We’ve all at one point or another said “enough is enough, I just can’t support [insert celebrity’s name] any longer”, and placed them into the invisible prison cell that is “being cancelled”. When someone is cancelled, there’s an unspoken agreement that we’re all supposed to stop listening to their music, watching their movies, or following their accounts; they basically should cease to exist in the eyes of the public. However, that’s not actually what happens, is it?
Whilst we outwardly pretend we no longer listen to artists who’ve been cancelled – like Kanye for example – there are varying degrees of how people actually cancel artists. You might be one of the minority that go absolutely cold turkey, but many of us still linger on Ye’s tracks when they come up in queue and maybe even secretly tuned into his last album when it dropped. Then, even further at the end of the spectrum, there are the people still buying Yeezys and signing up for a spot in his culty church. We cancel artists at varying degrees, and some of us don’t even cancel them at all.
Part of the problem is that every individual “cancels” in a way that personally suits their own interests; in fact, we even have different rules for cancelling different people based on how much they like them. Whilst someone who already isn’t obsessed with Doja Cat might be ready to cancel her after the drama that occurred on Threads last week, others who are bigger fans of Doja’s music may be more reluctant. But, if we can’t come to a unanimous decision, then the artist isn’t really cancelled.
Cancelling based on personal preference also raises the issue of discrimination in cancel culture, something that not many people notice they do but still happens a lot. In the past, many female artists have spoken out about the public being trigger happy with cancelling them, whilst male artists have nine plus lives when it comes to being cancelled. When bias and personal preference come into it, cancel culture is no longer a fair system.
Despite the fact that we all seem to have no idea how to actually cancel anyone, it isn’t a new concept. In fact, cancel culture is a practice rooted in capitalism. This is because under capitalism our money is our main source of power, so refusing to financially support a person or brand is our primary way of making sure our opinions have an impact.
Even thousands of years ago people would “cancel” their local grain dealer for selling dodgy grain or getting drunk and setting fire to the local Church. However, in 2023, we apparently take cancel culture less seriously than we did back then. Cancelling in the good old days actually meant something; now, you can be cancelled and still thriving. I mean, look at Chris Brown: did everyone forget that we unanimously agreed to cancel him? Because his tour, sold out shows, and viral videos on TikTok would indicate that he’s far from cancelled.
Even twenty or so years ago, cancel culture was more effective than it is now, partly because celebrities used to rely on the backing of their industry to bring in revenue. If a musician was cancelled, they were essentially blacklisted from music, stopping them from being welcomed on any shows or playing at major gigs. In contrast, nowadays, a celebrity’s presence on social media means that even when they’ve been cancelled they can still remain relevant, fostering a fan base that doesn’t mind what they said or did until they can get back on the horse and into the limelight.
For example, back in 2001 Winona Ryder was caught shoplifting during an extremely turbulent time in her life, and was cancelled as a result. Whilst today that might’ve meant a dip in roles for a handful of months (e.g. Will Smith who was cancelled in March 2022 – you know what for – and was cast as a main role in Bad Boys’ fourth film only a year later), in contrast, back then it meant being blacklisted from Hollywood for years. It took Winona Ryder a long time to come back from that, but we’re glad she did.
Cancel culture, and the whole concept of placing the responsibility on individuals to keep celebrities, politicians, and powerful people in line, feels a bit like bulls***, because why should we be the judge and jury deciding when artists and brands need to be boycotted (especially when we’re often not even that good at it)? But it’s also just a product of democracy, and one that we’d definitely miss if it was stripped away.
Our ability to cancel is synonymous with our ability to put our money where our mouth is: it’s how we communicate our outrage; it’s basically freedom of speech. Has it just gotten kind of out of hand?
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