How cancel culture is destroying society, one victim at a time
25th March 2021
Although I doubt that the concept of cancel culture needs any formal introduction due to its prevalence in today’s society, it may be useful to define for those of us who try to distance ourselves from the more harmful aspects of social media. “Cancel culture” is the popular practice of blacklisting someone or something, usually as a result of their perceived objectionable behaviour. While holding people accountable for their actions is definitely commendable, cancel culture fails to achieve this, and is damaging society in more ways than one.
Accountability promotes a society in which those who are discriminatory, immoral, or corrupt are not tolerated. Recently, Winston Marshall, the Mumford and Sons banjoist, was cancelled after praising an anti-Antifa book. This has forced him to step away from the band, and apologise for his actions. In 2019, Liam Neeson’s film Cold Pursuit was cancelled after he made racist remarks, and he has since made an apology. These two examples serve to highlight the positive impact that holding people accountable can have on society. Combine the good-natured intention of holding people accountable with the global reach social media has, and you have the perfect recipe for fostering an environment in which progressive change is promoted by not tolerating morally disreputable behaviour.
However, cancel culture has taken the concept of holding people accountable for their actions too far. More often than not, “cancelling” someone is approached with a merciless attitude. It usually entails completely blacklisting someone, refusing to accept an apology or recognise any attempts at redemption. This ultimately has career-ending impacts. Essentially, this attitude achieves the exact opposite of what I have just praised above. Although cancel culture may condemn unscrupulous behaviour, it essentially inhibits personal growth and self-improvement.
“Combine the good-natured intention of holding people accountable with the global reach social media has, and you have the perfect recipe for fostering an environment in which progressive change is promoted by not tolerating morally disreputable behaviour.”
Recently, cancel culture has come under criticism for denying free speech, with people claiming it to be the “antithesis of liberalism” and the “enemy of democracy”. I do feel that this stance may be slightly hyperbolic, but not totally incorrect. Freedom of speech protects people from being legally prosecuted for their words; it does not, however, entitle people to say whatever they like without suffering backlash from those who disagree with what was said. It also does not guarantee people use of a social media platform to express their views – this is a privilege, not a right. That said, I do feel that cancel culture instils fear in people whose opinion differs from the majority, leaving them reluctant to share their views on a specific topic. “Cancelling” someone may not lead to legal prosecution, but it can certainly ruin a livelihood.
Following on from this, cancel culture is also negatively impacting the way in which we react to opinions that we do not like. It is true that in today’s culture, “cordial debate is decidedly not part of the algorithm.” Having friendly debates is how we learn from others. However, it is no longer considered acceptable to listen to someone with whom you disagree and discuss the different sides of an argument now, the reflex is to ostracise someone whose opinion differs from the majority. Having grown up in a society where “cancelling” was not the norm, I recognise that it is acceptable to debate the different sides to an argument, without necessarily agreeing with the other side. Unfortunately, today’s young adults growing up surrounded by cancel culture may believe that this is an acceptable response to opinions which differ from the status quo, and this is a serious cause for concern.
The final negative impact of cancel culture I will address is that it often ends up promoting the person it aimed to cancel. Recently, Dr Seuss Enterprises announced that six of the author’s books will no longer be published because of the “hurtful and wrong” ways characters of colour are portrayed. Despite this, Dr Suess’s books now occupy nine out of Amazon’s top ten books, and his books make up almost half of Amazon’s top fifty selling books. Similarly, Piers Morgan’s book, Wake Up: Why the World Has Gone Nuts, has jumped up to number one on Amazon’s bestseller list after he was “cancelled” for making controversial comments on Good Morning Britain. The phrase “there is no such thing as bad publicity” rings true when it comes to cancel culture.
It is irrefutable that cancel culture has gotten out of hand. Cancel culture promotes the ostracization of those with opinions that differ from the majority. On one hand, it can ruin careers without the need for any substantial evidence, and on the other, it can serve to publicise the accused, in turn increasing their notoriety. Neither the environment cancel culture promotes, nor the outcomes it achieves, are productive for society. It is imperative that we abandon this societal trend, and instead create a culture of holding people accountable for their actions while allowing them an environment in which they can grow and learn as a person.