Cancel Culture - a place to call home
Updated: May 2
By Betsy Caldwell
From Dr. Seuss to the Fourth of July, and even John Wayne, anyone and anything can be canceled in today’s online environment. The term “cancel culture” has become prevalent throughout social media in particular, and to those with a big following and influence - it’s their worst nightmare.
You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen it, you’ve probably been canceled too - you just don't know it. It’s seen a lot through the media, especially social media, but is not irrelevant to personal social circles we run in.
To cancel means to stop doing, or to decide that something is not going to happen. Culture is defined by the Oxford dictionary as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. Put the two together, and you have a social media phenomenon that has turned more into a bout of public shaming than it has accountability holding.
Cancel Culture, in more words, is the modern form of ostracism in which someone is axed out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person.
Here’s how it goes: Someone - normally a celebrity or a person with a large social media following - says or does something considered insensitive or offensive. Public backlash begins, with a call to action “to cancel” this person.
A lot of the time canceling is fueled by political affiliation or racist remarks, and the end goal is to essentially end their careers, taking away any type of influence they have and making their public lives as they know them cease to exist.
Cancel Culture has not always been called from this name, but is something that has been a concept of social construction for generations.
John Stuart Mill (1859) originated the “marketplace of ideas” concept that underlies much of this current trend:
“The test of truth or acceptance of ideas depends on their competition with one another and not on the opinion of a censor, whether one provided by the government or by some other authority.”
In other words, the government is not to censor your thoughts or opinions, but whether those thoughts and opinions are to be accepted and be deemed truthful is determined by those around you and how it measures up to other opinions, ideas.
The power of cancel culture
Cancel Culture has become a major fear for a celebrity or influencer since its rise in 2014-2015.
Bill Crosby, R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein, faced severe cancelling as national news reported their sex crimes. And as the Black Lives Matter movement gained steam so did “canceling” any public figures saying racist remarks.
Cancel culture holds such power because anyone can be canceled - regardless of who they are or what they did. The person being canceled has no control over the situation; all they can do is hope the public accepts their apologies so they can return to relevance..
The internet is where it thrives best. Without the internet and specifically social media, there would be no space for cancel culture to exist on the scale that it does.
How cancel culture became political
There is a debate on whether or not cancel culture is something efficient that is largely disagreed upon between political parties. Gibbes Knotts believes “what's really interesting is that it has become partisan to so many things.”
“Democrats are a lot more likely to say yeah, that person deserved it,” explains Knotts, “where Republicans are more likely to be really turned off by canceled culture.”
Political parties are divided on the topic due to its alignment with the parties’ ideologies.
“Democrats are more likely to be okay with canceling culture,” says Knotts, “and republicans are more likely to be offended.”
Urban Dictionary defines it as “a term that has quickly risen in popularity by the crybaby right-wing nut bags after learning there are actually consequences for their deplorable actions and words”.
“75% of democrats believe that yes, we should hold people accountable for their actions -” says Knotts, “whereas only 56% of republicans think of this as punishment that someone didn't deserve.”
By stopping the acknowledgement of what happened throughout the years because of the racial, religious, etc., it is allowing the average person to be comfortable with not knowing the truth about history. This is where the divide begins.
The divide comes from the lack of knowledge surrounding cancel culture. Nearly 38% of participants in a 2020 survey from the PEW Research Center had never heard of cancel culture before, and 56% haven't heard much of it at all.
“I do think there's a real partisan divide on cancel culture. It is consistent with a lot of other things we are partisan to in the US,” explains Knotts.
There are however very agreeable things between parties that are cancelable and deemed for accountability to be held. “Say someone makes an anti-LGBTQ+ comment, and you're really liberal and have a rainbow flag,” explains Knotts “you're going to want to see that canceled more than someone who doesn't really care or take offense by that.”
Cancel Culture as a mob mentality
Sofia Franklyn, former “Call Her Daddy” co-host and current host of “Sofia with an F,” was canceled in 2020 due to her wanting to renegotiate parts of her contract with the parent company of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, Barstool Sports.
The call for her to be canceled however comes from the gray area that is what is cancelable and people simply just being bored. “There is a mob aspect to cancel culture, it's driven through social media and it has some pros and cons, but it's not necessarily like the evidence is fully presented,” explains Knotts.
Franklyn asking for a higher pay raise and wanting more rights to the merchandise from Call Her Daddy due to advice from her current boyfriend is what sent mobs of fans after her.
“It starts to spiral and there is definitely a mob aspect to cancel culture, it's not like someone gets walked down to HR and gets a letter in their file and they get fired and leave the office,” says Knotts, “it's different, it's more informal.”
As a person who has influence, there is an unspoken responsibility to continually say the “right things” on your platform regarding your content.
“The goal of those who attack these individuals is to remove their celebrity status because of their offensive behavior in the past or in the present,” explains University of California Los Angeles senior Tristen Warmington.
At what point though is something really considered offensive versus people just being overly sensitive? Why is Demi Lovato apologizing over not liking the selection of frozen yogurt offered, and why are people upset about it in the first place?
“It's so messed up especially if something has already been apologized over - and don't get me wrong, some things that people hide about themselves that they do are extremely messed up,” says College of Charleston senior Hanna Younghams. “But there's a lot that the media focus on that it's like I sit there and think - why do we even really care?”
Celebrities such as Sofia Franklyn and Olivia Jade haven't fully recovered from their stint of being canceled - financially, socially or in their professional lives.
Jade was a victim of cancel culture due to her parents' involvement in the 2019 Varsity Blues Scandal. Although Jade’s canceling was more warranted than Franklyn’s, the long lasting effect on her career has been detrimental.
And the public shaming did not stop just from angry viewers. Their partnerships were cut, death threats through DMs were sent and sometimes their comments have to be turned off on their instagram posts due to harassment and bullying.
Three years have passed since the Varsity Blues scandal involving Jade, and she has made public apologies for the wrongdoings of her parents. Both Lori Loughlin and Massimo Giannulli, Jade's parents, have served their time in prison and paid their restitutions as of 2022.
“What people are forgetting is that five years ago we were different people than we are now - so much can change about a person, so when we hear these stories of people saying or doing offensive things five or more years ago - what are we getting at?” asks Younghams. “What are we accomplishing as a society?”
It's getting personal
The word “cancel” has taken on much more than just bailing on plans with friends, It has become a verb so entrenched within our daily vocabulary that we use it probably more often than not.
Social media however is not the only place that cancel culture has found its home. It has made its way into our personal lives and inner social circles. “It completely trickles down into friend groups, the way that canceling culture has been ingrained into our society and brains reflects on how we treat each other” explains Younghams.
“It is no longer easiest to sit behind a screen and cancel someone we don't know, but to cancel someone that we do know,” says Younghams, “everyone ganging up on someone and not even for something specific. It is allowing groups to shut someone down quicker without any reason.”
Canceling harbors its home within social media and is most prevalent within celebrities since it is easier for a large group of people to mob together and band against them. The discussion however about cancel culture within someone's own personal life is something that is scarcely discussed.
The same way celebrities tip toe around saying the right and wrong thing, we do as well as normal people.
“It’s almost as if you can’t have a personal opinion over political or social matters,” says Warmington, “because you risk being ‘exposed’ or ‘canceled’ by your peers.”