Cancel Culture: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

In this age of technology and social media, it is no surprise that influencers are heavily influenced by their peers. However, once they make a mistake, many are quick to “cancel” and shame them. Cancel culture has taken a quick route to toxicity. In addition, it is something that is almost exclusively experienced by younger generations.

Social media has exacerbated the impacts cancel culture has, in both positive and negative ways. Markus Winkler/ Unsplash

Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Social media has exacerbated the impacts cancel culture has, in both positive and negative ways. Markus Winkler/ Unsplash

The precise definition of cancel culture by the Cambridge dictionary is a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you. In an ideal world, this concept would make complete sense and would be very effective at weeding out those who are harmful and hurtful to others. However, in practice, it is not as simple as it seems. 

One of the first-ever references to the term “cancel” was in the movie New Jack City when a character named Nino Brown exclaims “Cancel that [woman]. I’ll buy another one,” referring to his girlfriend’s disapproval of his violent tendencies. The term has since been used by a large span of people, ranging from activists to politicians to rappers like Lil Wayne. 

Today, it is an almost quotidian experience, with millions of users partaking in their fair share of creating and viewing content. Almost everyone is capable of canceling someone, but they are also capable of being canceled. 

With such a large population on social media today, it is no surprise that there are large “influencers” that consist of a large portion of the content being created and viewed. With these large influences comes millions of people watching their every move, quick to catch anything said or done.  

Cancel culture allows for people to stay accountable because of all the people on the internet that are quick to cancel. These people are mainly there to hold people responsible for their hurtful actions. Canceling almost always takes place after someone has said or done something hurtful or harmful, and these people are looking out to make sure the person and others know what they have done and that it is wrong. After these people are called out, they are hopefully given an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to grow from them.

Social media also gives people who are typically not heard, a platform to voice their opinions and call out injustices. This makes it so that these people have an impact and a place in these real-life situations that they may not have had the opportunity to in person. This allows for people to feel like they have worth and that their voice matters. It gives them power with their online and media presence, giving them real power by having such a large impact in the virtual setting. When people on social media call other people out for their actions, they can make tangible change in the world without ever having to be face to face with the person. 

The combined platform that the person being called out and the people calling out obtain allows for a large magnitude of change. It raises awareness on the issue, whether it is racism or sexism or ableism, to allow for people to learn more about it. It encourages people to educate themselves on the matter and others and to learn what to do to not only make a change in their behavior but in that of others. Some may even argue that whilst one is partaking in canceling another, they become more aware of their own actions and can themselves also learn from that experience and change their behavior. 

Cancel culture enables an expansive sum of change, making it so that there is more knowledge on current issues that plague our society and making it so that people learn from the new voices that are emerging on all platforms.  

However, this increased awareness is accompanied by an increase in the number of people searching for mistakes. Many times there is a clear difference between right and wrong. However, some people may not know it and people can be quick to judge. With increased media presence comes a surplus of people, watching and waiting to jump on errors and lapses in judgment. Hopefully, these people have the best intentions, but many do not. Many are just there to call out every little mistake, nitpicking until one feels like there is nothing they can do without being called out for doing something wrong. These people who overanalyze and inspect are not the people who participate in cancel culture in order to make a better society. Rather, they are part of the larger problem. 

Additionally, with the popularity of canceling nowadays, there are frequent apologies that follow. Many influences and those alike are typically quick to apologize for their past mistakes after being called out. A major issue with this is that these people are only apologizing after being called out, not after they themselves have acknowledged what they have done. 

More times than not, people who have been “canceled” are making either empty apologies or excuses without understanding the full magnitude of their actions. We are teaching people to apologize without meaning it, rather than educating them to learn about the issue. It also makes it so that those who have actually learned and discussed the issue no longer have a valid apology because so many others will use their apology having learned nothing. It teaches bad habits and also takes away from any genuine apologies. 

With this, they also learn nothing about the issue. Their immediate reaction to criticism is to respond to it by apologizing, it is not because they have learned more on the issue and plan to make a change. They are only doing it to prohibit and future negative publicity. In turn, this also teaches them that any negative behavior will be excused with a simple apology. It does not teach them to hold themselves accountable for future situations and actually somewhat encourages them to continue in their old ways. 

Parker Brandenburgh ‘23 added, “If you know someone who says something cancel-worthy, engage them on it. Explain why it’s wrong. Try to reason with them. You don’t make friends by alienating someone, especially if they don’t understand what they did wrong.”

It is important to note that so much of the time is spent canceling, waiting for an apology, and then receiving an apology, that many forget about what the actual issue is. What people need to be focused on is not who said what, but rather, what was said and why it is harmful. The paradox of the existence of cancel culture is that cancel culture is supposed to inform about an issue, while in practice, it can actually prohibit any of this from happening. 

People need to be more focused and open to hearing what others have to say in order to learn and grow. We must listen more closely to the group that is being harmed in order to actually make a change. One person’s apology for saying something hurtful does virtually nothing, but listening to someone in the harmed group’s experience is a million times more valuable. 

In an online poll that I conducted, many Bronx Science students voiced similar opinions and concerns regarding cancel culture. Students were asked a variety of questions such as, “What would you personally propose as an alternative to canceling peers?”

Brandenburgh responded to the previous question by writing, “Challenge their views. If someone started yelling at you and you didn’t know what you did wrong, you would be pretty confused, frightened, and more likely to challenge them, because as far as you know, you didn’t do anything wrong. So poke holes in their argument. Expose their faulty logic.”

Grace Zagoria ’23 said, “There’s a difference between canceling and calling someone out. If someone does something that isn’t ok, you should reach out to them and constructively share your thoughts. If it keeps happening, maybe canceling is appropriate.”

Cancel culture is an inevitable part of our current day society but hopefully, with the right critiques, we can make a more constructive society.  

It is important to note that so much of the time is spent canceling, waiting for an apology, and then receiving an apology, that many forget about what the actual issue is. What people need to be focused on is not who said what, but rather, what was said and why it is harmful. The paradox of the existence of cancel culture is that cancel culture is supposed to inform about an issue, while in practice, it can actually prohibit any of this from happening. 

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