Cancel culture. Many have heard of it, and watched it crumble celebrities’ careers in just hours. From Shane Dawson to Jimmy Fallon, and even the long-beloved, Ellen DeGeneres. In the more recent years it has partnered with social media and been mistaken for rise in activism. The question that must be asked is: has cancel culture been taken too far? Is one action enough to end someone’s career?
It’s important to define the meaning of this wildly controversial topic. Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been "canceled." This is done for a variety of reasons. It could be racist comments from years ago, accusations of cultural appropriation, or simply not speaking out when something controversial occurs around them. It forces one think: should we continue to hold people accountable for their actions from years that have elapsed? There has been a considerable amount of debate about the topic. At the end of the day, there is a fine line between canceling someone and holding them accountable for their actions.
As a society, people idolize celebrities and place them on a much higher pedestal than we do “normal people.” When you hold someone in high regard, you are more let down when they don’t meet these standards. This action is a harmful form of idealism, one that romanticizes people in papers and on silver screens. People should be more careful when idolizing celebrities and understand that they are humans and are bound to make mistakes. However, what is the difference between a simple mistake and a truly harmful action? Ellen DeGeneres was recently “cancelled” because of a bodyguard saying that she was the coldest celebrity he worked with. Later, many people who work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show said it was a "toxic environment.” Again, it poses the question of if forgiveness is in order or if she should forever be shunned.
Should we cancel someone because they once did or were accused of committing of doing problematic things? These are serious topics to think about and it seems lately, we as a society have been the ones to decide what is okay and what isn’t. Who's place is it to decide?
Cancel Culture often stems from good intentions, however, instead of explaining how a person's behavior has been harmful to others and allowing them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, it shuns a person and leaves them with doubts and poor self-esteem. We often claim that we are simply “holding the celebrity accountable” but yet, shame them, boycott their products, send them hate, and refuse to forgive them. One must argue, is this really what it means to hold someone accountable for their actions? When you, as a kid, do something wrong, your parents normally discipline you. They tell you why your actions were harmful and give you a consequence that pertains to the wrongdoing you committed. Then, after you have learned your lesson, you are forgiven. Of course, a parent/child relationship is very different from a society/celebrity relationship but the bones of the idea remain similar. Holding a person accountable for their actions shouldn’t mean completely stonewalling them unless they refuse to change. Again, this brings up the question, what is true change? Promising never to do it again and posting a video of a long, drawn-out apology where they never actually take responsibility simply sounds ignorant and reflects on their character. However, actively making things right with the particular group they harmed, attempting to help and get involved, taking responsibility, is considered change.
In a New York Times article, a student wrote, “...cancel culture is generally an unhealthy practice...everyone should have a chance to learn and recover from the mistakes that they have made.” The person proceeds to state, “However, if one is continuously repeating their mistakes and refusing to grow from them, it is problematic.” ("What Students Are Saying About Cancel Culture, Friendly Celebrity Battles and Finding Escape," New York Times) That sounds perfectly reasonable. We are so quick to cancel and bash someone for their actions but not as quick to forgive. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice. If the celebrity has done something deplorable that you cannot forgive, nobody can force you to. But if they’ve shown clear action steps towards making things right, we as a society should at least give them a chance instead of shutting them down.
It’s up to us how we handle their mistakes and up to individuals to decide if they’re willing to forgive. It should be recognized that society is much more focused on picking at the flaws of celebrities and making them feel terrible for a mistake that they made, rather than trying to educate them and prevent the mistake from happening again.