Canceling Our Cancel Culture

When ‘punishing’ celebrities for past mistakes, it’s still a popularity contest

Sarah Sabawi, Staff Writer

All of us have said and done things we regret. But if you’re a celebrity, those things might have extreme consequences.

“Canceling” is a term and practice popularized on Twitter that has become part of teens’ collective vocabulary. To put it simply, when it’s discovered that a popular celebrity or other public figure has said or done things that people find unacceptable, they are “canceled,” or shunned by the public. This often results in the loss of brand deals, sponsorships and whatever good reputation they may have had beforehand. Hashtags arise like #insertnameisoverparty. These unacceptable acts could be things they’ve done recently, or years ago.

Katy Perry was “canceled” over homophobia in past lyrics, and for kissing a teenage contestant on American Idol without his consent. She is now struggling for relevance. YouTuber Laura Lee was “canceled” after old tweets were uncovered containing racist jokes about African Americans, and racial slurs for Asians. She lost thousands of subscribers. And most infamously, Kanye West was “canceled”, and had his reputation destroyed,  after announcing his support for President Donald Trump.

And while all the examples listed here are justified in some respect, is it always fair for people to receive this treatment? Does the entire culture dismiss people’s capacity for change?

Stephanie Smith-Strickland of Paper Magazine, a socially conscious writes that celebrities are human, and make mistakes, and often are tone-deaf in how they respond to criticism. They “say and do things they regret, and like most of us, they don’t always know the right way to make amends.”

Obviously, not all past behavior is equal in severity and immorality. Things like abuse and sexual assault should never be forgiven, no matter how much time has passed. And most of the perpetrators of those acts have been “canceled” accordingly. An obvious example is all the male celebrities affected by the #MeToo movement, including Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Harvey Weinstein.

But when it comes to past comments, where should the line be drawn? When is “young and dumb” really an excuse?

Recently, comedian Kevin Hart was “canceled” over tweets containing homophobia, and was forced to withdraw from hosting the Oscars. The tweets in question were made nine years ago. Situations like these are ludicrous and highlight the culture’s tendency to not forgive those who may deserve it.

Many people share this opinion. In an article for The Odyssey, a magazine that focuses on current events, Cait DeLucchi writes, “I encourage everyone to be critical of the media and art they consume, while also leaving an open mind for human error when they see fit.”`

In the same way that cancel culture can demonize those who may not completely deserve it, it can also fail to fully pull support from those who have committed a serious error.

For example, actor Johnny Depp was caught on tape abusing actress and then-wife Amber Heard and was deemed “canceled,” yet his career has suffered minimal, if any damage. Rapper 6ix9ine was videotaped having sex with a minor, and yet his fanbase still persists and his career continues to do well despite his multiple prison sentences. People often use the excuse of “separating art from the artist,” but why does this apply to some celebrities and not others?

In reality, the whole culture is a popularity contest. Celebrities with larger fan bases often escape unscathed. As Jonah Engel Bromwich of the New York Times puts it, “the canceled can be uncanceled—if they’re willing to do the work. Or hire a good publicist.”

When examined from every angle, it quickly becomes clear that “canceled” is just an empty word. It’s all about popularity. If there’s somebody who people wouldn’t mind hating, they get endless grief because of past mistakes. But if somebody is high in popularity, they don’t get nearly enough.