What is Cancel Culture?

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Cancel culture, also referred to as call-out culture, is regarded as contemporary ostracism that entails the removal of an individual from a social or professional circle. This could occur either virtually, on social media or in the real world. The subjects of this type of ostracism are said to be “cancelled”, which means to seize or withdraw support from that person. This is usually the consequences of an offensive or repulsive action.

The concept of cancel culture is mostly associated with negative connotations and implications. It is usually employed during debates on free speech and censorship. Cancel culture is a variant of call-out culture, and it makes up the boycotting of a famous or celebrated individual deemed to have acted or spoken questionably.

Cancel culture

Saying something is cancelled is also saying it has been ended, voided and nulled. When someone is cancelled, it also means public support has been withdrawn from them. When public figures are cancelled, they are said to be called out for an intolerable behaviour.

Consequentially, their work or art are boycotted, their movies aren’t viewed, and their music isn’t listened to anymore. Doing this can strip such public figure or celebrity of their public platform and power. This is often executed in a performative way on social media.

Views on cancel culture from academic scholars

Johnathan Haidt, a social psychologist, defines call-out culture as something coined from what he termed “safetyism” on college campuses. Keith Hampton, a media studies professor at Michigan State University, states that the practice contributed to the division of American society.

A good number of students are scared of airing out unpopular opinions and views because they fear it will be called out on social media. They fear being asked questions as a result of the views or opinions they post. The dominance of the cancel culture causes segmented groups to feel more reluctant to speak out for what they believe is the right thing.

Frances E. Lee, a political scientist, states that cancel culture paves the way to self-regulation of false, improper and oppressive opinions. Lisa Nakamura, a professor of Michigan University, said that cancel culture is a type of cultural ostracization and the ultimate expression. This expression is sourced from a desire to control people whose powers are limited over what they face on social media.

A good number of academics suggested alternatives and improvements on cancel or call-out culture. Professor Anita Bright suggested the concept of “calling in” rather than “calling out” so that the former’s idea of accountability can be brought forth. She further explained that going about it this way is a more humane, meek and conciliatory approach.

Public opinion on cancel culture

In July 2020, a poll of registered American voters was organized and conducted. The findings of this poll revealed that the occurrence of cancel culture is common. An estimate of 40% of respondents stated that they have, at one point, seized or removed support from public companies and celebrities, including on social media. This happened due to an act of speech regarded as controversial, repulsive and questionable.

Further findings revealed that about 8% of respondents were frequent participants to cancel culture. The respondents’ behaviour varied based on age with about 55% of voters aged 18-34 years, confirming that they have taken part in cancel culture. While 32% of voters above the age of 65 years said, they were part of a social media’s cancel culture activity. The disposition or reaction towards cancel culture was mixed 44% disapproved, 32% approved, while 24% had no opinion on the matter.

Prominent examples of cancel culture

Nick Buckley, the founder and CEO of the Charity Mancunian Way, had a petition against him which ultimately led to his being fired. The action he took that was considered offensive and questionable was his criticism against the “Black Lives Matter” movement in November 2020. Olivia Pierson, a right-wing New Zealand author and blogger, claimed that she was a victim of “cancel culture”. This happened after Mighty Ape; an online retailer removed her book, “Western Values Defended” from its retail list.

A primer responding to her tweet mocked the recently appointed Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s facial tattoos. Cameron Slater, a fellow blogger, claimed that Mighty Ape was demonstrating hypocrisy for enlisting and stocking books published by Oswald Mosley and Joseph Goebbels.

South Park, an American animated tv series, ridiculed the concept of cancel culture with its campaign, “#CancelSouthPark” which was aimed at promoting the series’ twenty-second season. During the third episode (The Problem with a Poo) of that season, there were references to “The Problem with Apu”, a documentary. There was also a reference to Roseanne’s cancellation after questionable tweets by the series’ celebrated actress and the confirmation court hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Last year, the concept of cancel culture was used as a major theme in the stand-up comedy shows “Paper Tiger” by Bill Burr and “Sticks & Stones” by Dave Chappelle. Canceling became popular and gained prominence as a concept in the public consciousness with the #MeTooMovement. Well-known Celebrities from R. Kelly to Matt Lauer to Louis C. K. were getting cancelled because of verifiable and strong allegations of repulsive sexual behaviour in the past.

Other notable figures were getting cancelled or called out for previous racist (Shane Gillis) and anti-LGBTQ (Kevin Hart) comments. These prominent individuals and many more experienced a loss of careers, work opportunities and reputations after getting called out or cancelled. Last year, there was an increasing backlash in opposition to what is now regarded as “cancel culture” in the late 2010s.

Criticism towards cancel culture is centred on the perception that people were becoming too eager to ruin lives over errors and flaws from many years ago.  People that didn’t get another chance because social media was too swift to heap condemnatory remarks on these people.

The act of cancelling was perceived as something that has gone too far and is now used as a weapon against anyone you didn’t agree with or someone who did something that didn’t sit well with you. Even the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, prominently criticized cancel culture with the arguments that easy judgments on social media don’t translate into genuine social activism.

Then, you have arguments that criticized the ineffectiveness or falseness of cancel culture, because figures such as Louis C. K still got an audience and a stage. This was despite the claims of sexual assaults and violence against him.

There is also the fact that people still listened to Micheal Jackson’s music despite being aware of the claims of sexual and child abuse against him. Then, yet again, there is the opposition to the labelling of the concept as cancel culture, arguing it is misunderstood and that the general public is just trying to hold people to answer for their actions.

Have you ever been a victim of cancel culture? What steps did you take to handle the situation? Perhaps you were involved in the practice against someone who has done something worth criticizing? Kindly tell us your experience in the comments.


Cancel culture – Dictionary

Cancel culture – Wikipedia

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