Online social media has given people a platform to voice their opinions without much fear of repercussions. Viral tweets have the ability to make or break a person’s entire life. An increasing number of celebrities have found themselves faced against a once-loyal fanbase that is now demanding that their career be finished. This has given rise to “call-out” culture, more colloquially known as “cancel culture”, a mass shunning of a person embroiled in a controversial situation. If you’re a regular Twitter user, chances are you’ve seen somebody finish a rant with or retort with “sIS ur canCeLLed !!1!” In this article, I’m aiming to do a deepdive of how exactly cancel culture is shaping our online communities.
How impactful is cancel culture?
One name should give you a fair idea of the potential reach of cancel culture. Harvey Weinstein. After over 20 women came forward and accused him of being a sexual assaulter, the internet absolutely destroyed him. If this were an earlier era, it might’ve turned out very differently. R. Kelly’s fame soured seemingly overnight when he was alleged to be a molester and engage in pedophilia. I think that the very significance of cancel culture is its ability to absolutely change a person’s life. So going against the norm and potentially creating a controversy is often feared.
One thing to note is that cancel culture seems to have no significant impact on people in authoritative positions. Donald Trump is still the President of the US and Brazil’s Amazon rainforests are still burning away as openly sexist and homophobic President Jair Bolsonaro is very much in power. Brett Kavanaugh is walking free, while Dr Christine Ford, who accused him of sexual assault, has lost her life as a free woman.
How permanent is a “cancellation”?
Not all “cancellations” are the same. It’s often very difficult to predict which way the tide will turn. James Charles got stripped off the ladder of the Youtube beauty bloggers, one he had been ascending quite rapidly. His mentor Tati Westbrook called him out for promoting her competition and fetishisizing straight men, causing him to lose over 3 million subscribers, while she gained around 4 million. It took a few weeks for the situation to stabilize and seemingly no permanent damage was done, but James Charles lost dozens of celebrity acquaintances to the likes of the Kardashians, Ariana Grande and Katy Perry. Logan Paul posted some really disturbing videos and despite the hue and cry that followed, is still active on the channel, albeit less popular.
How polarized is the opinion?
Kanye West came out as a Trump supporter and said that “slavery was a choice” and still managed to get his album to Billboard No.1. Woody Allen still has a repertoire of actors and actresses working with him, despite an open letter from his adopted daughter accusing him of sexual assault. Either personal relationships are staunch enough for allegations to not get in the way or people may prioritize their career and financial gains.
Can cancel culture be a strategy?
Melanie Martinez, a rising pop artist, was accused of rape by her alleged best friend, Timothy Heller, causing a majority of her fans to understandably react with shock and anger and boycott her music and destroy her merch in solidarity with Timothy Heller. The latter also received fame and support with her EP that was released that very week. It was a polarizing situation nevertheless, with some loyal fans analyzing the situation more deeply and pointing out contradictions like the use of male pronouns in the earlier version of Timothy’s statement and that Melanie was performing at a concert in a different state the alleged date of the incident. In a situation like this, it can be difficult to “take a side”. Perhaps a more prominent but equally controversial case is the relationship between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The former was accused of domestic violence, causing him furious backlash from fans and the industry alike, which resulted in his career coming to a standstill as well as his reputation becoming tarnished. However, he was revealed to be the victim rather than the abuser, which his ex-wife admitted on tape.
Should you care?
Online communities allow people to speak out and have their opinions and stories heard. It is incredibly refreshing to have the possibility of like-minded people supporting a cause that they believe to be just. So cancel culture isn’t a bad thing at all. So yes, you should care, rather than having no opinion at all. It’s important to think critically, instead of jumping onto the majority bandwagon. It could be argued that cancelling someone can be completely intentional of alienating and shaming them, rather than making them realize where they went wrong and how they can grow. It’s just a fine line to tread and one that can be blurred very easily.