If you’ve been a member of any form of popular social media in the past few years, it’s probably safe to assume you’re aware of at least a handful of celebrities or influencers who’ve been cancelled. Cancel culture is a phenomenon in the world of new-age social media celebrities and has been the catalyst for the downfall of several careers. With the rapidly increasing amount of people getting cancelled in recent years, it begs the question – is cancel culture fair? What leads to someone being cancelled? Why do we cancel people?
The answer is complex. Cancel culture is based around the notion of pushing for someone – more specifically, celebrities with a platform – to be held accountable for their actions and mistakes. In this day and age, where people are influenced by their favourite celebrities more than ever, it’s important that they, as people influencing thousands or millions of others, recognise their mistakes and ignorant behaviours. It is generally presumed that if they don’t acknowledge these mistakes, they are then inherently supportive of them. This means that in this day and age it is critical that when a celebrity is called out on something problematic or insulting that they’ve done or said in the past, they as influencers must address it. This alone – celebrities admitting to their mistakes and speaking against them – is fair. Those who’ve proven themselves to be problematic or ignorant in the past deserve to be corrected and to apologise to members of their following for their behaviour. Holding celebrities accountable ensures transparency with their audience and ensures that the audience is aware of the morals and values of the celebrity.
But what if the celebrity has apologised? What influences an audience’s decision as to when they’ll cancel someone?
In my opinion, it depends on two things: the context of the behaviour and the genuineness of their apology. As a white person, in cases of celebrities who’ve been cancelled for doing blackface, yellowface, etc., or using derogatory words towards minorities, I will never be in a position to accept their apologies. However, it’s interesting to look at who has been cancelled for things like this. Lil Huddy from TikTok, for example, was never really cancelled for the videos of him saying the n-word. Sure, it became a running joke on TikTok that people haven’t really forgotten, but he never lost a significant number of supporters – even though several members of the black community thought his apology was ingenuine. Emmuhlu, also from TikTok, had videos surface of her using the n-word despite her platform being almost exclusively dedicated to social justice topics. Emma released several videos apologising profusely, yet the apology was widely rejected, and she has since not avidly used her platform. What’s the difference? Shane Dawson has been “cancelled” several times for various missteps such as blackface, cultural appropriation, use of several derogatory terms, and jokes about paedophilia and bestiality, and has apologised for almost all of these. Whilst there was a period when people were okay with Shane, in the past while, people have begun to attack him for the things he’s done once again. Why now? Why are the same people who were fine with him just now turning on him?
Once again, for many of the things that celebrities are cancelled for, their apology will never be mine to accept. However, I think that we as a generation should look objectively at cases of people getting cancelled and ask ourselves what our motives are. Generally, when someone is called out it is justified; as I said before, celebrities should be held accountable for their mistakes. But, why do we cancel people the way we do?
For a lot of people, I think, cancelling someone is satisfying. Feeling like you’ve brought justice feels good. On top of this, I think that most people enjoy feeling unified. Being in a comments section with thousands of other people who think like you and act like you, all working towards the same objective of cancelling someone or holding them accountable feels good. We enjoy unity. We enjoy justice. It’s in our nature. Cancel culture is driven by this – unity in justice.
Many people call cancel culture toxic due to the relentless effort put into tormenting those who’ve been called out, instead of holding them accountable maturely. Some argue that cancel culture has to be toxic and brutal for people to truly understand that they’ve messed up and need to change. I feel it comes down to an individual decision in each person as to whether cancel culture is beneficial or toxic, and as to who deserves to be cancelled. It’s your decision to make.