Opinion: What cancel culture gets right and wrong

“House Plant in Black Pot” by ConanTheLibrarian courtesy of Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Today’s world is constantly buzzing with the latest celebrity tweets, the hottest new Kardashian scandal, who said what and so much more juicy drama that we all get wrapped up in from time to time. With all this conversation, it is no surprise that great online debates have taken over most of our feeds – for example, IS a hotdog a sandwich? However, as thrilling as the debates and gossip can be, every action has a consequence. With this, the internet gave birth to the term “cancel culture.”

Cancel culture is described by Urban Dictionary as “a modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions.” 

Some of the most famous examples of cancel culture include celebrities that were once major influences online or in pop culture, such as Shane Dawson, J.K. Rowling, Jeffree Star, Chris Pratt, Taylor Swift and so many more who fell into the mouth of cancel culture.

But, here, I focus on the real questions at hand: is cancel culture beneficial, and is it something we should be concerned about?

While cancel culture’s root meaning was to make people who had gotten away with racism, sexism, homophobia and other heinous topics take responsibility for their actions, it has turned into something so much larger – and meaner – than intended.

One thing cancel culture is right about: we should hold everyone accountable for the things they have said or done. This is a pretty universal truth and one we often learn in preschool. If you make a mistake, you should own up to it, apologize to the people you have affected and try your best not to do so again. This is true.

While cancel culture tries to promote this idea of owning up, fixing your mistakes, learning a lesson and then changing your behavior, it can often have the opposite effect.

Cancel culture basically says “you messed up and now you are never allowed to change from that. This is who you are.” It upholds a very black-and-white mindset –the exact opposite of what we should be promoting.

Human behavior is just not as simple as black and white. The only word good enough to describe human behavior is complex.

Of course, some actions will never be forgiven and when they’re done, there is nothing you can do to take them back or make them right. Generally, these are the offenses punishable by law or made on a deeply personal level where relationships end in huge flames and resentment.

However, is cancel culture getting the point across to these celebrities and major influences that they messed up? Is ending their career, targeting their families and homes and making their mistakes the front page of everything really the best way to get a message across?

Personally, I am inclined to say no. On a less personal level, I think it depends.

When you sign the Hollywood contract for fame and success, you know your every move is being watched. This, however, does not change the fact that you are still a flawed, complex being who is going to say things you regret.

This means that when you made a comment 10 years ago that does NOT age well and was never okay, it is more than likely going to come back to haunt you (Shane Dawson). If you have political or religious views that oppress an entire community of people, you are probably going to lose some money in the process (Chris Pratt).

I think on some levels, we have to allow these celebrities space to mess up and regret what they say, while still holding them as accountable as possible. On another level, there is a huge space between messing up and actively being hateful. If you are using views and personal identity to hate another group of people, to take someone down or harm the people in your life, there is much more work to be done than a public apology.

Cancel culture presents this idea of letting people grow from their mistakes while still holding them accountable when they do mess up, without ever acknowledging that, overall, people are people and we have all done things we really wish we hadn’t.

Overall, cancel culture is probably not going anywhere, as humans are basically house plants with really complicated emotions, and we all see the world so differently. However, accountability is always needed and required when you do make a mistake, and with that accountability you have to accept the fact that there may be some consequences that can sometimes go way further than you, or anyone else, expected. It is important to give people the ability to change and own up to the mistakes they have made. To not let people fix their mistakes and change for the better is really the most harmful part of cancel culture.

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