If you own an iPhone and aren’t yet in the age group eligible for a vaccine, the phrase “Cancel Culture” is probably not all that foreign to you. Perhaps, you are even the type of person to be ten clicks deep into a BuzzFeed article that is criticizing Kylie Jenner’s shower pressure and hammering down on Jeffree Star for his insensitive coining of the term “lipstick Nazi.” But what is it that makes Cancel Culture so prevalent in this period and how do people feel about their creation?
CANCEL CULTURE SENTIMENT
In a recent Politico poll, 27% of people said cancel culture had a somewhat positive or very positive impact on society, but almost 50% said it had a somewhat negative or very negative impact.
Good or bad, one thing is clear. Cancel Culture sells and the public is its consumers. Society 19 spoke with the mind behind @ExpousingHouse on Instagram to understand the ins and outs of cancel culture and how the 16-year-old who will be referred to as T.L has built an account with over 50,000 followers by posting Cancel Content and what they call Celebrity “tea” or drama.
WHERE DID CANCEL CULTURE COME FROM?
From jargon to literature to dance and philosophy – each generation takes part in forming their cultural landscape. In the ’50s, there was a sense of post war conformity and surging sales of box-dye for blonder hair. In the 60s, there was the Rolling Stones and anti-establishment counter-culture. And now in 2021, people begin to wonder what the ’20s will be remembered for. One year into the decade, and Cardi B’s “W.A.P” and “Cancel Culture” might not be a terrible guess.
According to T.L, “Cancel Culture is a phrase that explains what our generation does to celebrities or influencers that get ‘exposed’ for doing something bad… I think it kind of developed mostly throughout 2019-2020 because this was a time when so many influencers and celebrities had scandals.”
The Cancel Culture phenomena has arisen through social media – the ability to use those platforms to critique and expose public figures for behavior deemed unacceptable by the masses. Maybe it’s better understandable though examples: the demise of beauty guru James Charles after his mentor called him out for his “offensive” and “inconsiderate” attitude, Tik Tok Influencers Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio who were criticized for disrespecting their private chef, and Sia who gained backlash after casting Maddie Zeigler in the role of an autistic girl in her new movie.
WHY IS CANCEL CULTURE SO APPEALING?
“It’s kind of like getting away from the real world,” said T.L when explaining what made them interested in starting an account that exposes celebrities and posts about drama.
T.L says that the bad news is that “If the headline is more shocking, people will be drawn to it more, and find it more interesting.”
As much as Cancel Culture can be a source of entertainment, some research suggests that there is also a subconscious level of interest in participating in moral grandstanding, or vilifying those who behave or speak in a way that is contradictory to one’s opinion. Five Psychology and Philosophy professors conducted a study on undergraduates at a large Midwestern public university to look into the motivations behind students engaging in conflict on social media.
The study found that “Self-reported motivations underlying grandstanding behaviors seem to be consistent with the construct of status-seeking more broadly, seeming to represent prestige and dominance striving, both of which were found to be associated with greater interpersonal conflict and polarization.”
The authors noted that the tendency to self-segregate or form “echo chambers” has been exacerbated by social media, where ideological positions are reinforced. By “cancelling” people, social-strivers might be looking to gain acceptance from the community in which they would like to be part of.
WHO GETS CANCELLED?
There is no simple answer to this. To some extent, it is left up to popular culture to decide. Those who are breaking laws, social norms and treading outside of what is deemed socially acceptance tend to be the victims of cancel culture.
“People are definitely way more critical of public figures because their whole life is online. Everything they do is basically monitored by the internet,” said T.L.
T.L point out that Cancel Culture often holds people accountable for their bad behavior. “A racist celebrity should not be able to have a platform that influences so many people…”
After claims came out regarding Jessie Smollet’s abuse scandal, Empire took his character out the last two seasons. Shane Gillis was fired from SNL after making an offensive racial joke. The show COPS was cancelled amid criticism that it was glorifying the police. Kendall Jenner faced backlash after posting videos of a party she threw that broke social distancing guidelines.
Racial slurs, transphobic comments, and inappropriate sexual misconduct are some of the most common reasons for a celebrity to be cancelled. Yet, there is not as much consensus in the more nuanced categories. Should someone lose their job over writing a post that criticizes the President or mask mandates? Can a Tik Tok influencer be banned from the platform for showing too much skin?
SOME WANT TO CANCEL “CANCEL CULTURE”
Even though @ExpousingHouse content focuses on celebrity news, T.L admits that “Cancel Culture, in general, is super toxic.”
They point out that some people who get cancelled on the internet are overwhelmed with hateful comments and sometimes death threats. “The extremes that people go to to try and “cancel” someone is too much. You can see how it affects people’s health and could lead to trauma as they grow up. You have to remember, some of the people they hate on are literally 16 years old, and still haven’t grown up,” explained T.L.
Beyond the effect Cancel Culture hason the victims, some are critical of the fact that Cancel Culture works to undermine free and open debate. In an open letter published by the Harpers Magazine, dozens of esteemed authors and thought leaders signed on to a letter with J.K Rowling which advocated against the use of cancel culture to homogenize ideas.
The letter concluded “This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”