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Just in: Cancel culture is cancelled 👩⚖️
Bc just like Kendrick Lamar said, "What the f*** is cancel culture dog?" 🎶
👋 Hellooo! We’re The Z Link, a global Gen Z-led social media agency that helps brands reach our generation. The Digital Native, written by our Trends Reporter, Shaurya, takes a deep dive into niche internet micro-trends and subcultures, and analyzes them so you don’t have to. For any feedback, questions or suggestions, just reply to this email!
Writer’s note: While I have used facts published by various publications to trace the history of cancel culture, this piece is a commentary and my opinions on the toxicity of this phenomenon, and I have tried my best to be neutral about the matter. All of the opinions stated are mine and mine alone, formed after observations over the years of being in the wonderful space of social media. Let us know if you have any questions or corrections, and of course, as always, your opinions! <3
Imagine I’m saying this in my best Trump impression, please. It’ll really bring this phrase to life — YOU’RE CANCELLED. Okay, you can halt your imagination now, the impression was limited to only that phrase, but you heard me right, you’re cancelled, and you’re cancelled, and hohoho, my friend, we’re all cancelled. But let’s talk about the internet inquisitor, the world wide web witch-hunter, if you will. Let’s talk about cancel culture (kind of ironic if you think about it, the hunter becomes the hunted).
What is cancel culture?
Some people love it, some hate it, some fear it, and some capitalise off it. What does it mean to be cancelled in today’s climate? If you’re cancelled, you get ousted from your social media platform. BANISHED from the realm of social media. It’s a pattern: influential person → saying something offensive → public backlash → de-platforming, boycotting, getting them fired, etc. See, cancel culture started out as something that wanted to hold people accountable, but it evolved into something more sinister.
If you ask me, there are two subsets of cancel culture: the ones that genuinely want to hold people accountable and give them a chance to change, and those that just want to cancel people for funsies. The latter usually have tunnel vision and either forget or outright refuse to look at nuances and the grey areas. Some things warrant prison, not cancellation, and some deserve broader discussion and accountability. So, in short, cancel culture doesn’t need to exist at all.
The earliest victims of cancel culture that I can think of would be Logan Paul (the forest video), Taylor Swift (Taylor x Kim x Kanye had beef about Kanye’s song and subsequent music video) and the entirety of the YouTube beauty community because of Dramageddon. The thing with cancel culture, like I mentioned, is that it does not give you a chance to show change or take accountability; it sees everything in tunnel vision and jumps so quickly to cancel any and everyone before the entire stories are out. Taylor was villainised, but as soon as her album Reputation was released, everyone backtracked, while the same people called her a snake earlier.
Everyone jumps/jumped on the hate bandwagon. Celebrities and X (formerly Twitter) users called for the cancellation of cancel culture, citing how your mistakes are held against you and start to define you as one of the reasons. Even former U.S. President Barack Obama criticised the culture, saying it’s not activism and it is not bringing about positive change.
Woke culture x cancel culture
Woke culture’s political context has been in the pop culture realm since the 1960s, with William Kelley using it in his essay’s title for the New York Times. Some sources trace it back to the 1938 song by Lead Belly called The Scottsboro Boys (although I couldn’t find any reference to the word, the song alludes to staying vigilant). Woke culture has been significant in pop culture for decades, with singers like Erykah Badu and Childish Gambino singing the phrase “stay woke” in their songs.
It's widely believed that the demise of woke culture led to the conception of cancel culture. However, there are overlaps between the two. Cancel culture is derived from woke culture and essentially follows the same ideals, the only difference being that cancel culture takes action into its own hands while woke culture calls for attention to matters. Another reason why woke and cancel cultures are interconnected is because of the call-out culture in the early 2010s. “Your Fave Is Problematic” was a blog on Tumblr run by 6 moderators that described themselves as record keepers of celebrities’ problematic behaviours. The difference between call-out and cancel culture is the presence of compassion and nuance. Call-out culture understands that even celebrities are humans and WILL slip up one day or another. You can like them while acknowledging their behaviour.
Call-out culture is what cancel culture should’ve aspired to be, and we see it resurfacing with the rise of accountability culture replacing cancel culture and thank god for that. I’m tired of the witch-hunts. Please, guys, we’re not in the Renaissance anymore. If anything, we’re in Beyonce’s Renaissance. You’re digging people’s dirt from DECADES AGO for what? 😭 Call me Cardi B because WHAT WAS THE REASON. Time and place. Just because they said, something DECADES ago doesn't mean they're the same person now?
The effects of getting cancelled like a Netflix subscription
While the witch-hunts on social media continue, two things to consider about this monstrosity are the effects it has on bystanders’ mental health (along with people involved) and the absolute curb stomping with cartoonish red boots that takes place in the creative fields — mainly comedy, music and film. Let’s talk about it.
The cancellers: From where I stand, there’s not a lot of discourse about the people that do the cancelling. Because think about it, right, constantly ostracising people and calling for action and always just being in this negative state of mind HAS to have some effect. I’m not talking about the people that call for justified action in some instances, but I’m referring to those that just do it for the fun of it like they haven’t ever made a mistake in the past. These would be the keyboard warriors — defending any and everyone, EVEN WHEN NOT NEEDED. The ones that take offence for others. It does take a toll on you. I have been this person. It is not fun. You forget how to look at different perspectives, contexts — culturally and concerning time. This commentary is not meant to berate them, but if you see someone like this, tell them to have an amazing day because they probably need it.
The cancelled: As previously described in a sense, cancel culture can have effects similar to that of bullying. Social alienation, increased anxiety, reduced chances of learning and growth (yes, they can research because of Google, but who’s going to tell them WHERE to start? What sites are legitimate? Again, LAYERS PEOPLE. Life is like Shrek, there are layers), increased hate resulting in some irreversible actions. In this era where we’re talking about mental health so profoundly, it’s become even more important to discuss why cancel culture is doing more harm than good.
The bystanders: They’re collateral damage in someone else’s war. People who haven’t been cancelled yet still fear being cancelled. Hell, I’m scared of getting cancelled for criticising the workings of MODERN DAY cancel culture, but it’s true. People need to hear it and not be coddled, I’m sorry. With conversations around mental health and the rise in new age spirituality, and the whole It Girl, That Girl, self-improvement movement going on social media, cancel culture quite literally clashes with everything above. Even with the entire divine energetics movement??? CULTURE CLASH. Accountability melds a lot better with those because a part of those movements centres around forgiveness and growth.
Navigating social media in this day and age
Today, we’re all Dora. We’re going to take our friendly map and see how we can enjoy content and entertainment on social media. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — CANCEL CULTURE IS KILLING CREATIVITY. Here’s what I mean: Let people think freely, put content out freely, and if a group or community feels offended, let them take it up and hold the creator accountable. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you actively make offensive content, but to give yourself and others the grace to learn from it without being ostracised. There are things everyone knows are offensive by default and should be explored by people of the community affected without a third party telling them how to navigate it. It’s not for us to comment on. Does that make sense? Is that fair? I’ve explored the themes of abusive relationships, death, and forced marriages, all concepts that would be or are considered taboo, but the key to that is research. Let your thoughts flow freely, but learn about what you’re thinking. Research fuels creativity (and stops you from being offensive).
Cancel culture mainly affects films, music and humour. Also, art. But art is generally seen as something that is supposed to make you uncomfortable, so I’ve rarely seen any offence regarding art. The other disciplines I mentioned are all art forms and should serve the same purpose. But people take offence in those disciplines, I don’t know why, but they do. There’s a lot more “separate the art from the artist” going on in the art world because we don’t see actual humans in it. It’s 2D. With film, music and humour, it’s people performing it. Their mistakes make it harder to separate the two because they become their craft. This is why you can love a person’s craft without necessarily loving them. Like Doja Cat, she’s amazing at what she does, but her behaviour towards her fans isn’t the best. Which calls to attention the fact that 1) celebrities aren’t who you think they are. They are a persona that’s so intricately created by a team of specialists, and 2) you should never idolise people. Celebrities are humans too. It just so happens that a lot more people know them than an average Joe. The higher they’re put on a pedestal and idolised, the harder they fall.
So, what’s the verdict your honour?
BANGS GAVEL ATTENZIONE, ORDER IN THE COURT OF SLAY. It started out as a noble cause, but what it is today, is not it. Remember to consider cultural context, time and place, tone and inflection and a whole slew of other things before ostracising someone. Don’t idolise celebrities. They’re just a persona. They are not their art, and if you want to listen to an artist, listen to them because you like their songs, not because you love THEM. The extreme politicisation of things on social media, where things are usually never serious, will not make you enjoy what you want, and that’s not okay because you deserve to enjoy your favourite things. Pick your battles of politicising wisely. So, the big conclusion, y’all. Cancel culture TODAY is very toxic and, in my opinion, shouldn’t exist.
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— Written by Shaurya, Trends Reporter at The Z Link
Connect with Shaurya on Instagram where she shares great content and lives her best influencer life as a fashion student in Paris. And she writes all of these great issues too. What can’t she do??? 🧐 Thank you for reading!