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Cancel Culture Paradox

This post is our response to the Week 5 Lecture Slides. We already wanted to address this topic on the Forum, and we’ve seen that the group Tesla has already posted about this topic, however, we’ve been working on this article a few days now so we are using this opportunity to express our lengthy opinions on the topic of Cancel Culture. We encourage our colleagues to express their opinions and answer some of the questions we tried to answer in this post, it would be much appreciated.

What is Cancel Culture?

Ever since 2016, the concept of “cancel culture” quickly rose to fame, and it has since become an active ongoing phenomenon. But what is cancel culture? This term is closely related or even synonymous with a type of online/public shaming which has a core idea that someone needs to be held accountable for their wrongdoings and publicly humiliated which further entails a decline in support of that person. This trend is mainly centred around celebrities and Internet-famous people since their wrongdoings are the most visible to others. For this reason, many celebrities have had their careers ended this way.

Nevertheless, this isn’t anything that we, as a society, haven’t seen so far. For example, it can be said that cancel culture is also closely related to Ostracism which was popular in Ancient Greece. Ostracism was a politically-social practice in the form of ‘banishing’ individuals who threatened the state stability from Athens for 10 years. The individual was not allowed to go back to Athens or else he would have served a death penalty. After a period of 10 years has passed, the banished individual was free to come back without any social stigma. You can read more here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/ostracism Furthermore, Kipling Williams, a prominent social psychologist, suggests that ‘the most common form of ostracism in a modern context is refusing to communicate with a person. By refusing to communicate with a person, that person is effectively ignored and excluded’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostracism#Modern_usage ). In his work, he emphasizes the fact that social exclusion can have many negative effects on a person.

With all of that being said, we now want to focus on some further issues relating to this modern phenomenon.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

One of the main issues we have with this phenomenon is that oftentimes the people who get “cancelled” are accused of committing an offence without any serious argument or evidence proving it. The statements that people put out against someone on the Internet are always vague. There is an example concerning James Charles, a famous YouTube star, and how the cancel culture almost made him end his life. Even though Charles isn’t an unproblematic influencer and has had many scandals in his 5-year career, he was wrongly accused of sexual misconduct, racism, transphobia and ripping off his fans by his fellow YouTube friend. These ‘serious’ accusations resulted in approximately 3 million people unsubscribing from Charles’ YouTube channel on that same day the accusations were made as well as being detrimental to his career. Many celebrities and influencers jumped on the bandwagon and publicly denounced Charles who made many headlines in 2019. Most importantly, as it was later discovered, the allegations were just rumours that turned out false. During this difficult time, not only did James but also his family members receive many threats and accusations, some of which called Charles ‘a threat to society’. This raises a question whether we should believe everything we see/read on the Internet no matter how much we trust the source or their non-problematic history?

This is James Charles’ statement from May 2019. We want you to briefly go back to Ostracism and Kipling Williams and notice how James specifically used the word communication.

Effect on Individuals

The last example displays a very negative effect Cancel Culture had on a 19-year-old. In the middle of this public feud, Charles was out of the country and alone in a high floor hotel room, which could have led to him potentially hurting himself. ‘I feel like it’s my responsibility to tell you that these last few weeks have been the most painful time I had to deal with, and my mind, for a hot minute, went to a place that’s so dark that I didn’t think I was going to come back from’, explains James (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFvtCUzfyL4 ). Today, Charles finds it terrifying that this culture is gaining more popularity and that people find the hate train wagons ‘fun’. Also, he admits that he still has serious issues with his mental state and he further adds that he seeks to serve as an example as a victim of the negative influence of the cancel culture.

On the other hand, in December 2019, JK Rowling posted a tweet showing her support for a woman that was famous for being transphobic. Rowling received backlash and many fans were upset, saying how she ruined the Harry Potter series for them. This even got stars like Rupert Grint and Emma Watson to speak out against her. However this is not the first time that JK Rowling showed transphobic behavior throughout the years: in 2017 she liked a tweet promoting an article that was criticized as transphobic, and later in 2018 she also liked a tweet that referred to trans women as “men in dresses”. She justifies this by claiming that she liked the tweet by accident. All of that being said, these instances demonstrate that we are cancelling those who do not deserve it, while other actual problematic celebrities’ popularity continues growing which is a paradox.

Cancelled Individuals Prospering from Cancel Culture

Although it is one of the burning issues, cancel culture can bring extra money to influencers and brands and that is often the case. In social dilemmas, there are two passionate parties, one who advocate justice and cancelling and the other who defend with all their power the one they consider innocent. Many turn such situations to their advantage and expand their brands to make the most of being in the public eye. Perhaps it would be easiest to illustrate this with the fact that some of the most viewed YouTube videos are apology videos. Whether you entered the video to like and support or dislike and condemn in the comment, that channel still makes money from your view. Some brands and influencers go so far as to abuse some of the social problems and deliberately make the mistake just to start a discussion about it and be in the centre of attention. On the other hand, such marketing tactics can turn out to be bad if they do not justify what they stand for or if they fail to compensate for the damage done.

Does Cancelling of the Individual Affect Their Surroundings

One of the many downsides of the cancel culture is the negative consequences it can leave on the surrounding of the person being attacked.

As it has been proven in many instances, some people are less and some more resistant to the condemnation and others’ mean comments. For example, famous people receive those on a daily basis and have developed some kind of immunity, while others have been taken to the brink of suicide because of them. That is why cancel culture leaves behind a great deal of collateral damage to those closest to the cancellation target. Family, friends and all those who support the target are often attacked as well. It is important to keep in mind that no one else can be held accountable for someone’s actions and is not obliged to denounce his son, daughter, close friend just because he has been attacked by the public.

Secondly, there is also the business collateral damage of the cancel culture. Even though, as we have already mentioned, some people abuse the cancel culture for business prosperity, there are often situations when business associates give up further cooperation in order not to tarnish their own reputation. If, on the other hand, someone decides to support the target of the cancel culture, they can very easily become the target themselves and thus be condemned to failure.

One of the most recent and possibly well-known scandals, whose collateral damage can fall under both of these groups, is the one centred on Harvey Weinstein, a former film producer and convicted sex offender. After his verdict, his brother and at the same time former business partner, Bob Weinstein, faced many accusations for which he could not continue to run his business. Some are based on the fact that he knew the background of all the events, while others are just mere presumptions. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2020-03-16/harvey-weinstein-heads-to-prison-his-brother-and-longtime-business-partner-bob-mounts-a-comeback

The collateral damage can often be greater than the damage done to the one who actually made the mistake and drew all the contempt on himself.

Are Individuals Too Sensitive On the Internet?

This problem stems from this Forum thread on Desensitization: http://interculturalextraneity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=11

Social media has given us a platform which allows us to raise our voice and express our concerns. There is a growing feeling that anything can be taken out of context, quoted on Twitter and there will suddenly be a storm of invective from people who took something as offensive and who want to cancel someone. Adding to that, we got so accustomed to hate speech that eventually we could become so insensitive to the content which leads to desensitization phenomenon. Contrary to that, we must be aware that it is impossible to censor the whole Internet, but one thing we can do is be mindful when posting online and we shouldn’t take every internet attack personally. We all put so much emphasis on our mental health, yet, we discard people at the first sign of something we don’t like. In other words, there is a difference between constructively criticizing someone on the Internet and being offensive just for the sake of it. A very good article talking into detail about this is: https://thoughtcatalog.com/jon-savitt/2015/06/this-is-what-the-internet-is-doing-to-human-sensitivity/ It has been proven that people are too hypocritical when it comes to cancel culture. It is said that cancel culture arose in response to what negatively affects the masses and their mental health but at the same time cancelling destroys the mental health of the target of cancellation or even their environment as previously mentioned.

Value Disorder

Are people too quick to judge? Just because someone does not share our views and values, does not mean that we should immediately “cancel” them. We shouldn’t forget that we all change our opinions and ideas from time to time when confronted with better arguments and/or facts. This has to do with our Personal Growth and Learning thus, we all have made a lot of mistakes and said some derogatory things in our lives that we aren’t proud of but back then we perhaps haven’t been very educated about those certain topics. Kindness is an ethical value, as well as Openness and tolerance, we shouldn’t treat people the way we wouldn’t want to be treated. Cancelling is the opposite of being understanding and compassionate, being bitter about everything stops us from growing personally and expanding our sights. Finally, we deem that individuals who support this kind of online mobbing care more about Power, Influence and Fame and Success rather than working on themselves and actually thinking about the issues around them (http://interculturalextraneity.com/articles/have-we-got-news-for-you ).

Why Should This Topic Be Addressed?

Suffice to say, cancel culture is toxic. At its core, it does not prevent violence or point to wrongdoings, but on the contrary, it promotes and contributes mostly to the Internet violence in such manner that the end result is often worse than the act that triggered the whole process. It also leads to the point of generalization where people are cancelled even because of seemingly insignificant disagreements in opinions and attitudes. Should the public determine who is going to be held accountable for what or are there any legal institutions that can do these tasks better? Is this mob mentality a new form of social justice? We want to make it clear that we don’t imply that individual who committed misdeeds shouldn’t be held accountable for that. As it is very likely that cancel culture can have more negative than positive effects, it is necessary to raise awareness of how to use it for the best possible purposes.

Lastly, we as linguists, want to share that Noah Chomsky and Salman Rushdie signed an open letter criticizing this neologism (https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/ note: they don’t call this phenomenon “cancel culture” but “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted, a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favour of ideological conformity.”). These intellectuals offer a solution: “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers, we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk-taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”

Helpful links:
Ayishat Akanbi, 2020, link available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3ZjTg1OpIE&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=DoubleDownNews

Sara Tidwell, Jack Falinski, 2020, link available here
https://statenews.com/article/2020/09/a-look-into-cancel-culture?ct=content_open&cv=cbox_latest

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