By now, we’ve all grown well enough accustomed to the strange lands of the internet to barely react when confronted with terms like “cancel culture” or “virtue signaling” anymore. However, this relatively young phrase has had a large impact on our mindsets as a whole. What does it mean, and how does it affect our daily lives?
What is cancel culture?
Dictonary.com defines cancel culture as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” Others call it “active public shaming based on a perceived or substantial, mostly unaddressed social transgression.” In short: cancel culture is our society’s tendency to retract all support from a person we disagree with, rather than having a discussion and opening a dialogue with them.
Cancel culture has been largely criticized as being an outlet for people to ruin people’s lives. No one is spared from it – not even popular celebrities who made a “mistake” years ago. It ostracises them from the participating spheres without giving them a second chance or the benefit of the doubt. Especially given our rapidly growing social awareness, many argue that policing others’ actions is unfair and does not allow for growth.
#MeToo and criticisms
Talent is not synonymous with character. Many argue that supporting someone’s artistic endeavors does not equal condoning their actions. However, continuing to treat someone as if they had done nothing wrong not only excuses them of accountability but also lets them uphold their position of power, which could endanger someone else.
While conservatives online love to paint cancel culture as a dark force taking over the arts, the phenomenon also has positive effects. Tons of prominent movie producers and actors have lost their power and influence in Hollywood over #MeToo allegations. The industry is safer because of it, though many of the accused still work in it, albeit to a smaller extent.
Cancel culture is mostly present on social media, which suggests that its proponents are not as interested in holding people accountable as online shaming and virtue signaling. On social media, people tend to fall into a herd mentality. Especially platforms like Twitter, things are often painted as black-and-white, which isn’t reflective of our real-life experiences. People are not good or bad – they are. While calling them out for their mistakes is necessary, erasing all their positives because that does not seem fair.
A shift from punishment to healing
Is cancel culture really effective, though? When looking back on recent years, there are few instances outside of the #MeToo movement which have achieved much. Canceling people does not encourage them to own up to their mistakes. Instead, many react with denial and negation.
Humans are complex creatures who can (but don’t have to) change quickly and extensively. Negating this online and defining them by past mistakes hinders growth instead of encouraging it. Too often, we confuse holding people accountable for punishing them. The sad truth is that punishment will heal neither the individuals nor the collective. We must find a new definition of accountability, one that does not center around punishment, but around healing.