Cancel cancel culture: a social media framework that went too far By
To take a stance in the world, you have to risk offending someone else—but some in our current society, especially those within popular media, seem to think otherwise. In recent times, celebrities who have records of unacceptable conduct or questionable opinions, past or present, have been rejected and shunned by their fans through social media platforms. This has manifested itself in a phenomenon known as “cancel culture.” These slip-ups can come in varying degrees of severity, from tweets to videos to speeches all the way to life-threatening incidents.
The most recent incident, in which Kevin Hart faced controversy when his past homophobic comments evoked public backlash and caused him to withdraw his role as host of the 91st Academy Awards, is emblematic of the increasing instances of celebrities that have been canceled.
While the intent of cancel culture is clear, setting the moral boundaries for celebrities and making clear the things we like and don’t like, the question remains as to whether our current model of cancel culture is really productive towards shaping a more positive society.
The problem with cancel culture is the way social media has shaped public opinion. Society teaches us at a young age the power of the masses: if we don’t like what we see in our leaders, we band against them to shut them down. In this sense, cancel culture mimics a model of an entertainment republic. While it is beneficial to keep celebrities in check with their conduct, the rise of social media has instead morphed into an echo chamber, wherein anything that doesn’t fit within the social norm gets rejected by the public before individuals have time to evaluate the situation and form an informed opinion. Celebrities get labeled as a “racist” or a “sexist” before fans have even considered the severity or implications of their words.
Take Kanye West for example, who in a TMZ Live interview stated that slavery was a “choice,” in addition to his tweets that supported the abolishment of the 13th Amendment. Fans were consequently quick to criticize him by calling him out on social media and labeling him as a racist while attacking his political standings. The rapper, while he made vague and misinformed statements, did not intend for his words on racism to be construed as racist, but rather in an ideological sense. His stance on abolishing the 13th Amendment was actually referring to how it allowed modern loophole forms of slavery within the prison system to be perpetuated, and he viewed only the mindset of slavery as a choice. However, due to social media presence, his opinion was rejected, and many ignored his justification for his statements. As a society we need to understand that we need ideological diversity in our media, no matter how outrageous an idea may sound at first.
There is an obvious distinction between ignorance or even radical opinions over actually problematic statements that threaten or harm certain groups of people. However, as it is sometimes hard to draw the line between the two, cancel culture can be a powerful tool in extreme cases but should only be used in moderation. These include attacks on individual populations, criminal activity or instances that incite systemic violence and forms of oppression. If these statements inflict psychological damage and trauma over a group of people, cancel culture should step in to intervene. While extremely unpopular and frowned upon, West and Hart’s opinions were not intended to specifically attack or oppress other groups and were instead cases of careless internet conduct.
Another layer to the cancel culture is what happens if a previously cancelled celebrity apologizes or prove to have changed themselves after the incident—do we trust in their change, or remain firm in our cancellation to prevent further damage? In Hart’s case, he apologized for his homophobic comments, tweeting “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past. I am evolving and want to continue to do so.” Ideally, celebrities should be given the chance to change and grow from mistakes—after all, we can’t expect them all to completely informed all the time.
Too many times, celebrities have been shamed for simple things such as their cultural ignorance, allowing a well-timed instance of carelessness to cost them their job. The problem with cancel culture is that it’s so much easier to slam these celebrities on social media and write hateful posts than to actually take the time to educate them and give them room to grow.
Used purposefully and with toleration, cancel culture can keep the conduct of pubic icons accountable while still striving towards a more accepting and forgiving culture. But before you decide to “cancel” your next beloved celebrity, think about if what they’re really trying to accomplish is worthy of being cancelled.