Phone with alert banner stating :BREAKING NEWS: CANCELED" in bold font

Gen Z Breakdown: ‘Cancel’ Cancel Culture

On Twitter, Instagram, and more recently TikTok, it seems as if every day there is a new person that ‘blows up’, gains traction, and faces a tragic downfall initiated by a thread or hashtag with reasons to “cancel” them. 

In a poll of American voters in July 2020 conducted by Wikipedia, Cancel Culture is “the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive". We see it with a multitude of celebrities and influencers constantly from old tweets, YouTube videos, or interviews. 

However, cancel culture is not as simple as being troubled with someone’s past or current words. It is now characterized by continuous social media harassment and tantalizing memes which not only can dilute or exaggerate the situation’s importance but can negatively affect the mental health of the person being canceled. And as a generation who puts so much emphasis on the cruciality of mental health awareness, what does this truly say about us?

We love seeing successful people fail.

We are infatuated with the false power trip canceling gives us. To localize the premise, let’s use the example of the straight-A student that suddenly receives a bad score on a test. Although most might show sympathy on the outside, we cannot help but feel a bit of excitement for their downfall. 

When talking about parasocial relationships, we see popular influencers with grandiose mansions, new clothes corresponding with the current trends, and pictures of their travels across the world. So, when yet another beauty YouTuber gets canceled, we crowd around our computers and watch their subscriber count fall in awe. Could it be underlying envy that drives us to cancel at such extremes?

Now, this is not to say that people should not be held accountable for their actions or words, no matter how long ago they were done or said. We are allowed to be hurt by finding out someone we emulate has said offensive things in the past. We are allowed to be utterly surprised by old tweets and videos. However, we must ask ourselves: is sending death threats, allowing their name to trend on social media, and making jokes about the situation helping?

Photo via @unsplash In late 2019, avid Black Lives Matter activist and TikTok star at the time Emmuhlu (who is no longer active on the app) found fame through her quirky, confident, and comedic persona. Many users, including myself, claimed her to be one of the most entertaining and relatable TikTokers at the time. In April of 2020, Emmuhlu saw her downfall when a series of videos of her from previous years were released of her saying the n-word and other offensive remarks.

Many were in disbelief at the fact that someone who rooted so strongly for black lives, someone who zealously spoke about the dangers of white privilege, and someone who held the axiom that “only black people should say the n-word” so close to their heart would say such things. After this, the For You Pages of many were taken over by videos of and about Emmuhlu. She received death threats, a plethora of hate comments, and angry and heartbroken users demanding apologies.

Emmuhlu was also extremely open about her struggles with mental health. So, this canceling did not only take a toll on the state of her TikTok page but her mental state as well. She went to TikTok to apologize frantically in several posts, many just not accepting it. While other TikTokers posted videos explaining that the death threats went too far and while we don't have to accept her apology, threatening is not okay, other users took to the platform to ‘expose’ themselves before they faced the wrath they thought would come sooner or later.

Another fault I see with cancel culture is we are unsure of our expectations of an apology. As aforementioned, one does not have to accept the apology, then again, we do not truly know the people we are canceling. But one commonality I have observed is that these notes app apologies, hysterical videos, or even seemingly acceptable apologies are just not enough. So, what is enough?

With all this being said, it is not only important that we self-reflect with our expectations of celebrities we brought to fame, but understand the (what should be) trivial nature of parasocial relationships. As much as we want to believe it, we do not truly know those we idolize. There is only so much an interview or a “day in my life” vlog can tell us. We have to remember that these are people and people make mistakes. Yes, those with large followings need to be held accountable and I am not saying we as the followers are not allowed to be upset with their actions, but consider if your meme, death threat, or other senseless addition is truly helping the matter.  

As for influencers, they need to understand that not only do their actions have consequences but comprehend the cruciality of a following of people whose eyes are all on them. As for us, the viewers, to truly see change, we have to lower our expectations for the strangers we put on such high pedestals, take a step back, and self-evaluate.