Cancel culture is the act of withdrawing support for public figures or companies after they’ve done or said something objectionable or offensive.
Popularly performed online amongst Generation Z and Millennials, the hidden truth behind cancel culture is that it’s always been around.
Even though the term itself was created not so long ago, public shaming has been found sprinkled throughout world history and entertainment in more cases than one.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, framed one of the most famous novels ever around culture. In “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester Prynn, the main character of the story, was literally paraded around town with a scarlet "A" signed on her breast for having committed adultery.
Cancel culture has always been present in history and entertainment; it just hasn’t always been called cancel culture.
So how did it get its name?
Twitter can take some of the credit, according to Merriam-Webster.
When the #MeToo movement first started, survivors demanded justice by ousting their perpetrators by sharing their names into the public sphere. It’s now used to justify more than just sexual assault. The list includes addressing those who’ve been racially, homophobically or just generally insensitive to the greater society.
To be cancelled means being shunned from the same society that deems you to be insensitive. During the time of leprosy, lepers were cast out into secluded areas with other lepers to prevent the spread of the contagious and deadly disease. Similarly, those who’ve been cancelled today are socially cast out into their own stigmatized bubble of guilt and shame.
Cancel culture ruins careers. It ruins people's images. And, for those who’ve already been cancelled, it’s something they’re finding very hard to climb out of. But didn't they get themselves there? Weren't they cancelled for reason?
Some people you may know who have been canceled
There's always a problem with putting an ordinary person, even a hero, up on a pedestal. Once you’re on top, should something happen that society doesn’t abide by, it’s a long fall to the ground.
And karma knows everything. It doesn’t care who you are.
“The King of YouTube,” also known as Shane Dawson, was canceled when videos of him making racist, pedophilia and bestiality-type jokes and again when people came back to his videos before he belittled other online creators like James Charles for money resurfaced. However, his cancelation never stuck because his fans would keep returning to his series.
Award-winning author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, was canceled for tweeting that she supported Maya Forstater, a researcher with a history of making transphobic comments and spreading harmful rhetoric about the "T" community in LGBTQ.
Television host and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres, was canceled for being mean — allegations range from bad fan encounters, firing someone for looking her in the eye and playing favorites with where she extended a helping hand, down to executive producers of her show being racist and committing sexual misconduct.
While the list extends for miles, those are just three of the biggest canceled names in modern media. The severity of the reason people are cancelled varies among the crowd.
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Students weigh in
International relations junior Jen Nardone said she first heard about cancel culture last year when James Charles was in the process of getting canceled.
“It was kind of just scary to see his followers drop so fast based on somebody’s story which could have absolutely been falsified,” she said.
But when she heard about Shane Dawson, a celebrity she admired, getting canceled, she said it felt different than just seeing any other celebrity get canceled.
“As a fan, it was a whole different thing because you watch someone you love get so much hate,” she said. “(Being) canceled is so aggressive”
Nardone said she thinks it’s tough to support someone who is being canceled because it leaves you, the fan, in limbo of whether to support that person.
“When you support somebody and then you’re just told you’re not allowed to support them anymore it’s like you’re kind of in a box, and you have to just listen to what everybody wants to do,” she said. “It’s hard.”
Cancel culture, according to Nardone, can go too far and do more damage than repair. She said once you’re canceled, it becomes really hard to make a genuine apology, and even if you do people still might not believe you.
“We should just acknowledge that people make mistakes,” she said. “I think cancel culture is just really toxic, but people also need to be held accountable.”
For Teron Kinnard, an MSU junior studying anthropology, he said accountability is exactly what makes cancel culture beneficial.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative thing, unless people get canceled who don’t need it,” he said. “I think it’s a way of holding people accountable to some degree when people usually get away with things.”
Kinnard said he thinks because the entertainment industry socially elevates celebrities to statuses that can create conceited egos, cancel culture is a good way to bring them back down to earth.
“I feel like a lot of times with big celebrity names, they can get away with some things that most people can’t get away with,” he said. "Cancel culture and social media, those things are really up to the public to decide whether or not they still have their platform.”
While there is always some risk in making accusations, Kinnard said cancel culture turns us, the public, into the judge. We, therefore, must investigate on our end to make informed decisions.
“That’s always a danger when someone is falsely accused, but I think when it comes down to it, you just have to do your own research,” he said.
This article is part of our Information Overload print edition. View the entire issue here.
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