NIEZGODA: ‘Cancel culture’ should be canceled

The+cancel+culture+phenomenon+is+prevalent+across+the+U.S.+Photo+via+Flickr

The “cancel culture” phenomenon is prevalent across the U.S. Photo via Flickr

J.K. RowlingKevin Hart, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Pratt and most recently Aaron Rodgers are some of the many public figures that have been called out for their problematic behavior by the media, resulting in the phenomenon known as “cancel culture.” Cancel culture calls out problematic behavior but does so at the loss of our humanity, widening the divide between people in our society.

As a tool to bring questionable behavior into light, conversations stop at the problematic idea without any talk of redemption. This is done so by equating incredibly problematic and immoral people to uneducated and ignorant people, condemning them both equally to forced silence.

While it is hard to characterize cancel culture, it is most notably known as the mass public’s unfollowing of an influential person due to sexist, homophobic, racist or conservative behavior.

The term originated through the break-up song “Your Love is Cancelled.” The term then circulated through movies and television throughout the 1990s and 2000s, finding prevalence on the internet.

On Tumblr, blogs such as Your Fave is Problematic exposed qualities about public figures that were seen a problematic. One of the most notable instances was a post about John Green in April 2013, where the bloggers called him out for being fatphobic and misogynistic and using the r-word. During that time, Tumblr began to circulate rumors that Green was a pedophile because he wrote books for young girls.

Cancel culture has also had a significant presence in the mass YouTube following since beauty guru James Charles’s scandal in 2019, preceding the unfollowings of Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star in 2020. 

Most recently, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been canceled due to his misleading comment about being “immunized” against COVID-19. Since he was immunized, but unvaccinated, he was later diagnosed with COVID-19. He responded that while he was “immunized,” he did not receive the vaccine, claiming he has an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine. 

In a May 2021 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 58% of U.S. adults who know recognized the term “cancel culture” said that cancel culture serves as a way to hold people accountable for their actions. Almost all instances of cancel culture draw on this desire to hold people accountable for their problematic beliefs, meaning people take action against these famous figures.  However, the action becomes a mob mentality in which people boycott public figures because of the trend, without actually knowing what happened, or looking into the situation themselves. 

Canceling someone brings attention to social issues but creates a sensationalized show in which people disconnect the reality of another human being on the receiving end of death threats, publicized massive unfollowings on social media and the isolation that follows. 

The internet allows people to decide when and why they wish to stand up for an issue. Still, it also allows them to sensationalize media issues and have a voice in something popular.

Monica Lewinsky was a former White House intern who had sexual relations with then-president Bill Clinton. She has become a public voice against cancel culture in the years following the public humiliation and shaming by the national American public, saying, “we’re in this culture of humiliation now. And, along with attention and outrage, public shaming, piling on people, doxing, all of the different things that can happen to tear someone apart online, they all make people money.” 

The public wants to hold famous people accountable, but there is little power to ignore them and take away their platform. Mob mentality forgets empathy and ignores the search for truth in pursuit of profit and popularization. Taboo issues like the subject of vaccination and sexual relations get conflated with amoral views like homophobia or racist remarks, silencing the discussion that could be beneficial in addressing why people have different viewpoints. 

People like John Green have addressed the criticisms and responded to them, actively trying to be a better person by apologizing for using the r-word and condemning the false pedophilia accusations. He commented on the issue, saying “sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle.”

Our words have power on the internet, and we get to decide who deserves a following and who doesn’t. When different issues are only viewed as a singular way of responding, it becomes hard for people to challenge what they believe and how they perceive an issue. To bring change to taboo topics, multiple viewpoints must be addressed before making an informed decision. 

Voices become overwhelming on the internet but it is important to know the distinction between making a positive difference or furthering the divide.

This story was written by Laura Niezgoda. She can be reached at laura.niezgoda@marquette.edu