In June 2020, cancel culture claimed its latest victim: the popular children's television show Paw Patrol. It was 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, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?
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.
Cancel culture has given rise to forms of positive social progress. In turn, this establishes new, powerful behavioural norms. Advocates point to the #MeToo movement, which toppled the movie mogul and serial sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein after twenty years at the top. Without social media, it is likely Weinstein would still be in power today. The impact of this single incident however is where progress has really been seen. As Weinstein's demise went viral, it also created a platform for women to stand together and open up about sexual violence they had suffered. On the back of this, several US states including California and New York outlawed workplace NDAs in cases of sexual violence. And greater provision was made to create a wider cultural shift, such as the "Time's Up" fund helping women seek justice against harassment, which raised over $24m. Proponents include left-wing talking heads New York Times Culture Editor Maya Salam and author and New Republic reporter Melissa Gira Grant.