‘X CELEBRITY is cancelled’ is a tweet which crops up on my twitter feed so often that the phrase has altogether lost the ability to register in my mind. This is part of a growing trend among ‘stan’ (superfan) culture which involves personally dishing out justice in the form of promised irrelevancy or so-called ‘cancellation’ – and it’s a dangerous game. Not only is this ‘cancel culture’ potentially damaging to real livelihoods and careers, but I also find it inherently contradictory; contributing only to more hype around problematic celebrities. In an act of counter-rebellion, then, here’s why I think it’s about time cancel culture declared itself, well, cancelled.
For the purposes of this article, I should first attempt to provide a loose definition for this modernised term (one which is truthfully quite meaningless), simply because the remainder of what I have to say will be fairly useless without one:
‘Cancelled’ (Verb): To announce on behalf of the rest of the population that a certain celebrity will henceforth no longer be relevant and/or popular, usually as a result of their own actions – thus their career is now cancelled.
You only have to search the word ‘cancelled’ on twitter and you will instantly be met by an influx of tweets made by teens deciding to declare all manner of things irrelevant; from TV and film stars, politicians, sportspeople, and of course a vast array of pop-artists.
In fact, to be ‘cancelled’ – a fate once reserved for those who genuinely deserve to be banished to the depths of irrelevancy until the end of time – has since become a commonplace punishment for any celebrity who missteps or fails to impress their throng of crazed online fans. My frustration is captured quite nicely in the tweet above; ‘cancelling’ has become so frequent on social media that it has now lost all meaning entirely. To be declared cancelled no longer spells impending doom for those who have really messed up, but simply looks like a childish joke (not that I sincerely support the view that fans possess the power to derail an entire career anyway).
To really understand the implications behind cancel culture, though, I think it best to observe some of the greatest examples of cancelling in action.
For this purpose, I turn to perhaps the most-cancelled artist in the history of the social-media age: NYC rapper responsible for one of 2012’s biggest bangers (‘212‘), the one and only miss Azealia Banks.
To say that Azealia Banks has been pronounced ‘cancelled’ (socially dead) more times than I care to count is really an understatement – in fact, I would like to consider her the first true recipient of the label, and rightly so. Azealia’s online crimes are far too many to list in this article, but to put it simply the girl has no filter: she does and says as she pleases, and will go to great lengths to defend herself, no matter how convoluted and outrageous her claims have become. She has hit the headlines for a plethora of reasons, building her reputation upon online ‘beef’ with every celeb imaginable (from Rihanna to Disney child-actor Skai Jackson) including a highly publicised racist attack on ex-1D member Zayn Malik, and an infamous video-tour of her personal chicken-slaughtering closet (yes, really).
What is most frustrating, though, is that for every heinous tweet or opinion Azealia spouts online, she will always manage to make one or two relevant points.
Specifically, she has voiced an opinion that, as a black woman, she is held accountable for her actions to a much higher degree than her male counterparts. There is, I find, some truth in this matter (although arguably not in her own case). Take, for example, Sabrina Claudio, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter who was immediately declared cancelled earlier this year when some potentially racist tweets were unearthed, prompting an immediate apology to fans in lieu of her ‘past ignorance’. A similar case can be found in Doja Cat, an RnB singer who faced massive backlash while gaining viral fame this summer in light of her past use of homophobic slurs online. Both of these women, though remorseful, have suffered greatly for their mistakes, which will no doubt have some bearing on their careers moving forward.
Meanwhile, however, Kanye West has continued to endorse Trump and his values at any given opportunity across all social media platforms and seems no worse off for it (other than looking blatantly ignorant).
Without so much as a sniff in response the outcry against his public support (including one fabulously worded critique from Lana Del Rey), Kanye will likely continue to be one of the most successful rap artists in the industry, without having his platform or influential power compromised or indeed ‘cancelled’. As Mr. West himself told the New York Times, “Half the people that are listening to [my] album are supposed to not listen to the album right now. I’m canceled.”
I guess what I’m really saying here is, where do we draw the line?
At what point does this whole ‘cancelling’ business become a witch-hunt designed to dethrone unsuspecting celebs by scouring their tweet-history for slurs and controversial opinions tweeted blindly in 2008. How far are we prepared to accept ‘young and ignorant’ as an excuse, and who decides which varying degrees of general problematic-ness deserve true cancellation?
Most recently, Azealia Banks has despicably accused Kesha of lying about being raped by producer Dr. Luke, and fat-shamed Lana Del Rey in an online spat in which she branded her a ‘racist old white woman’, and yet I still believe that she will likely never be ‘cancelled’ in the way that we’d all hope. As long as Azealia continues doing and saying problematic things, she is finding ways to become ‘cancelled’ time and time again, which really means gaining the media attention and relevance she craves. She’s like a stubborn stain on the fabric of our culture which is unlikely to ever truly wash out.
The thing is, we can withdraw support, reject apologies, and try to hold celebrities accountable for their actions – but no one person has the ability to truly ‘cancel’ a career (besides the artist themselves). Fans are simply unable to decide the terms someone’s future relevancy – and it seems truer now more than ever that all press is good press. The best I can hope for is that this trend (like most) fizzles out sooner rather than later, mostly so I can stop seeing the word ‘cancelled’ plastered under every mildly controversial or unpopular celebrity tweet…and so I never have to write about cancel culture again.