many of her Hollywood peers, she has also pulled no punches in her fiery criticism of President Trump on Twitter, emphasizing her disdain for his divisive rhetoric on the app.
However, Teigen should probably put her money where her mouth is, as she is not innocent from insensitive tweets herself. Joking at the expense of the likes of the transgender community and those dealing with suicide, Teigen has done some considerable damage to her character. Before Teigen acts as a “moral compass” of sorts for her fans to emulate, she should evaluate her own words and actions before evaluating the actions of others.
Furthermore, the same people who preach the value of personal accountability should apply the same value when they dip their hands into the cookie jar of making racially insensitive statements. Here belies another problem of cancel culture; as far as race relations go, in most cases, the vast majority of the users are aiming to be “voices for the voiceless”.
The ignorance surrounding this thought process is that advocating for these minorities is an act of subtle racism in of itself. Vouching for a minority group on an issue they are more than capable of speaking about implies that they are incapable of speaking for themselves. One does not get to choose what offends others.
If one issues a statement that is undeniably offensive—regardless of intention—they must accept the consequences and take accountability. However, no one possesses the ability to decide what offends a group that one is not themselves a member of. The effect of this situation was most prominently seen recently during the Aunt Jemima rebranding.
One thing has remained consistent throughout the evolution of time: humanity is far from a divine species. Mistakes will continue to be made, and the power of accountability must be valued by all. However, cancel culture’s metamorphosis into acts of retaliatory harassment—such as doxing and death threats—only adds fuel to the fire of hatred in society.
Learning from one’s mistakes is vital to the growth and development of a person. There are a plethora of better methods to teach someone that what they did could be offensive that are not detrimental to the person’s mental health. Likewise, one cannot pick and choose who they wish to hold accountable.
Although the Internet should unequivocally be an open forum welcoming to people of all backgrounds, is sitting up in the ivory tower and sending Tweeters to the dungeon a valuable use of one’s time and energy? Why not redirect it towards battling police brutality, Confederate statues, and gentrification? How can we be progressive if we continue to look backwards?