We’ve arrived in 2021 with a lot going on, but in social media and many news outlets we seem to be fixated on ‘Cancel Culture.’ Seriously, fixated. The 2020 Republican National Convention even kicked off its big start somehow focusing on our collective ability to systematically, culturally block a well-known person from having a prominent public platform or career, or “canceling” them.
The action follows a familiar pattern: A celebrity or other well-known personality (sports figure, podcaster, stand-up comic) says or does something that offends in some way. There is a public outcry and backlash, paired up with a social media frenzy, and soon after are the cries to ‘cancel’ the offender. Canceling is akin to effectively ending their career, revoking their star status, through boycotting their work or by way of action from their employer (firing, show/series cancellation); it can be brutal.
canceling shuns people away from a society that is supposed to be teaching us to be better humans
We know that public shaming has been around pretty much forever. Anyone who has read The Scarlet Letter knows it’s got drastic effects. Some pretty formerly-impressive people got the treatment in just the past year or so, ranging from J.K. Rowling to the editor of Bon Appetit magazine to Ellen DeGeneres, for varying reasons, most of which have to do with failing to be decent human beings, but more so failing to apologize for not being decent human beings.
At its root, canceling shuns people away from a society that is supposed to be teaching us to be better humans. Let’s not forget that, once upon a time, lepers were similarly canceled, tossed aside so that their skin disease wouldn’t be passed along to all of the other people in the town. Are we so busy canceling bad behavior that we are not taking time to heal it?
There is the companion term, “Callout Culture,” which means the same thing, in essence, but tends to not demand erasure of the perpetrator of the bad act. The Callout depends on an apology, or perhaps relies on a one-time offense rather than a history of bad acts and missteps.