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How do we think about cancel culture? Show more Show less
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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 critical for democracy Show more Show less

This approach argues that cancel culture empowers marginalised groups. It understands that society is built in institutionalised hierarchies that cut across social identities. The de-platforming of offensive views is therefore an important type of activism. Cancel culture has become an important tool to redress these inequalities.
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Cancel culture redresses systemic oppression

Cancel culture empowers marginalised individuals to fight back against structural inequalities that have traditionally held them back.

Context

Cancel culture empowers marginalised individuals to fight back against structural inequalities that have traditionally held them back. Existing channels of protest have failed them. That is clear enough from the rampant inequality that still characterises our societies. Cancel culture offers them a route into the conversation, and an equal position at the table. It is as journalist Shamira Ibrahim writes "“Cancellation isn't personal. It’s a way for marginalized communities to publicly assert their value systems through pop culture.”

The Argument

Cancel culture can provide a voice for people who, in times past, were not able to speak up. As an outlet, cancel culture allows people to point out systemic issues. Through the act of speaking out, they gain the ability to affect change. Canceling is an act of revoking social and/or financial support in response to disagreeing with the "canceled" individual's politics or behavior. Cancel culture is comparable to the boycotting practices used by the civil rights movement [1]. The only difference between boycotting and canceling is that boycotting is directed towards businesses while canceling can be directed towards a person or a business. Both methods try to bring attention to a person or business's conduct that they feel is unacceptable. Once the targeted individual or business feels the desired amount of pressure, the pressure the target feels should affect the desired change. In the case of cancel culture, most activity takes place on social media. There, people who do not have a major public platform can effectively interact with the person or business they want to hold accountable [2]. Overall, social media acts as a medium for people who have experienced systemic oppression. Through it, under-represented people can hold individuals or businesses accountable for contributing to systemic oppression.

Counter arguments

While cancel culture can address systemic oppression, it also has the potential to ruin someone's life needlessly. Part of cancel culture is looking for evidence by which to mount a person or business's canceling. Often this comes in the form of a social media post, sometimes older posts these individuals or groups may have made. The issue with going through older posts is that they may not reflect the target's values in the present day. An appropriate example lies in the case of Steven Pinker. Pinker is a linguist and cognitive psychologist who almost lost his status as a distinguished fellow within the Linguistics Society of America over some years-old tweets [3]. The only thing that prevented the linguist's removal was that a group of established scholars argued that the canceller's findings did not match up with Pinker's work. If that group of scholars did not intervene on Pinker's behalf, the graduate and undergraduate students would have successfully removed Pinker, ending his career over comments that do not speak to who he is now.

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/12/30/20879720/what-is-cancel-culture-explained-history-debate
  2. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cancel-culture-internet-joke-anything-but/
  3. https://reason.com/2020/09/06/steven-pinker-survives-attempted-cancellation/
This page was last edited on Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020 at 21:51 UTC

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