If you haven’t been living under a rock since the 2010’s, you’ve almost certainly heard of cancel culture.
Love it or hate it, this contemporary spin on collective dissent touches nearly every corner of public discourse, from politics to showbiz to internet memes and beyond.
To some, cancel culture is the voice of truth making itself heard through cooperative protest. For others, it’s a dangerous threat to free speech. For others still, it’s simply a form of entitled tantruming on the part of an idle but vocal majority.
So what’s the real story? Let’s break it down.
What is Cancel Culture?
Cancel culture is a term that merged in the early 2010’s and has only picked up steam from there.
According to Vox, the term has its origins in a scene from the 1991 film New Jack City when gangster Nino Brown, played by Wesley Snipes, breaks up with his girlfriend with the phrase, “Cancel that b****. I’ll get a new one.”
In other cases, canceling can simply be a lack of empathy for others’ flaws, devolving into a highly visible form of bullying and public shaming.
Call out culture
Call out culture differs from canceling in the sense that it’s more commonly used by progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to “call out” injustice.
These instances usually involve specific examples of behaviors and comments that violate a particular principle or embody prejudice in some way.
Still, like cancel culture, call out culture isn’t cut and dry.
Even former President Barack Obama has an opinion on call out culture, sharing publicly at the Obama Foundation Summit that “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.”
He goes on to say there’s a misconception that making change involves being “as judgmental as possible” and that “casting stones” is easy to do. “That’s not activism,” he concludes.
Cancel Culture and Political Correctness
While political correctness has arguably been around for longer, the two usually go hand in hand.
The term is meant to describe language or forms of expression, including measures and legislation, that marginalize, trivialize, insult, or exclude certain groups of people—specifically those that are traditionally disadvantaged or who experience prejudicial treatment.
Like cancel culture, political correctness often comes up in the free speech debate.
Some argue that the language we use can have as much power as our actions and can make the difference between inclusion and condemnation.
Others feel that policing the way people speak is simply another form of oppressive “big brother” behavior that limits free speech and quells constructive debate.
Famous People Who Have Been ‘Canceled’
There are plenty of examples of high profile people, both famous and infamous, who have been canceled.
Cancel Culture Example 1: Adam Rapoport
One of the infamous examples is Adam Rapoport, former editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit.
Cancel Culture Example 2: Lea Michele of Glee
Lea Michele of Glee fame was also canceled in 2020 in response to her Tweet in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Afterward, former Glee co-star Samantha Ware called Michele out for “traumatic microaggressions” off-screen, claiming that Michele even tried to get her fired.
As a result, a number of Glee cast-members stepped forward to back up the claims, including their own accusations of racism, taunting, and bullying.
Cancel Culture Example 3: Adidas
An older example of cancel culture before the term was in wide circulation is Adidas’ so-called ‘shackle shoe.’
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The unfortunate shoe design featuring prison-orange shackles attached to classic Adidas trainers surfaced in 2012. It was on its way to being produced for the market before public backlash forced Adidas to reconsider.
Cancel Culture Example 4: JK Rowling
Many a Harry Potter fan were dismayed when author J.K. Rowling retweeted an op-ed about “people who menstruate,” joking sarcastically “I think there used to be a word for those people.”
The internet responded with plenty of backlash, leading Rowling to post a response on the subject on her website, which only garnered more backlash.
Even Harry Potter star Danielle Radcliffe had something to say about it.
Cancel Culture Example 5: Eminem
A more subtle example of cancel culture at work is an ongoing Twitter conversation with the aim to cancel Eminem.
This cancellation is more of a retrospective than it is in response to anything the rapper has done recently.
Can You Recover From Being Canceled?
The question of whether you can recover from being canceled depends on several factors.
When it comes to celebrities and other public figures, those who’ve committed sexual assault and abuse are the least likely to bounce back, whether in their popularity or in their career prospects. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
When it comes to other unsavory behaviors, it depends. Most of the celebrities mentioned above have bounced back at least to some degree.
What it takes to move past getting canceled
When it comes to individuals, being canceled may not be such a nail in the proverbial coffin. A changed screen name may be all it takes to recover.
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Of course, the main way to recover from any kind of public shaming is to have a strong sense of self and a strong support network.
If you know and accept who you are and those closest to you do too, you’ll be far less affected by the tides of public opinion.
Is Cancel Culture a Problem?
So the question remains: Is cancel culture a problem?
The public seems to be divided.
To some, cancel culture will remain an immature form of public shaming that doesn’t live up to the promise of real social justice work.
To others, cancel culture is a threat to free speech, stepping on the toes of the idea that people should be allowed to say whatever they want without repurcussions, no matter how stupid or bigotted it may be.
For others, cancel culture is the public’s way of serving up vigilante justice in the wild west of the internet age, keeping power accountable and preventing discrimination from going unchecked.
When it comes to these opposing views, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
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