Why Cancel Culture Needs To Be Canceled
By Pablo Luis-Herrera, Second year Public Affairs & Education double major, minor in Chicano/a/x and Central American Studies
Check Twitter, Instagram, or any social media platform, and you will immediately see an influencer who is or has gotten canceled at some point in their career.
For those of you who have no clue about cancel culture, it is a phenomenon that began with its root in social media where individuals "cancel" their support for an influencer. This occurs when an influencer's actions are deemed offensive or ignorant by the general public. Often, cancel culture is followed by the mass use of fill-in blank hashtags with "#____isoverparty" or "#___iscancelled" on Twitter.
Meanwhile, others like Meredith Clark, a professor at the University of Virginia, define cancel culture as “It’s a cultural boycott. It’s an agreement not to amplify, signal boost, give money to. People talk about the attention economy — when you deprive someone of your attention, you’re depriving them of a livelihood.”
Cancel culture can also be attached to miscellaneous items. You may have seen the hashtag #2020iscancelled or even #2020isoverparty trending on twitter as the year progresses with newer disasters and tragedies arising. But the focus needs to be directed on cancel culture that directly affects people and influencers.
Through apps such as Twitter, many argue two different sides on the issue. Some say that cancel culture allows for a collective of people to make influencers accountable for their actions. On the other perspective, it sees cancel culture as a toxic action that fails to educate and correctly make influencers accountable for their actions.
Neelam, a highschool senior, describes cancel culture as a form of activism as she states “it’s a way to take away someone’s power and call out the individual for being problematic in a situation.”
Ben, a 17-year-old, argues cancel culture is toxic as he states it “takes away the option for them to learn from their mistakes and kind of alienates them.”
Both arguments are reasonable and add to the issue that is cancel culture. Cancel culture is a collective action problem with externalities as their implications. The actors in the problem being the people canceling and their choices being to educate or send hate to an influencer. Whether the collective action has positive or negative externalities is dependent on how the issue is addressed.
The purpose of actors collectively using cancel culture to address influencers is to create a positive externality of changing and educating figures to be more socially aware. But instead, with mass media, the externality has shifted into becoming a negative externality in which people joining the “cancel train” will forward more hate than education onto a figure. Oftentimes, cancel culture fails to allow the influencer to address their side of the story.
Take pop artist Taylor Swift as an example of the faults and issues of cancel culture in addressing the influencer. Her problem began when Kanye West posted a song named “Famous,” which had a lyric that objectified her as a “bitch” in 2016. Taylor testified that she never permitted Kayne to use that lyric, but Kim Kardashian reported otherwise in the video clip that she leaked. This leaked video and drama caused fans to collectively push hate towards Taylor, causing many people to cancel her for lying and being devious. The number of people canceling Taylor made her go into years of hiding from the media. But recently news broke out in March 2020 that the leaked video by Kim Kardashian was misconstrued to make Taylor look like a liar and a “snake.”
Cancel culture was so quick to cancel Taylor and her platform which failed to hear her side of the story. In the end, Taylor was innocent but cancel culture already did its damage in hate and put her in years of hiding. That right there is the issue with cancel culture. This phenomenon fails to let artists speak up about the issue and learn from their mistakes. Instead, these artists or influencers receive increasing rates of hate which are negative externalities that the collective action canceling influencers do not internalize, but the influencers like Taylor Swift do.
The collective action taken in cancel culture should rather create a positive externality that would make influencers aware of their wrongdoings in a respectful manner that allows for an educational space. This adapted cancel culture would create an externality that allows media to become a space of discussion and growth rather than toxicity and hate as we see with the current climate of cancel culture.
Recently we have seen many mainstream celebrities such as Doja Cat, Lana Del Rey, and Jimmy Fallon falling into the cancel culture train in 2020. Respectively, these celebrities were canceled due to controversial actions that led to a racism scandal.
So the question still holds: “Why is the collective action in cancel culture continuing to create this negative externality, aka toxicity?”
There is an action that isn't being taken due to the nature of the problem. Individuals are hesitant to hold an individual accountable in a more restorative and educational way because everyone is dog-piling, and they would stand out if they educate the figure. It is also important to note that the education they would provide would not be noticed in the pool of hate comments.
This then brings on a new problem to the scene, a coordination problem. Because of this coordination problem, a cycle is being created where actors, the people, stick to the status quo actions. Since cancel culture is full of hate and toxicity, people continue to send hate and toxicity when canceling an influencer.
Often, because of the lack of discussion or education that cancel culture allows in the media, celebrities that do get cancel will make fake apology statements without growing and understanding the implication of their actions. Let's start to create a place where we can build and educate each other, rather than knocking everyone down by dismantling cancel culture as it is.