By Orla McHale, First Year, English
Cancel culture is society's new mode of online ostracism: if you don't agree with someone's opinion, or what they say, or if they do something controversial, they should be cancelled.
Beginning as a what could be viewed as a worthwhile and earnest attempt to give voice to the marginalised and oppressed by creating a cultural boycott of a particular celebrity, brand, company, or concept, the culture has since developed its own meaning.
This meaning, seems to encompass an intolerance and reluctance to listen to alternative viewpoints. What started as a seemingly honourable attempt to promote a more culturally aware society has since spiralled into a lack of willingness to educate others and promptly dismiss and shut down objectionable opinions.
There is no question about it: it is undeniably useful to hold those who have said abusive and offensive statements accountable for their actions. But has cancel culture gone further and begun to infiltrate our conversations and day-to-day dealings with each other, in turn, hindering discussion and debate?
As much as an elementary leap in reasoning it may seem, I believe that how we respond to matters on a digital and corporate scale becomes reflective of how we deal with community-level interactions. Cancel culture therefore seeps into how we respond and converse with the people around us, going beyond the big celebrity names and corporate brands.
Wanting to surround ourselves with people of similar opinions and ideas is an understandable human impulse, but it is arguably one that is too simplistic and fails to take into account the value of debate to reach an understanding of others’ views.
Those who bear the brunt of being cancelled can frame themselves as victims
Believe me, I am familiar with the sensation of growing internal rage overcoming you as a close family member or friend says something homophobic, racist or sexist. There is a certain moral high ground you feel alongside the utter disbelief that anyone could be, in your eyes, so ignorant.
Yet, more often than not, when someone is close to you, your first response is not to “cancel” the person who has said something you disagree with or consider to be offensive. Instead, you may may wish to look deeper, and attempt to understand and ask questions.
Why is this approach not taken when we decide the fate of those who are not close to us, both in our local communities and online?
I can understand the desired outcome of cancelling
Like many others, I can understand the desired outcome of cancelling. For it stamps its mark on an objectionable act or opinion and classes it as unacceptable. Yet, the word cancel has a sense of finality to the matter that is just too stark and harsh for progression. It indicates a point of no redemption. That is to say that cancellation is daunting and ultimately lacks the needed patience for the advancements we want and need to make socially.
With that being said, what's even more damaging than the finality of cancel culture is how it is easily weaponised by those that fall subject to it. In a strange dichotomy, those who bear the brunt of being cancelled can frame themselves as victims.
By evoking sympathy, the cancelled person makes the canceller appear to be the bully. This creates a space in which objectionable or even harmful statements are not assessed critically, and all constructive dialogue goes out the window. So, where do we go from here?
Firstly, we need to understand that our reality is full of ambiguities and nuances. Instead of attempting to police ideas and battling back and forth to establish who the worst person is between the “cancellers” and the “cancellees”, we should be striving to understand the reason behind each one’s cause or idea.
Are our education systems failing us somewhere? What experiences shaped that person's beliefs?
Striking a balance is more integral now than ever to avoid the heightened political polarisation we are currently facing. In scrapping the terminology and built-up hostility of cancel culture we can try to ditch the 'Us versus Them' mentality it embodies. Because at the moment, we aren't listening and we aren't even critiquing. We are only putting a halt on the gritty but necessary conversations that need to be had.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Markus Winkler
What are your thoughts on cancel culture? Let us know!