What is cancel culture?
From my brief research and from context, cancel culture is the practice of rendering someone (especially a celebrity) obsolete by having absolutely zero interaction with them (generally on social media) and stopping all support of them and their work. It’s essentially a massive silent treatment agreed upon by a group of people.
By some weird coincidence (or maybe it’s just getting more prominent), I heard a great definition of cancel culture on the podcast Conversations with People Who Hate Me. Click here for a transcript of the episode.
I first heard of this term when I was listening to a podcast that addressed a celebrity’s offensive tweet. The guest on the podcast mentioned cancel culture and suggested that everyone stop having anything to do with the celebrity in question, including no longer supporting their work from the last twenty years.
Mentioning cancel culture in terms of completely shutting down that celebrity gave me a feeling that is not strange to me anymore. It’s that feeling that we’re headed down a path on which being different is still unacceptable, only “different” now means not being liberal enough, or making a mistake, or being misunderstood. It’s that feeling that people are still being silenced, but now it’s the ones that radical liberals deem misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, racist, etc.
I feel like I should take a moment to clarify that I believe people are people and all people deserve respect and love and dignity. We should strive for a world that doesn’t have discrimination.
But I also believe that part of treating people like people is recognizing that we’re different, we don’t all get along, we prioritize things differently, we challenge each other, and we have the capacity to grow.
What do we gain from cancel culture?
It’s a powerful thing to be able to make a statement by simply showing or not showing support somewhere. Tired of child labour? You stop buying into fast fashion. Don’t want to support meat farms? Go vegan.
The middle class has fought to have its voice heard for centuries. That need to be heard and to live better has led to rebellions and revolutions. Today, we can be heard through our actions, our purchases, and our social media. AND social media has enabled us to easily mobilize into a mass movement to really make a statement. It’s pretty spectacular and it’s a lot of power.
Cancel culture also enables people to prevent themselves from ever getting offended or “offended” again. (When I say “offended” I mean have their beliefs challenged. There’s a difference.) And yes, we should try not to give power to those that discriminate or take rights away from people.
What do we lose because of cancel culture?
Picture this: you’re standing in a room filled with people from all different walks of life, different races, economic situations, religions, cultures, sexualities, political backgrounds, the whole deal.
And every single one of them has their hands clasped over their ears, their eyes squeezed shut, and are screaming at the top of their lungs, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING, I’M NOT LISTENING, LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!!!”
It’s a zoo. Nobody’s voice is heard. There are no conversations. Nobody is living in harmony. They’re living in an echo chamber of “You’re wrong and I’m right!”
I’m worried that cancel culture and the idea that nobody is allowed to “offend” someone or challenge anybody’s beliefs is going to lead to the end of meaningful discussions, personal growth, and, frankly, having a thick enough skin to move through life.
Again, there are people who don’t deserve their power or our attention, and we shouldn’t condone their discrimination. And people should be able to live their lives without being constantly abused and harassed.
But I’m worried that we’re taking that idea too far. I’m worried that we’re overcompensating, that we’ve lost the ability to discuss our ideas, that we’ve given up on trying to share our ideals and appeal to peoples’ humanity instead of casting them off as insert -ist or -phobic word here.
I guess what I’m trying to say is:
- We all deserve respect.
- Discrimination is not okay.
- An individual should be allowed to block and no longer support people that regularly hurt them online.
- Our choices and where we put our support hold a lot of power.
- It’s easy to be irresponsible with that power and simply shut out anyone different from us.
- People change by being let in, not by being shut out.
These are difficult issues and they have me thinking in circles. I can only hope that this post has you thinking as well and that maybe it will spark a discussion instead of making you shut down and block out any more noise.
Most of us want the same thing. We want to be kind to each other, we want to be treated with respect, we want to see the world become a better place. We’re all just trying to find the best way to do that and it’s hard.
Best of luck. Enjoy the journey.
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