By Jean Cambareri
Did you see Logan Paul’s suicide forest video? He’s so cancelled! What about Taylor Swift, with her snaky alter-ego? She’s cancelled! Or Julianne Hough, who wore blackface on Halloween? Cancelled! How about everything Kanye West has done and said in the past few months? He is, most definitely, cancelled!
But Logan Paul is still making YouTube videos (most of which are racking in at least a couple million views), last year Taylor Swift’s most recent album sold more copies in one day than any other album had in a week, Julianne Hough’s 2017 wedding was People magazine’s cover story, and Kanye’s Ye (which was released suspiciously soon after his TMZ outburst) went number one on the charts.
So if all of these people, who have offended the public in dramatically different ways and made mistakes with widely varying severities are all somehow shipped off to the same “cancelled” island, and then are still able to continue their lucrative careers, what exactly is cancelling anyway? More importantly, what good is it doing anyone?
Let’s start with the easier question—a simple definition of what cancelling is and how it has affected social media rhetoric within the past few years. Urban Dictionary simply defines it as a word used “to dismiss something/somebody. To reject an individual or an idea.” While this is true, it seems to be a bit more complicated than that. Cancelling culture has heightened the already hypercritical rhetoric on social media, and has deepened divisions that were already present.
Take Logan Paul’s infamous Japanese suicide forest video for example: while Paul was dumped by millions of fans and shunned by most of his peers in the Youtube community, his viewer and subscriber count continued to increase, and loyal fans were happy to go on the defensive for Paul’s seemingly unforgivable actions. In this case, “cancelling” Paul not only created division among his fans, but it also acted as an accidental publicity stunt, and after a half-baked apology, he was back to making the same kind of content that got him into trouble in the first place. He was even earning more views than ever before.
If you have a Twitter or Instagram account, or basic internet access, you have probably witnessed this rising prevalence of call-out culture, or “cancelling” culture over the past few years. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to scroll through social media without seeing a new career-ending scandal, whether it be the resurfacing of a celebrity’s insensitive tweets from their adolescence, a politician’s offensive video, or a social media star’s poorly judged post. Just in the past few months, a handful of celebrities come to mind that fulfills each of these categories.
Riverdale star Charles Melton was scolded for his insensitive body shaming tweets from 2012, YouTube stars Jason Nash and Trisha Paytas were called out for the lack of maturity in their “break up” videos (the pair was reportedly back together a few days later), and well, do I need to pick an offensive thing Donald Trump has said on tape?
At times it feels unfeasible to keep up with the hashtags and keep track of the seemingly never-ending list of people that you can no longer support.
Therein lies the second question that I sought to explore in depth—what good is cancelling culture doing anyone?
I have always felt uncomfortable with this trend of call-out culture, but I have never been able to identify my problem with it. Logically, people who say and do insensitive things should be called out by their peers, and I like the fact that through social media we are able to foster a more politically aware community, but a lot of the time, that just isn’t what call-out culture accomplishes.
A few days ago, I randomly stumbled upon a Trevor Noah radio interview on “The Breakfast Club,” in which he talks in depth about the divisive nature of today’s political climate, and how media often acts to deepen those divisions instead of bridging them. Although in the interview he is specifically speaking about racist people who are “banned” or “cancelled,” I believe that his words can be applied to the issue at large.
“The problem is that when you shun racists, when you cut them out of society, where do they go to?” he begins.
“When Donald Sterling with the Clippers has his racist tirade, what happens to him? They give him a billion dollars and he goes home. Is that guy not racist anymore?” he continues.
“All we’re doing is we’re banning these people. Where do we ban them to? That’s all I want to know,” he says.
With this statement, he is boldly and succinctly identifying the problem that I have had with cancelling culture all along. His questions, in a lot of ways, target its problem. The problem is not that people are being called out for their actions, it is that there is no thought behind it. In the end, there are no consequences because of it. When people are merely attacked for their actions by a mindless swarm of internet users who will forget about the situation in a few days, no one is really held accountable, and nothing is learned. In essence, when everyone is cancelled, no one is really cancelled.
The greatest example of this is sitting in the White House right now. No matter how many times Donald Trump has acted unethically or tweeted something insensitive, he is not held accountable for his actions because call-out culture is promoted by the nonstop pace of today’s media. Once we find something or someone else to focus our attention on, those who have been “cancelled” are able to bounce back without a scratch. No one is actually holding them accountable, no one is following up, no one is teaching them in a rational manner why what they did or said was wrong.
The remedy to this cultural phenomenon is difficult to identify, especially given how strongly it has influenced online dialogue surrounding socio-political issues. However, since it has intensified social media’s hypercritical rhetoric and deepened present divisions without any progressive results, something has to be done. To begin with, we can start by taking a step back and doing our own research before coming to conclusions. Thinking as an individual instead of following a mob mentality increases the weight that each accusation and “call-out” holds because it is no longer a simple part of some strange trend. Moreover, we need to make sure that the accused are held accountable for their actions instead of just saying so on our online platforms. Whether this be by not supporting their future projects, unfollowing their social media, or in extreme cases, making sure they are tried in a court of law, some follow-up from their “banning” needs to be done. After all, this will make “cancelling” culture more than a mere dismissal; it will make it a step towards a revolution.