“Cancel culture” refers to the practice of deliberately ruining someone’s career and shunning them socially, as punishment for something they have done or are believed or perceived to have done. Some argue that it does not exist, and is merely an invention of people who do not agree with them politically, meant to distract us from real issues. But only the term is new.
“Cancel culture” is shunning. Once someone is “cancelled” they are considered all but physically banned from society. The work of someone who has been “cancelled” is deemed inferior and irrelevant, even if it had been hailed as genius, or had some other beneficial impact on society, in the past.
People across the political spectrum participate in cancel culture.
“Cancel culture” is often associated with liberals attempting to rid the world of everything they do not deem “politically correct.” And this is sometimes true. But conservatives also engage in the practice. Former President Donald Trump often speaks out against political correctness and cancel culture, but is in fact a major practitioner of it. In a February 3, 2020 article in USA Today, writer Jeanine Santucci describes more than ten instances in which Trump has attempted to ruin a company or individual because they did, said, or supported something he found offensive.
Liberals and conservatives tend to be “offended” by and seek to cancel people for different things. Cancel culture supporters on the left typically attempt to ruin and shun people for content or behavior they perceive as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or anti-immigrant. Cancel culture supporters from the right more often target people they believe to be anti-capitalism, against organized religion or Christianity, anti-military, or behaving in a way that disrespects the American flag or those they admire from American history. In any case, the goal is to ruin and shun someone for doing something you find offensive.
People across the political spectrum also fight against cancel culture.
Focus on the Family has long been known as a conservative organization. It is among the last place one would expect liberals to be praised. Yet even Focus on the Family has found some common ground with people they disagree with on most, if not all, other issues. On July 10, 2020, writer Zachary Mettler published an article in which he praised one hundred and fifty-three prominent liberal activists for signing a letter warning against cancel culture.
While “cancel culturalists” from the right and the left tend to attack for different reasons, the dangers of “cancel culture” appear to be one of the few things those across the political spectrum can agree on.
People of all political belief systems, races, genders, sexual orientations, and every other category are “cancelled’.
Anybody can get cancelled by anyone else. Essayist, Comedian, and Documentary Filmmaker Shane Dawson is openly gay, and is engaged to a man. He is currently considered “cancelled” due to material from more than a decade ago. Over the past several years, Dawson has openly stated that past comedy routines in which he mocked child abusers in a joking manner, and created characters that embodied crass racial stereotypes were immature, insulting, inaccurate, and not something he would ever do or support anyone else doing today, as a mature adult in his thirties. Dawson’s recent projects have included biographical videos on famous people, research into urban legends and myths, and social experiments. But once someone re-posted the old content and criticized it again in recent years, an online backlash occurred that led to Dawson’s career shutting down for more than a year as of the writing of this article. He is said to be making a slow comeback, beginning with editing his fiance’s YouTube videos and podcasts, but the couple continues to face harsh backlash for the content from the distant past.
Cancel culture is not the same thing as holding people accountable for their actions.
You are held accountable for your actions when you experience the direct consequences of something you actually said or did. If you run a website that is hypercritical of your hometown, and most people in your hometown refuse to follow you on social media or read your articles, that is a natural consequence of your actions. If one of those people tries to get you fired from your completely unrelated job, tries to get the blog and anything else you write taken down, and pressures others into refusing to work with you, that is cancelling.
In many cases, someone does not even have to do anything wrong in order to be cancelled. There only has to be the opinion, perception, or even accusation that they have done something wrong.
Fans of writer Philip Roth eagerly awaited the publication of Blake Bailey’s biography. Some people were able to purchase the book, but it has since been removed from publication and circulation. Calls to wipe Bailey’s work out of existence completely soon followed. The attempts to cancel Bailey from the field of literary biography are in response to accusations of sexual assault. Bailey has not been formally charged, tried, or convicted of sexual assault as of the writing of this article. His work is being wiped out of existence based on accusations and rumors alone.
University of Southern California Business Professor Greg Patton narrowly escaped being cancelled in 2020 after a video of him teaching a communications class about pauses and filler words offended some members of the class. Patton was not fired, but was removed from the classroom and forced to formally apologize when some students, using an invented group name, wrote a letter claiming that Patton had used something that sounded like the “N” word in English in his class.
Patton had not used that particular word, nor did he make any type of racial slur about anyone’s ethnic background. The word he used was a Chinese word that translates as “that,” but is used a bit like English speakers use “ummm.” But someone in class complained, so he lost his course for the term.
Personal refusals to purchase or support something are not cancelling;cancelling removes others’ right to make that same decision for themselves.
You…and Donald Trump…have every right to refuse to support any business or franchise that displeases Donald Trump in any way. You may absolutely decline to buy something because you find the imagery racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-American, anti-capitalist, or anti-Christian. YouTube fans who refuse to subscribe to Dawson’s YouTube channel or purchase his books, USC students who don’t want to take a class with Patton, and people who decide they don’t want to buy Bailey’s books are all within their rights as individuals. That is a very different thing than setting out to have something or someone erased, so that nobody else is permitted to make that same decision for themselves. It is also very different than working to ruin and shun someone because they’ve done something you have freely chosen not to support.
Whether you want to call it “cancel culture,” or use the older term “shunning,” working to ruin anyone who is even accused of or rumored to have done something wrong, along with anyone who offends us for any reason, is a dangerous social trend.