The Untold Truth about ‘Cancel Culture’
If you are an Internet user, chances are you have come across the idea that we live in a ‘cancel culture’ or ‘call out culture’.
All mighty Wikipedia defines ‘cancel culture’ as
the phenomenon of “cancelling” or no longer morally, financially, and/or digitally supporting people — usually celebrities — events, art works such as songs, films or TV shows, or things that many have deemed unacceptable or problematic.
‘Cancel culture’ is about re-thinking choices, and no longer spending money or time on materials or artists that have committed some kind of wrong, from abusing someone, to joking about pedophilia, or even being openly racist.
Photo by Nadine Shaabana
Those who strongly oppose ‘cancel culture’ suggest that we should empathize with people who make mistakes, educate them, and help them do better in the future. They think that, by withdrawing our support, we are only creating a more difficult experience, in which they won’t learn about their mishaps.
So who is in the right? ‘Cancel culture’ or ‘support everyone’?
Since there are three sides to every story, let’s analyze the three sides to this.
Cancel Culture Shouldn’t Be ‘A Thing’
Currently, those who seem to be in the minority, or at least are less visible on social media, are those who believe we shouldn’t live in a ‘cancel culture’.
I’ve seen some post about how certain people ‘don’t believe in cancel culture’, or articles about ‘cancelling cancel culture’, but they are not nearly as ubiquitous as the call-outs.
The argument in favor of ‘cancelling’ cancel culture relies on the fact that we shouldn’t be judges of other people’s morality. It is not uncommon to compare the Twitter masses to crowds bearing pitchforks, as if this new moral compass has reverted us back to medieval times.
Something that can be said for those who refuse cancel culture is that they are trying to implement a culture of forgiveness and growth. It’s not like call outs won’t happen anymore, it’s that what will matter most is what happens after them. They say the best apology is changed behavior, and detractors of cancel culture seem to strongly believe this.
Photo by Felix Koutchinski
However, what this side is failing to address is a something quite relevant: what they are often defending is male and/or white privilege.
There will be more on that later.
Let’s see the other side.
This hashtag, which originated in Black Twitter around 2015, has been used to point fingers to numerous problematic people and products during the recent past.
After the reckoning of the #metoo movement, it has often revolved around abuse, but it has also dealt with prominent topics such as racism, or queerbaiting.
However, not all outrages are created equal, and some ‘cancellations’ have had better fortune than others. A well-known example of cancel culture is the dropping of the Roseanne revival after star Roseanne Barr made some racist comments on Twitter. Other include the firing of James Gunn from directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies; or most recently, the calls for cancellation of Liam Neeson last project, after he gave a very controversial interview.
On the other hand, there several examples of cancel culture not affecting its subjects, such as Kanye West or Ariana Grande. The former was #cancelled after he said ‘slavery was a choice’, but his album was still topping the Billboard that year. As for the latter, even though she has endured several call outs for cultural appropriation, and most recently, queerbaiting, but, at the moment, she’s going strong.
So, wherein lies the third side of the story, namely, the truth?
The Truth: Privilege
A very often untold truth about the world is that we have always lived in somewhat of a ‘cancel culture’.
Let me explain.
Before black Twitter users started cancelling morally wrong behaviors, culture and media had long been practicing the complete erasure of certain people and ideas. The only difference is that they weren’t erased because they were racists, or homophobes, or abusers, or rapists.
Quite the contrary, the people who were erased were often minorities, their only fault was to be black, or female, or trans, or gay, or all of the above. Their contributions didn’t matter because they, as a person, couldn’t matter. They weren’t allowed to take space; they were, to all intend and purposes, cancelled. Let me give you some examples.
Alice Ball found a cure for leprosy. That had to count for something, didn’t it? It didn’t. She was a chemist who developed a treatment that would be used for two decades. But since she was also a black woman, her contribution remained untold.
Alan Turing invented one of the core concepts of computer science, and his work saved millions of people during World War II. However, he led a very complicated life, due to the fact that he was gay, and was even convicted for it. His contributions were obscured by who he was, and he’s nowhere near as famous as other mathematicians.
Vera Rubin did some incredibly groundbreaking work, surrounding the topic of dark matter, which basically created a whole new field in Astrophysics. However, she was never awarded the Nobel Prize, and I would be willing to bet most people haven’t heard about her. She’s not part of the cult of ‘hyped’ physicist like Einstein, or Oppenheimer. She’s left out of the ‘boy’s club’. She was erased because she was a woman.
Ball, Rubin and Turing all contributed to the advance of science and the improvement of humankind. However, who they were meant they could be easily erased, and their jaw-dropping stories could be replaces by other similar accounts that had been achieved by white men.
Cancel culture, however, does not erase people for who they are, but for what they do. Cancel culture actually tries to defend the minorities that have had to endured years of being enslaved, abused, and erased.
Cancel culture is actually the minorities, the oppressed, reclaiming their power and fighting back.
Most often than not, the ‘victims’ of cancel culture are people who are enacting some kind of privilege. They are mostly men, even though there are a few women. They are also predominantly white.
Those who are privileged and find themselves occupying center positions take advantage of that to make jokes, marginalize, or even abused those in the margins. Even worse, they use all of these to exploit people and make a profit.
When we call them out we are not marginalizing them, we are just revoking their privilege. We are trying for them to empathize with us, as people of color, as women, as LGBTI people.
We are not calling for pitchforks; we are calling for empathy. After all, we have been enduring erasure for centuries, and with much less reason.