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Cancel Culture in the Book Community

Social media trends and phenomena come and go. But do people ever truly understand the meanings behind it? Or do they just jump on the bandwagon because they think it’s expected of them?

One of the latest trends to take over social media is cancel culture, where something or someone is said to be “canceled” because of their negative actions. When a person is canceled, they’re basically ostracised from society, either professionally, personally, or both.

The exact origins of cancel culture are unclear. The phrase was first used in 1991, in the song “Your Love is Canceled” by Nile Rodgers, and then in the film New Jack City. From there it became a part of African-American vernacular, but it was only in 2015 that the phrase really took off through its frequent mentions on Black Twitter. 

Initially used in either a serious or ironic way, it was used as a way to reflect on one’s actions. But soon it became about boycotting a person because of their negative actions and holding them accountable for their transgressions.

One place where cancel culture has risen to major prominence is the literary world, specifically in the Bookstagram and BookTok communities. Starting with one of the most popular authors in the world, J. K. Rowling, to more recent problematic authors like Emily Duncan, cancel culture has run rampant in literary social media with varying results.

The author of the Harry Potter series was canceled in 2020 over her controversial transphobic statements, alienating major subgroups among her target audience. This extends to not just her own works, but the works of those who support her. 

In August 2021, OwlCrate, one of the most popular books subscription boxes faced major backlash when owner Korrina Ede made the decision to bring back the Harry Potter collection into her company. Though Ede reinforced in her statements that she supported the trans communities, her choice to put her own personal feelings about the series over the damage caused by Rowling’s comments put her company on the blacklist for many patrons. Though she has since reversed her decision and has managed to gain back a lot of the supporters she lost, the company is still tainted by her decision.

But pitting the likes of Emily Duncan with her constant harassment of authors of color, with authors who have seen the harmful effects of their comments and have since rectified their mistakes has caused much dissent in the book community.

What started out as a way to hold authors accountable for their actions has since become a way for people to just throw their lot in with the major consensus without really understanding what they’re supporting. The phrase “canceled” is thrown around so often, that its true meaning has been lost in the wind.

Now, the diverse community which has always been strong in its support of social issues and bringing attention to the real problems of society has become toxic in nature. With a divide between those who still try to fight the injustices in literature and those who don’t understand the need to hold problematic authors accountable, the book community has found itself at a fork in the road.

The only way forward is for the community to find their way back to the place where they had open conversations built on understanding and learning. A place where dissenting voices were accepted and led to real change and progress, not just performative protests backed by clueless masses.

Sindu Karunakaran is a writer for the NCSU chapter of Her Campus. She is a senior majoring in English and Communication. She is an avid reader and has an Instagram account and blog dedicated to her love of books. When she's not reading or writing, you can usually find her binge-watching the latest show, or trying out a new recipe. Sindu hopes to continue writing once she graduates and spreading the joy of reading anywhere she goes!
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