Despite good intentions, cancel culture has lost all meaning

ryland signed ed
Photo: 

We often talk about being cancelled with a sense of finality, but ‘cancel culture’ isn’t ruining careers; it’s just a discursive shorthand.

Public personae have always been dependent on popularity, and what is or is not deemed acceptable has never been static. Now, everyone has the ability to call out what they deem inappropriate, but a ‘trial by social media’ isn’t actionable. 

In 2020 alone, Bryan Adams, Lana Del Rey, Jimmy Fallon, Vanessa Hudgens, Demi Lovato, J.K. Rowling, Sebastian Stan, and Jeffree Star have come under fire, yet they’re all doing just fine.

A popular argument against cancel culture is that it limits ‘open debate,’ the thought being that cancel culture is forcing everyone to submit to a homogenized, politically correct culture wherein a difference of opinion results in being chased away by a mob of angry Twitter-users. Except most Twitter-users can’t de-platform anyone, and the right to speak your mind doesn’t protect you from criticism. 

It can be intimidating to have thousands of people disagree with you online, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to express yourself. 

Because of social media, everyone—especially marginalized groups—can speak out in a way that wasn’t possible before. The voice of the public has shifted, and people who were previously shielded from public scrutiny can’t necessarily depend on flying under the radar anymore. 

Holding people accountable for their actions is obviously important, but no matter how loud the noise around the newest cancellation is, it seems the many are no match for the more privileged few. If cancel culture isn’t working, how else are people supposed to hold public figures accountable? 

Call it criticism, backlash, or ‘cancelling,’ but public outcry existed long before the internet; now, it just happens faster. Given the media cycle, the conversation around whoever has been ‘cancelled’ today is often gone by tomorrow. Usually, cancellation results in a hashtag, some biting threads, a Notes app apology, and not much else. When people do lose big, it’s because their actions have been indefensible, even criminal. Frankly, they deserve it. 

While some ‘victims’ of cancel culture may have ostensibly lost popularity, temporarily or not, being a successful public figure is hardly a human right. 

Cancellation isn’t permanent; it isn’t even useful. Social media is a terrible medium for debate because it’s an extremely difficult place to have complicated conversations about accountability and is a place where disagreement quickly becomes harassment.

The constant stream of updates seems to equalize behavioural nitpicks and criminal offences, as everyone from R. Kelly to Taylor Swift has at some point been lumped under the umbrella of ‘cancelled’—a term so broad and inconsequential, it has nearly lost all meaning. 

There are good intentions behind ‘cancel culture.’ It’s just too bad that its negative reputation, fast pace, and the acidity of anonymous judgment have totally overshadowed those intentions. 

Ryland Piché is a second-year English student and one of  The Journal’s Copy Editors.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.