In June 2020, cancel culture claimed its latest victim: the popular children's television show Paw Patrol. People claimed that its protagonists - animated dogs who operate as police in a fictional universe - were being derided. These pieces said critics saw its positive portrayal of law enforcement strengthened a culture of deference to the police. Headlines around the world stated cancel culture had gone mad. But none of this was true. What began as a joke about cancel culture had grown into a conspiracy tearing across the internet. This crisis underpinned the bigger picture: anyone can be cancelled, and it has gone so far it can reach the international news without questioning. In recent years, the practice of withdrawing support for public figures who hold controversial views has exploded. And not just amongst the cartoons. Michael Jackson, JK Rowling, Louis CK, Woody Allen: the list of its celebrity victims is growing. The boom has divided opinion. Some believe it is a form of online activism that helps the marginalised hold the powerful to account. Their opponents see it as a devastating attack on civil liberties. So, what are the pros and cons of cancel culture?
Cancel culture is a mythShow moreShow less
This approach argues that society is always changing, and culture adapts with it. Cancel culture has not emerged from historical power relationships. It has grown out of internet culture, produced by changing public attitudes.
How widespread is cancel culture? What is its impact? How often are people cancelled? It is possible the cancel culture debate is more hysteria than reality. Without data, it is hard to know. The validity of arguments for and against cancel culture are hard to assess with understanding how real cancel culture is.
Cancel culture refers to the idea of 'cancelling' prominent brands, figures, and celebrities for their actions or remarks that offend. A pivotal belief underpinning this idea is that those in the public eye should be held accountable for their opinions and ultimately what they share in the public sphere. 'Cancellation' can be understood as Nakamura describes it - a 'cultural boycott' - which refers to the hypothetical way in which people, refrain from interacting with the brand or figure in question as a result of their actions.
Manavis argues that while the terms 'cancel culture' and 'cancelled' are recent phenomena that are a product of social media usage, the principal idea behind 'cancelling' people is one with which we are familiar. It is essentially a form of democratic organisation which has been given a new name and can be likened to boycotts of companies and politically-driven protests. That said, Manavis believes that the effects of 'cancelling' people are not longstanding, and figures such as JK Rowling who was cancelled for making transphobic comments, can continue their commercial success without much, if any, disruption.
So, given that the effects of cancel culture are not explicitly noticeable, we can doubt whether cancel culture has a real impact and thus, real consequences. If the act of cancelling does not manifest in actuality, that is if no boycott occurs, then we have reason to believe cancel culture is a myth. Although the term is widely used, the intended outcome is rarely ever achieved.
Singer Taylor Swift discussed the negative impact that cancel culture can have with Vogue US and said that “A mass public shaming, with millions of people saying you are quote-unquote cancelled, is a very isolating experience. ”
This suggests that the impact of cancel culture is noticeable and that the very act of many social media users expressing disagreeing and publicly shaming prominent figures is sufficient to show that the culture is widespread