By: Brent Dondalski
In recent years, cancel culture has emerged at the forefront of American discourse. While loosely defined, most people would agree that cancel culture, which carries a negative connotation, is when a celebrity or public figure has their career sabotaged, or “canceled,” by the public because of something they said or did. The process usually takes place online and, in the early stages of cancel culture, the celebrity’s incident was from something in the distant past, such as a 2010 tweet or an old interview. Right now, it’s one of the hottest topics in popular and political discourses. However, my interpretation of cancel culture really boils down to one singular concept: it doesn’t exist.
If my definition of cancel culture sounded vague, it’s because it is. The term is so ill-defined that it has exploded into describing anything and everything. Did a movie director get fired because of old tweets joking about pedophilia? Another victim of cancel culture. Did an actress lose her role because of anti-semitic comments? Another victim of cancel culture. Did a musician get accused of sexual assault? Another victim of cancel culture. These are not hyperbolic examples; these are all real situations in which the “cancel culture” buzzword has been implicated. I’m sure you have realized at this point that the three situations listed are quite unrelated, and that’s the problem: a past tweet does not hold the same gravitas as a rape accusation. Rather than put them in the same conversation, the rational thing to do is to look at each incident individually and decide for yourself if you want to support these people and companies. Yet the cancel culture discussion abstracts the details of each respective incident and defaults to the position that the celebrity is receiving unfair consequences.
This abstraction has been completely intentional and subsequently weaponized to shield people, usually in positions of power, from legitimate criticism. One recent example of cancel culture is the Gina Carano and Disney situation. Gina Carano was an actress for the highly popular, and quite good, Star Wars show The Mandalorian. An outspoken conservative, Carano was ultimately fired by Disney after posting a photo of Jewish people running from death squads during the Holocaust and comparing that persecution to being hated for having “different political views.” Naturally, this firing came after a big push on Twitter to #CancelDisneyPlus. After she was fired, there was of course a counter push, mostly by conservatives, to end cancel culture. Defendants of Carano cite the age-old argument claiming that its horrible to cancel someone just for having a different opinion. Notice how the idea of anti-semitism suddenly left the conversation?
That’s arguably the most common reason people give for why cancel culture is wrong, and simultaneously the reason I say it does not exist. The conversation always gets abstracted into “they got silenced just for having a different opinion.” Well then tell us the opinion. It’s an easy point to make because all you have to do is hide behind saying “different opinion,” then nobody will know why someone got canceled, only that they did and that it was unfair. That different opinion could be that Trump supporters experience the same level of persecution as Jews did during the Holocaust or that pineapple belongs on pizza.
Opinions can be wrong and harmful. Despite all the consensus against it, I could say “murder is a good thing” and it is still technically an opinion. It’s just a horrible, uneducated, and dangerous opinion. The problem with being canceled over “having a different opinion” is that the phrase doesn’t actually tell us anything. It doesn’t mean anything. It tells us that someone is facing consequences and then omits what warranted those consequences, giving the illusion that the consequences are unfitting.
Those perpetuating the cancel culture narrative omit it because the incident is often either racist, sexist, or something equally offensive. Another recent example is Dr. Seuss getting canceled. People were absolutely livid that The Left would go so far as to taking Dr. Seuss off the shelves. Cancel culture had truly gone too far, nobody was safe. Except that isn’t what happened. What happened was that, after months of discussion, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which was founded by Dr. Seuss’s family, decided to cease publishing six Dr. Seuss books because they included some racist stereotypes and caricatures. They announced that “ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families” (AP News). Truly the downfall of society.
The irony is that so many of these scenarios are simply just business decisions. Gina Carano was making a product called The Mandalorian. Consumers then decided they wouldn’t buy the product because of Carano’s ignorant posts. The company, Disney, decided to terminate her employment because it was going to hurt the company. That isn’t cancel culture. That’s the free market. Boycotts have existed for decades and, if anything, cancel culture is just a glorified boycott exaggerated into somehow being the end of western civilization.
The cancel culture narrative is just a tool by the elite to gain sympathy and maintain dominance over the public. Why isn’t it cancel culture when Amazon workers are fired for attempting to unionize? Why isn’t it cancel culture when people bring up George Floyd’s past drug possession charges to justify the police murdering him? Our attention should be towards helping the socially and economically disadvantaged peoples in this country and all cancel culture does is distract from that. When celebrities are canceled they still live comfortable lives. Carano’s net worth is currently reported at $8.5 million (Celeb Net Worth). I honestly struggle to name a public figure whose career is completely over because they were unfairly canceled. Either you have people like Kevin Spacey, who can’t land roles anymore because he sexually assaulted someone, or you have people like James Gunn, who was briefly fired by Disney for several offensive jokes he tweeted many years ago. One of those people absolutely deserved to be canceled, the other one is directing the new Suicide Squad movie.
Ryan Ford '23,