Cancel culture has been a thing for at least a year, as far as I can tell. When someone you really like on the internet gets "canceled", then it's easy to become outraged about it, which makes it easy for the opposite team to say "you're just upset because it's someone you looked up to." First off, that is a legitimate reason to feel upset, whether it's because you are disappointed in them, or because you feel bad for them. It doesn't matter from which side you're coming from, your feelings about it, are valid. I believe that is the problem. We started to tell each other how we should feel, and we crossed a line doing so.
There was a time that “canceling” someone by boycotting their work, was an interesting idea. Boycotting has been around for decades, a lot of big brands are boycotted on a daily base in a hope they'll change their ways. The power to change anything lies with the people, because they are the ones that dictate what's accepted. Companies, stars, individuals, and artists are sustained by their fans. Because of this, when the masses realize they can control who is popular, personal opinion starts to dictate what is “allowed”, and talking about it, is skipped. In other words, if you mix boycotting with internet heroes, who believe they are the almighty judge, you get “cancel culture.”
A mass of angry people is hard to control, since not everyone's limits on how far they'll go are the same. One part of the group might do something the rest of the movement doesn’t agree with. One person supporting a movement might make a statement other people don't agree with, yet it's now become part of that movement. It’s imaginable what kind of damage such a volatile concept can do.
Ayishat Akanbi speaks beautifully about the problems with cancel culture. She says it is important to “embrace being wrong because being wrong is a step closer to being right”. She essentially means to say that it is difficult for people to better themselves if they are too scared to be wrong. She describes that if someone can change their mind, it is a sign that they’re still thinking. If a person can look back at what he has done in the past and realize it was a mistake, then this could be considered a sign of intelligence. It shows that their perspective has changed, that they’ve listened and learned.
With this, she describes the essence of learning and it ties in with why I think it’s so important that people don’t censor themselves or each other. If the opposite opinion is never expressed, then how can we ever have a conversation about it? How, in the last 10 years, could we have learned what is offensive, or learned how to understand each other, if neither side ever spoke up?
So what happens when a mass starts “canceling” people for things they’ve done? What happens, when we start hunting each other down, every time we are prompted to? What if the opportunity to really learn is taken away?
Let’s call this “cancel culture” for what it has become when the mass passed these blurred lines. Bullying
It is barraging someone for a mistake they made until their self-esteem falls apart. It is chanting at someone until they feel pushed into a corner and feel no other choice but to do what they’re being told, regardless if they mean it. It is making someone feel so hopeless that they decide to quit. It is muting what someone thinks, it stifles conversations and it teaches everyone around them that it’s best to just hold your breath all the time instead of expressing what you think.
Boycotting made sense because it was about demanding change, about getting a point across to the person. Most importantly, it was never personal.
This bullying culture ignores that change has already happened, and because of the magnitude of a “cancel crowd” that cannot control itself, they can make it feel very personal to the targeted person. It invades somebody's life so much, that it grips them, and shackles them, until they are forced to speak the words they're demanded to mean.
When I see these stories, I start believing that I’m better off saying nothing, I better not have an opinion, because if someone thinks it’s wrong I might get attacked for it.
That was my mindset for years. I was so terrified to say anything about anything, that I never picked a side, and never spoke up.
Now, I much rather write what I think, come back a year later to realize I was wrong than that I never spoke up and never had a chance to learn.
When you start witch-hunting people for every past mistake they made, you make having an opinion or being human, terrifying.
Having conversations on the internet has never been easy. Mostly because we end up having a million conversations at once about something, and only one of those conversations involves the person that they are about. It is this chaos that this bullying culture thrives in.
I saw somebody say that no one “demanded” someone to quit, that they make that choice themselves. They don’t seem to know how intimidating a wave of critique can be, and even more likely, they didn’t demand the person to quit, but someone else probably has.
It’s perfectly fine to look at something and express that you believe it’s inappropriate. Everyone has their own views and experiences, everyone feels different about images we create or words we speak. Most of the time, seeing something from a new point of view is enlightening. That doesn’t mean you should bully someone to a point that they don’t feel safe anymore. Cancel culture mutes the conversation, yelling louder and louder, until the other stops. Good people get boxed in with people who do mean harm, getting the punishment the real offenders deserve, and those enlightening perspectives, become a threat.
Eventually, it means that we will go full circle, and the people who are feeling muted now, will come around and push for their place in their communities. We will just end up arguing again and nothing will have changed. I honestly believe that we are much closer to that "push back" moment than we realize.