As the web grows exponentially and beyond the extents of our imagination, it has become quite impossible to filter the information that is disseminated online, and, keeping in mind people’s attraction to negativity and toxicity, a lot of what we see on social media is extremely destructive.
Cancel culture isn’t rooted in those feelings of hatred, but rather in a seemingly never-ending fight for equality for all races, notably African Americans, who have initiated this movement as a way to speak up against injustice because the system simply did not listen to their voices.
At its core, “cancel culture” is the idea of boycotting an individual, oftentimes a celebrity or someone in a position of power thus allowing the public to forget their powerlessness and feel like they have an impact. Its main goal is to eradicate racist, misogynistic, homophobic and just overall problematic norms that have been systematically reinforced on society for centuries.
However, the more this ideology gets spread, the more it gets lost and confused with something it is not. In the past few years, the only “cancel trains” that have succeeded are those resulting from the #MeToo movement. The likes of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, whose crimes include sexual assault and rape, have been successfully cancelled and boycotted from the industry, rightfully so.
On the other hand, the way “stan” culture ( which consists of fans who dedicate a lot of their time to supporting their idols on social media platforms ) has adopted cancel culture seems to be more toxic than anything else, ripping the meaning away from the initial intent of “cancelling” someone. More often than not, hopping on the bandwagon and hating on someone for the sake of it isn’t the wiser option. Some situations, such as JK Rowling’s transphobic statements or Shane Dawson’s extremely racist past, call to be punished. However, it is important to note that while both of them received major backlash on social media, all of Shane’s YouTube channels have been demonetized, but the Harry Potters series saw an increase in sales following the author’s disgusting tweets, which have since been deleted.
As Shane’s racism was brought back up on all platforms, he was involved in one of, if not the biggest drama of the beauty community on YouTube : the feud between Tati Westbrook, an OG YouTube beauty guru, and James Charles, a newcomer who has taken over the community by storm. Assuming that there’s a slight chance that you live under a rock and have no clue how toxic and insane fights between beauty influencers can get on YouTube, you should know that this specific one went down in history. Delving a bit deeper into that feud, the first video, initially uploaded by Tati in May 2019, following James’ instagrams stories in support of a supplements company which is a direct competitor to Tati’s “Halo Beauty”, led to his cancellation. This broke a new record for the most subscribers lost in a day, or 1.2M subscribers. Not only were millions of his subscribers migrating towards Tati’s channel every day, but he had the whole world against him. He was wrongfully accused of predatory behavior but he managed to clear his name almost entirely in a video that gained over 53 million views. Some are not as lucky as James is : he is now the second most followed beauty guru on YouTube with 24.4 million sisters, while Tati has been MIA for months. Another party involved was Jeffree Star, who is well-known for being extremely problematic and racist, and yet maintains a steady and loyal following. Needless to say that their racism wasn’t what brought their names into the headlines at the time, which goes to show that people are here for the drama more than they are for justice. Westbrook’s last video was published on June 30 2020, over a year after the first one, and counts over 12 million views today. It is her last publication to date. In it, she claims to have been manipulated by Dawson and Star who planted this horrible image of James into her head because they felt threatened by his rapid growth on social media. Keep in mind that Tati, Shane and Jeffrey are well in their thirties, while James just turned 21. The ease with which misinformation is spread on social media is sickening, and clearing your name up entirely depends on your reach and platform. Luckily for James, the tables turned in his favor and the twisted scheme engineered to halt his success only backfired, making him almost double his subscriber count in less than a year’s time.
At the end of the day, the debate about cancel culture mainly revolves around the lack of compassion human beings have towards others, an inability to forgive which appears to be omnipresent in today’s society. Though the examples I’ve given hold the weight of heavy topics such as sexual assault, they show just how it is important to hear both sides of a story before making up your mind. Saying offensive slurs and rape are things that everyone knows are wrong, and that should never be forgiven.
Nevertheless, there are certain situations where individuals are cancelled for an underlying meaning they didn’t notice, an action they didn’t entirely think through, or even for a crime they didn’t commit. Celebrities are human beings too: the only difference is they change and learn in front of millions, which makes the world feel entitled to judge them.
Thus, I find myself asking these questions : shouldn’t we encourage growth and character development instead of hatred? I’m not saying we should forget, but at least make sure we know the story before deciding whether we want to forgive them or not. We always long for a second chance with the people who surround us, so why aren’t we willing to open that door for somebody else? Can cancel culture be redefined in such a way that makes people think twice before reacting, or is that impossible, knowing the impatience of people, especially the younger generation?
Cancel culture has already lost so much of its original meaning, and today more than ever before, people who are not even a part of the communities that are being disrespected online feel entitled to speak up on what’s offensive or not. Although these communities need the support of others who might be more privileged, speaking over them is never the solution, even if you’re on their side.
After all, if you’re in charge of the calling out, you are still the powerless individual here : you’re not the one with the money and connections required to change things. Is it worth wasting all of your time and energy on something that often turns out to be completely fabricated?