Cancel Culture: Society’s Way of Letting You Know You’re Toxic
By Nakeysha Roberts Washington
Twitter, Instagram, and, most recently, TikTok makes land borders obsolete and brings us closer together. Through social media, we share so many of our positive experiences, and, if we’re feeling vulnerable, we share even our worst moments. Because we are full of humanity, we wrap around one another by double tapping and commenting. We see the tastemakers and influencers of our society, hold them up high on pedestals for all to admire. We devour them, their glitz and glam– sheer beauty. We see ourselves in them. We aspire to be them, to live like them…until we don’t. What happens when our large diverse, pluralistic society isn’t feeling someone? #Canceled.
Cancel Culture is society’s way of letting you know your energy’s off. After all, there are unspoken social contracts that we each are expected to abide by. The more one delves into the cancel culture phenomenon, the more one will realize that it possesses many nuances. Similar to each of our own individual and purely mortal walks, cancel culture is sometimes exactly what is needed and, other times, misgiven and flawed.
The list of those who are canceled is long and if someone is not paying attention, they might just need to cancel themselves. Society cancels people and their brands. Society throws filthy deeds in the wash on heavy and then hangs them out to dry. If the apology feels genuine enough, we might work to forget what you have done. You might be delivert (sic).
Consider, for a second, the drama surrounding Tati Westbrook, James Charles, Shane Dawson, and Jeffree Star. Their whole group has been canceled at one point or another.
- #Canceled: Jeffree Star using racial slurs.
- #Canceled: Shane Dawson predatory behavior.
- #Canceled: Tati Westbrook suspect motivations.
- #Canceled: James Charles using racial slur among other things.
Apparently, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are glamorously full of drama, and squad cancelation is #goals.
Recently, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, made comments that society recognizes as transphobic veiled in Feminist rhetoric. Rowling is someone who has made such an inexplicably flawless contribution to young adult literature that she was elevated to the level of an idol. Her works have shaped ways of living. People dating share whether they are Slytherin or Gryffindor as a real way to understand another’s personality and compatibility. The inner workings of her imagination have enraptured millions, but here we stand: J.K. Rowling is #canceled. When her audience called her out looking for clarification or an apology, she doubled down on her position. Doing so surely added to the number of former supporters walking away from the author.
When one says or does something that harms another person, we, the culture, have a right to engage with that person and their brand or not. There are a lot of calls to cancel the cancel culture. However, many are reacting to the connotative associations with the word cancel and not the denotative meaning. Canceling, in this case, is synonymous with a boycott. Would there be any discussion about canceling people, if we just used the words that traditionalists do? If a group of people said, “I am boycotting X brand because their actions do not align with my beliefs,” no one would flinch.
The #MeToo movement created by Tarana Burke is premised on women speaking out against rape and sexual assault. This movement, too, resulted in outing, canceling, and has sometimes led to imprisoning the accused. Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, and, most recently, Chris D’Elia, to name a few, have all been accused, and some convicted, of sexual abuse and rape. Many of us have stopped interacting with the accused or the convicted person’s breadth of work, and rightfully so. Cancel culture provides a space for sexual predators to be called out for their behavior and, in many examples, the public calls them out fiercely. The brave survivors speaking out against sexual assault and rape have revealed toxic work environments, relationships, and the people who dominated these spaces for so many years were hiding in their invisible cloaks. They were wrapped in the imposed fear and silence of their victims, protected from harm, living for so many years feeling powerful—safe—unlike their victims.
There is little separation of a person from their work. Trying to do so is really difficult because, in good conscience, we know that if we watch a show or stream music, the people who created it and are involved in it receive a check, and that does not help the de-platforming of the person who we are canceling.
We all recognize the right to spend your earned money with whomever you please. What we all do not recognize or have been enfranchised to understand is that because we are now also living in a digisphere, the currency is not only dollars but also clicks. Social currency is just as important as monetary. Therefore, when someone is saying, “You are canceled,” they are truly saying, “I am not spending my attention on you, I do not support you, your brand, or your actions; they don’t align with mine.” I wonder how easily Harry Potter fans drop the franchise? Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry Potter, came out against J.K. Rowling’s comments. Is that enough to overlook the faux pas of Rowling? Am I never to watch You again? I am really looking forward to seeing what Joe and Love will do next.
The loud nature of canceling feels a lot like public shaming, and, honestly, it is. Since social media easily allows one’s brand to be their physical person, canceling is no longer simply disassociating from a business entity. It could, quite possibly, be disassociating from a person. How many of us were on the #dojacatisover party bus? In a quick look, we’re all certain that her behavior is egregious and that we must fight against it, right this minute. However, if we begin to contemplate how anyone who is by any degree of the African Diaspora or Black (with a capital B)– how anyone who is Black would ever be caught publicly hating and so clearly disparaging her own heritage, we might draw some uncomfortable conclusions, and, if we’re reflective, we might wonder why we were so quick to call out her behavior as wrong rather than calling her in as a community to see what’s wrong.
Kanye West is another example of the problematic nature of cancel culture. West has undisputed brilliance when it comes to music AND he also says questionable things that are abrasive and inflammatory. Recently, he belittled Harriet Tubman’s work in freeing slaves, saying something along the lines that she only moved them from working from one white person to working for another white person. Prior to that statement, West infamously went on about where he said 400 years of slavery sounds like a choice. As inflammatory as these statements are, can we only take the statements and not consider the man? I am not advocating for anyone to support his business ventures, but on a real and sincere humanistic level, we all see that West is struggling and needs help. Society is not so singular that we cannot understand that we have a person coping with mental illness in a way that doesn’t diminish his personality. We can understand him wanting to keep the pieces of himself that society says are not permitted. We can do that and also not engage with him. We do not have to internalize or, for that matter, even listen to anything he says. It is that he has so much attention on his platform and brand that makes him a threat to our beliefs. We should shift our attention to the things he says to highlighting ways to help people cope with mental illness.
As a society, we agree that if you see something, say something. Cancel culture is something like that. We all see you acting a fool and we’re going to let you know that it’s a no for us. All of us, the international masses, are here to use our collective platform to call attention to your words and/ or behavior hoping to leverage this against you for the moral victory win. And, so, you make it to the news cycle. We want to deplatform you. We want our apology. We know what you did. Everyone knows what you did.
Image via Jeffrey Czum
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