Why is Cancel Culture So Controversial?

By Chinedum Aguwa  (’22)

What is cancel culture? Cancel culture or “call-out” culture is the idea to attack someone’s employment or reputation based on an opinion or action that is deemed unagreeable and disgraceful. Usually, the person is first called out on social media where the campaign to cancel ensues. Canceling can take the form of boycotting products to campaigning against criminal activities. The phrase has become prominent in pop culture and targeted several different people, from everyday citizens to companies and A-list celebrities.

People that oppose cancel culture believe that it is simply a new form of boycotting to bring about social change but people on the other side of the spectrum strongly believe that it incites online bullying. So which side is right? First, let’s take a look at the benefits of cancel culture. 

The #MeToo movement benefited from the effects of cancel culture. Women (and men) were able to call out their abusers. One example is the allegations of Harvey Weinstein, who is the now disgraced Hollywood film producer because his victims utilized social media to spread the news and hold him accountable. In turn, he was charged for his multiple criminal sex acts. If the public did not cancel him, Weinstein may have still been in a position of power and hurt many more people. #MeToo is not the only movement to start canceling people on their wrongdoing. The Black Lives Matter movement has also resulted in people holding others accountable for racism and police brutality against people of color. 

Another example of the benefits of cancel culture is that it gives a voice to people of lesser power and addresses inequalities in communities. From Will Smith to Spike Lee, celebrities boycotted the Oscars in 2016, expressing indignation at #OscarsSoWhite, a move begun by April Reign to resolve the Academy Awards’ racial disparities. Although it came with some initial criticism, it contributed to real social change. As a result, the Oscars set a record for the most Black wins in 2019. 

But, what are the negative effects of cancel culture? One of them being that it does not amount to social change. As Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter, notes, “People don’t understand that [social activist] organizing isn’t going online and cussing people out or going to a protest and calling something out.” People believe that cramming people’s mistakes down their throats encourages change but it is the complete opposite. Angry posts online do not immediately stop a person from repeating the same mistakes or understand them (for example, a celebrity saying the n-word or going to a “covid party”).

My stance on cancel culture is that it is an ineffective strategy to have people learn from their mistakes. That being said exposing societal issues like sexual assault and racism have benefitted from cancel culture by showing the world the problems we like to bury. In addition, cancel culture can be the frustration from marginalized groups about the lack of consequences for people in power. However, a majority of the time, cancel culture gets ugly and becomes a “rebellion” against necessary issues in an unnecessary way. In a nation that is undoubtedly divided, educating others in a respectful manner is the only way to unite. 

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