If you’re anything like me, the term ‘cancel culture’ is a relatively new phrase to you.
After a bit of research, I’ve realised that whilst I may be new to the official term, it has something that has existed and been playing out around me for a couple of years at least. I’ve even engaged it in myself, without realising.
Cancel culture usually involves someone or something that is revealed to not be as wonderful as we once thought, and as such, are no longer worthy of our support, attention, money or admiration. We tend to do this on a mass-scale as a society, knocking celebrities off of their pedestals, when at one point, they held all the power over us ‘regular folk’. Although, the term can still apply to the likes of me and you.
As the website Byte (2019) put:
“Cancel culture is the idea that if someone does something problematic they should be ‘cancelled,’ in other words they should lose support from fans, friends, etc. and they are dismissed and rejected. For example, recently, comedian Kevin Hart came face-to-face with cancel culture when he stepped down from his position as the host of the Oscars after homophobic tweets from his past had surfaced.”
I have definitely engaged in this behaviour.
Totally guilty of it. It’s usually those of the celebrity-world, like Justin Bieber, Roseanne Barr, Katy Perry, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Jackson, Iggy Azalea and more recently the likes of James Charles in the James Charles v Tati Westbrook saga that has been playing out in the land of YouTube influencers (although, I didn’t – and still don’t – have any idea who either of those people are).
I enjoyed the cancelling of some of those people.
While those who come under sexual assault allegations don’t really come under the ‘cancelled’ banner (it’s a whole other kettle of fish) I still enjoyed the cancellation of Bill O’Reilly. I’ll admit it. Before the claims came up against him I found him so arrogant and chauvinistic I wanted to smash my TV whenever I saw his stupid face. Aside from him, there have been other celebrities I have probably cancelled without even realising.
While the superficial, lighthearted side of me might laugh at some of the cancellations (e.g. Biliebers turning on Justin Bieber on social media, the backlash Taylor Swift received when she got all ‘snake-like’), listening to some recent podcasts about cancel culture has got me thinking about the damage we can cause as a society to individuals.
When it comes to celebrities, we often forget that underneath all the money, fame, glam and influencer-lifestyles – that they are human.
And humans make mistakes. This notion that if you fuck up once (whether that be a racial tweet, a poorly-chosen photograph at a sensitive time or a quote that gets taken out of context), you’re automatically ‘cancelled’, abandoned, completely dismissed and hated on – is dangerous. Of course humans should be held accountable for their actions, but that doesn’t mean we need to completely write off people when they make an error, as we ‘normal folk’ often do, without the whole world watching.
I know I have said insensitive remarks and jokes in the privacy of my own home.
I have almost certainly said things, or laughed at things, that would be deemed extremely offensive to a variety of people. I’ve screamed at my television during reality TV shows, calling the participants stupid and dismissing them as mere entertainment, I’ve lost interest in stars after they’ve acted like assholes and I’ve made comments to myself like ‘shit, that was a stupid thing to say’. But I often don’t stop for long enough to put some context around it. Believe it or not, sometimes people just say stupid shit. It doesn’t mean they’re racist or sexist. Sometimes, they’re just being human.
There is a difference between cancelling a celebrity and calling them out for their mistakes.
As mentioned above, people need to be called out when they fuck up, otherwise they, and everyone else who has made similar errors, will never have the opportunity to learn from it. We need to point out injustices and truly offensive and backwards words and actions, but also don’t need to take everything so seriously. If we get upset by every comment ever made and then cut those people off without giving them a chance at redemption, to apologise or to come back into our good graces, then we’re going to be left without about five people on the entire planet who are all too scared to do or say anything. Ever.
We need to give second chances and allow people to make mistakes.
We need to be supportive, rather than hateful. We need to educate ourselves and listen to each other. We need to think for ourselves and be open to other people’s opinions.
We don’t need to jump on hating bandwagons or cut celebrities off indefinitely when they fuck up. We don’t need to tarnish people with permanent labels when they make a mistake or dismiss a person entirely for something they did ten years ago.
People can change their behaviours, their minds and learn from their mistakes.
Whilst I don’t mean to be talking at you, I’m going for this next bit. Before you lash out or go to ‘cancel’ someone, maybe just take a few moments to sit on it. Reflect for a couple of days even. Ask yourself if your reaction is that of anger. Are you being too quick to jump on the hating bandwagon? What would you do if the situation were flipped? Ask yourself why they may have said what they said, or did what they did. Give it some time before you start typing hateful comments on social media or decide to completely write off that person for good.
Sometimes you won’t be able to get past it (Lord knows I’ll probably do it many times overs because I’m a massive hypocrite) and sometimes, you might just not the like the person because they’re not for you. But if and when the opportunity presents itself, maybe take a moment. Because when society decides to cancel someone (especially those who rely on the public for their work), we are ultimately denying them of their livelihood for a mistake they made.
And that’s pretty heavy.