Is it possible to ‘cancel’ cancel culture?

Cancel culture - Centres for Health and Healing

Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to scroll through social media feeds or glossy magazine articles without seeing the words ‘cancel culture’ mentioned at least once, a narrative that has become increasingly popular in the last six years or so.

Cancel culture

In recent years, cancel culture has become the younger sibling of ‘call-out culture.’ 

Essentially, saying or doing the wrong thing results in a person or group being cancelled or dismissed.

Perhaps a much more apt way to describe ‘cancel culture’ or call-out culture comes from Wikipedia, where ‘cancel culture’ gets described as a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – online, on social media, or in person.

Cultural influence

In more recent times, the concept of cancelling culture feels unavoidable, especially for celebrities, those in politics, and even social media influencers.

Those within the political spectrum, such as the likes of Donald Trump, have faced public shaming and cancellation for his lack of political correctness.

Other public figures such as Justin Timberlake, Doja Cat, Chris Pratt, and Ellen Degeneres have also confronted the pitfalls of mob mentality.

Social justice

Cancel culture wars have flipped the narrative where celebrities are often at the whim of the public and not the other way round, the unspoken subtext often being, ”we will support you, but put a foot wrong, and you will get dropped like a hot potato”.

However, there are many different perspectives surrounding the righteousness of the cancel culture paradigm. 

For example, it’s not surprising that the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world have induced such public reactions.

Free speech

Inherently, if we were to stretch back to the free speech movement, today’s culture might be deemed a modern representation of social justice.

But is it possible to take cancelling culture too far?

Core concerns of cancel culture

At the core of ‘cancel culture’ is accountability – whether a person is in the public eye or not, consequences for one’s actions must ultimately get faced in the end.

There are so many variables as to what makes something right or wrong, shades of grey that are often impossible to deliberate (depending, of course, on the circumstances).

One article on cancel culture proposed a central question; it’s not whether we can hold one another accountable, but can we ever forgive?

Is cancel culture authentic?

An article published on CNN argued that cancelling culture is merely a phenomenon, and nobody gets cancelled in real life.

Opposing views

According to the researchers, cancel culture is an ideology, and that cancel culture’s concept is merely a smokescreen from actual systematic forces of suppression.

Quite a profound view on what has become an increasingly popular trend, but is there some truth to it?

If we were to look at ”cancelled” celebrities, such as Donald Trump or Demi Lovato, such public figures are not entirely cancelled. 

They are, in fact, still actively pursuing similar (if not the same) professions.

This ”withdrawing support” movement has some impact, but most cancelled celebrities are still fully-fledged actors or singers (i.e., Shawn Mendes).

But of course, the outcome of cancelling culture depends mainly on how sinister a person’s actions are. 

Unsurprisingly, public discourse tends to elevate depending on the severity (i.e., in instances of sexual harassment).

Consequence culture

Going back to the point about accountability, which is what ‘cancel culture’ is centred on, should people in the public eye continue to have immense platforms and social influence when they continue to do or say bad things?

Public backlash

In an interview, actor LeVar Burton proposed a fresh perspective on cancel culture, saying that cancel culture has been wrongly labelled and should get renamed ‘consequence culture.’

Burton further comments that ‘consequences finally encompass everybody in modern society, whereas they haven’t ever been in America.’

Cancelling people

Cancelling people - Centres for Health and Healing

Of course, there need to be more extensive conversations about who and why someone gets cancelled, and how long they should remain entangled in the web of cancel culture.

In light of other movements such as ‘woke’ culture, cancelling public figures or a famous person for having opposing viewpoints could be discretionary, where the person is still, in some ways, held accountable but not necessarily entirely cancelled.

Again, the above depends on the actions of the person or group.

Cancel culture and mental health

In many ways, we get forced to think about the impact of cancel culture and how it affects people’s mental health and overall well-being.

Social media can be a sinister place at the best of times, but at its worst, it can have a detrimental impact on peoples’ mental health, especially those with large platforms.

Moral panic

According to public health researcher Lindsey Toler, ‘cancel culture doesn’t just affect the cancelled and the canceller’s.

It can also wreak havoc on onlookers’ mental health. After seeing so many people getting cancelled, some bystanders can get plagued with fear.

They become overwhelmed with anxiety, that people will turn on them; that others will find something in their pasts to use against them’ (Lyndsey Toler, April 2021).

A culture of silence

The above can create a culture of silence where many people do not speak out at all for fear of public backlash.

Famous people, for example, may experience guilt for not standing up for someone when they had the chance – it appears it’s much easier to step down from public opinion and opt for silence.

Cancel culture can be fear-mongering where past actions can get brought up and scrutinized; it has the power to turn a well-loved celebrity into a loathed monster overnight.

The other side of cancel culture

Bullying - Centres for Health and Healing

Sadly, ‘cancel culture’ often results in bullying. It can be a very lonely and isolating experience, similar to getting bullied when a person gets cancelled.

According to Toler’s research around cancel culture, loneliness is linked with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.

No room to grow

Those who have gotten cancelled, often feel as though the world has given up on them.

There’s rarely an opportunity for the cancelled to explain their version of events or apologize for any wrongdoing.

Cancel culture often robs people of the chance to learn and grow from their mistakes since the cancellers often shut off all communication instead of letting the ‘cancelled’ know how their actions have affected them.

In a world where discussions around mental health have grown considerably over the years, the narrative around how ‘cancel culture’ affects a person’s emotional well-being is still relatively sparse.

People must be held accountable for any wrongdoing, but at what expense?

Upside

One of the upsides of ‘cancel culture’ is its effectiveness at combating wrongdoing, especially racism and sexism.

Cancel culture encourages social change and addresses many injustices and inequalities.

It appears that ‘cancel culture’ comes with many positives and negatives.

Some elements of ‘cancel culture’ can be helpful when holding organizations and people accountable for wrongdoing or bad behaviour.

Downside

However, on the other hand, ‘cancel culture’ can take bullying to a whole new dimension, causing profound damage to a person’s mental health and the emotional well-being of everyone involved.

Essentially, it may not be possible or even realistic to cancel ‘cancel culture’ entirely, but we should all be mindful of its many effects.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, get in touch with a specialist at Centres for Health and Healing today.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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