Art by Madeline Duvall
Public humiliation and group shaming have progressed a long way from the tragically popularized Salem Witch Trials. With a huge surge in technology over the last hundred years, society discovered a new era of what is called cancel culture.
Cancel culture is defined as “to stop giving support to that person” or company, “usually … due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion,” according to Merriam Webster. With this new term becoming a part of everyday vocabulary, many wonder what the long-term repercussions of this practice will be.
Gen Z is leading the way in social change, activism and holding people responsible — but is this generation getting too carried away? Bullying and demonizing people online is a serious consequence in the world of social media.
Some social media users go completely overboard with their words in this modern, technological society, resorting to cyberbullying and being categorized as “angry by design,” according to researcher and author of the journal article, “Angry by design,” Luke Munn.
Despite positive intentions to hold a person or company liable for their words, it can utterly destroy a career or businesses in question — from Kevin Hart in 2018 to the dinner-making staple of Uncle Ben’s rice this year. The cancellation of public figures and companies by way of typing in all caps and swearing in the comments section reverses neither the words said nor the offenses done. These actions simply add to the toxicity of online culture.
Shane Gillis of “Saturday Night Live” was fired in 2019 “after people unearthed old, offensive comments” Gillis had said while on the show as recently reported by Dalvin Brown of USA Today. The backlash from the incident caused Gillis’ success to plummet and subsequently flatline.
In most cases, once the initial information about a person’s mistakes is revealed, whoever may be in the hot seat typically comes out with an apology. This should be the end of the discussion.
Yet nowadays, after an apology, there are people who turn to verbal brutality, completely ripping the alleged wrongdoer to shreds. This can become mental and emotional bullying. When social media promotes people turning so quickly on one another, the actions serve as a catalyst in destroying and dividing society.
The vile comments and actions, however, of public figures such as Roseanne Barr, J.K. Rowling and Matt Lauer — just to name a few — deserve the pain and misery the people on social media give. The anguish and suffering their actions cause provide an open symposium for hatred and future cancellation.
Additionally, cancel culture acts as a barricade in the way of social change. There is a fine line between advocating for what is right and verbally assaulting people online for having an unpopular opinion. Patrisse Cullors — the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter social movement — commented on social activism by saying it “isn’t going online and cussing people out. […] Activism is hard work entailing sometimes boring meetings, strategy sessions, building a campaign, and getting petitions signed.”
Despite the hard work put into these movements, social media junkies can become confused when they’re passionate about a cause. Cancel culture causes unnecessary arguments and can draw focus away from the most important ideas of a movement.
Between the twiddling thumbs and harsh responses lies a valley of peace and understanding, a shallow land of listening and responding to others with decorum and an open mind and small crevice of social media where people can come together to discuss and direct their passion into a good cause.
There must be a change in the mentality of cancel culture; it must become accountability culture. This change stimulates apologetic realizations and forgiveness. It uplifts the idea of learning from mistakes and making a long-term change for the better. It allows people who truly deserve the fallout of their actions to be condemned and people who are simply uneducated to learn and grow from what they did.
Cancel culture may never be completely eliminated now that it has taken root in society, but as a global community, there is a responsibility to be more understanding of others and realize no person, company, organization or entity is perfect in everything they say and do. If no action is taken, cancel culture will continue to be a detriment to society and divide the world forever.
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Email Emily Chase: firstname.lastname@example.org