Is Cancel Culture Toxic?

Modern technology has allowed individuals to become conscious of others’ actions and beliefs. With the ability to look up Tweets or Instagram posts from years ago, society is able to dig deep into someone’s personal timeline and find something that may be deemed offensive. Moreover, the large amount of information that individuals have access to allows society to easily learn about the social issues that plague our century. As backlash and in response to these injustices, many have begun to “cancel” problematic individuals, most of whom are high profile celebrities, when they have made a statement that is counter-progressive or engaged in problematic instances. Yet, even with these revelations about people’s characters and core beliefs, is “canceling” these controversial individuals more toxic than we think?

The power of social media has grown immensely and permitted those with typically little influence to have a platform to voice their opinions and beliefs. If an individual has done something that can be found offensive by the grand majority of online users, they are then “canceled” through the public’s boycotting of their works, direct messaging via email or other social media to the individual’s superiors and/or simply spreading the problematic nature of the individual’s statements or actions to raise awareness.

Yet many have questioned the effectiveness of cancel culture and have raised concerns regarding its toxicity. With canceling individuals, there comes this idea that there is no way to come back and learn from one’s mistakes. 

For instance, there has recently been an uproar among many fans of the Star Wars spinoff series, "The Mandalorian." Gina Carano, an actress in the show, has actively mocked the trans community, made inherently transphobic comments, is an anti-masker and has also made insensitive and anti-Semitic comments. Fans of the show and many others were offended and trended “#FireGinaCarano” on Twitter multiple times, hoping that LucasFilms - the franchise that owns Star Wars - would heed their advice. Inevitably, the franchise had to fire Carano, stating that “her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.” Since then, Carano has joined notoriously conservative media host Ben Shapiro in an interview on “The Ben Shapiro Show.” Here, she attempted to excuse her comments and explain her intentions. Nonetheless, they were not well accepted by many online and went disregarded.

On the other hand, there are also times where cancel culture becomes a bit more clouded. Johnny Depp, for example, was canceled in 2016 for being an alleged abuser to his now former wife, Amber Heard. In causation of the Me Too movement, many fled immediately to Heard’s aid and supported her in her struggle against Depp. Consequently, Depp was dropped from multiple movie projects and other ventures, as many corporations did not want to associate themselves with an abuser. However, in 2019, Depp filed for defamation against Heard with evidence that strongly suggested that he was the one being abused, not Heard. While Depp did lose the libel case, it was now clear that Depp was a victim in this situation and not the perpetrator as portrayed by Heard. This new revelation sent shock waves across fans and many social media users, who were now faced with the question of whether or not Depp should have been canceled in the first place, furthering the conversation of the effects of canceling. 

Within cancel culture, there is a large amount of toxicity and lack of effectiveness in how it is enforced. A main issue is that these problematic instances, whether committed by celebrities or regular citizens, become very individualized. There is a blame game that is created, where the individuals are held accountable for their actions, but it does not necessitate actual societal change or a societal lesson. It takes the pressure off of society and puts it onto one person to bear, even though they are a miniscule part of a larger issue. 

Furthermore, cancel culture is subject to those who society deems as able to cancel. There are tons of celebrities that have made or continue to make problematic statements, such as Chris Brown or Woody Allen, that have not been canceled. In fact, everything they have done is essentially swept under the rug by the public and often becomes forgotten. They never held any accountability or suffered any consequences for their actions. This lack of consistency makes cancel culture even more flawed, since it is not upheld by and for every individual. Again, the issue becomes individualized and lacks the ability to progress society to further prevent these incidents. 

Instead, society needs to shift from cancel culture to simply holding people accountable for their actions. There is huge importance in holding people responsible for their offensive and controversial comments or actions. However, canceling an individual does more harm than it does good. It creates a culture where no one benefits or learns from their mistakes and instead enables individuals to avoid understanding why these mistakes are wrong and what they can do to be better. Educating individuals on their wrongdoings is more beneficial and has a stronger long term effect, both for the individual and for society.