“The expression, ‘back to the future,’ refers to the time when one has to stop (over) thinking about the things they could, or could not, have done in the past so that what happened wouldn’t have happened. Do not dwell on the past! The past has been written with ink… the future in pencil! Worries about what cannot be changed is unnecessary; focus on what you can control and try not to make the same mistakes again.” (Quote source here.)
Unfortunately… Enter “cancel culture”… the crowd that will never let you forget your mistakes (past or present) or opinions they don’t agree with even if you do want to move on with your life. And if they cancel you, any future you are trying to “write in pencil,” they can erase.
Who knows what the world will look like in the future with the prominent rise of the “cancel culture” crowd in the summer of 2020 (although they’ve been around long before then). It’s certainly the opposite of the “Summer of Love” which was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967.
In an article published on February 16, 2021, in the Washington Times titled, “Top 10 Recent Examples of Cancel Culture,” by Kelly Sadler, Commentary Editor and a columnist for the Washington Times, she writes:
“Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson compared cancel culture to a “medieval mob looking for someone to burn.”
No one is immune to woke politics. It doesn’t matter how long ago a person made their irredeemably “offensive” comments, or how passionate their apologies are—the social media mob takes no prisoners.
We’re in a sad place as a society when somebody’s firing and/or cancellation is celebrated more than their life’s work. And yet, here we are.
Below is a list of the top 10 cancellations, all that have occurred within the last year. Many on this list are notable names, people who will find other work and/or have the position and power to stand up to the woke crowd.
It’s the names not represented who are the true victims—like those who have had their college acceptances rejected because of a social media post they made in high school–who were canceled before they ever could get started. They are not famous, and their names are not known.
Not surprisingly, cancel culture cuts one way. If you say something too conservative and mildly offensive, the woke hall monitors on social media will find you. And if you’re famous, all the better, as Hollywood and corporate America seems to have embraced this new form of blacklisting…. (Quote source here, see article at this link for the list of the top 10 cancellations.)
In an article published on August 6, 2020, titled, “How cancel culture became one of the buzziest and most controversial ideas on the internet,” by Rachel E. Greenspan, a reporter on the Digital Culture desk at Insider.com, she writes:
In a congressional antitrust hearing on July 29, 2020, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio had a specific question for Apple CEO Tim Cook.
“Mr. Cook,” Jordan said, “is the ‘cancel culture’ mob dangerous?”
“Cancel culture,” which President Donald Trump last month called “the very definition of totalitarianism,” describes the phenomenon of frequent public pile-ons criticizing a person, business, movement, or idea.
The phrase—a surprisingly recent creation—has become ubiquitous in pop culture and reached the highest halls of power, used to describe “cancellations” large and small.
On one end of the spectrum are people like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and R. Kelly who were canceled by the public before their sex-crimes trials. On the other end are everyday people like David Shor, who faced criticism on Twitter after he tweeted a study from an academic journal questioning the political consequences of violent and peaceful protests. Shor, who tweeted the link during the George Floyd protests, was fired, though the company has said it wasn’t over the tweet.
Despite the seemingly positive intentions of many cancellations—to “demand greater accountability from public figures,” as Merriam-Webster’s evaluation of the phrase notes—people tend to call out cancel culture itself as a negative movement, suggesting that the consequences of cancellation are too harsh in minor instances or represent rushed judgment in complicated situations….
…Former President Barack Obama criticized the trend in an interview about youth activism at an Obama Foundation summit in October, though he didn’t use the phrase. “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.” (Quote source and complete article at this link.)
In an article published on September 30, 2020, titled, “The good, the bad, and the dirty: Analyzing cancel culture and it’s effects,” by Sara Tidwell and Jack Falinski at StateNews.com, they write:
From the Salem Witch Trials to the Red Scare, public figures and everyday people have been on the lookout for people who stood against their morals and values.
These acts of public shaming have always been present. Now, this new-age form of public shaming takes on a new name: cancel culture.
Cancel culture is the act of withdrawing support for public figures or companies after they’ve done or said something objectionable or offensive.
Popularly performed online amongst Generation Z and Millennials, the hidden truth behind cancel culture is that it’s always been around.
Even though the term itself was created not so long ago, public shaming has been found sprinkled throughout world history and entertainment in more cases than one.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, framed one of the most famous novels ever around culture. In “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester Prynn, the main character of the story, was literally paraded around town with a scarlet “A” signed on her breast for having committed adultery.
Cancel culture has always been present in history and entertainment; it just hasn’t always been called cancel culture.
So how did it get its name?
Twitter can take some of the credit, according to Merriam-Webster.
When the #MeToo movement first started, survivors demanded justice by ousting their perpetrators by sharing their names into the public sphere. It’s now used to justify more than just sexual assault. The list includes addressing those who’ve been racially, homophobically or just generally insensitive to the greater society.
To be cancelled means being shunned from the same society that deems you to be insensitive. During the time of leprosy, lepers were cast out into secluded areas with other lepers to prevent the spread of the contagious and deadly disease. Similarly, those who’ve been cancelled today are socially cast out into their own stigmatized bubble of guilt and shame.
Cancel culture ruins careers. It ruins people’s images. And, for those who’ve already been cancelled, it’s something they’re finding very hard to climb out of. But didn’t they get themselves there? Weren’t they cancelled for reason?
Some people you may know who have been canceled
There’s always a problem with putting an ordinary person, even a hero, up on a pedestal. Once you’re on top, should something happen that society doesn’t abide by, it’s a long fall to the ground.
And karma knows everything. It doesn’t care who you are.
“The King of YouTube,” also known as Shane Dawson, was canceled when videos of him making racist, pedophilia and bestiality-type jokes and again when people came back to his videos before he belittled other online creators like James Charles for money resurfaced. However, his cancellation never stuck because his fans would keep returning to his series.
Award-winning author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, was canceled for tweeting that she supported Maya Forstater, a researcher with a history of making transphobic comments and spreading harmful rhetoric about the “T” community in LGBTQ.
Television host and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres, was canceled for being mean–allegations range from bad fan encounters, firing someone for looking her in the eye and playing favorites with where she extended a helping hand, down to executive producers of her show being racist and committing sexual misconduct.
While the list extends for miles, those are just three of the biggest canceled names in modern media. The severity of the reason people are cancelled varies among the crowd.
2020 has shone light on a lot of dark, overlooked areas and helped the world see where our deepest faults lie.
Students weigh in
International relations junior Jen Nardone said she first heard about cancel culture last year when James Charles was in the process of getting canceled.
“It was kind of just scary to see his followers drop so fast based on somebody’s story which could have absolutely been falsified,” she said.
But when she heard about Shane Dawson, a celebrity she admired, getting canceled, she said it felt different than just seeing any other celebrity get canceled.
“As a fan, it was a whole different thing because you watch someone you love get so much hate,” she said. “(Being) canceled is so aggressive.”
Nardone said she thinks it’s tough to support someone who is being canceled because it leaves you, the fan, in limbo of whether to support that person.
“When you support somebody and then you’re just told you’re not allowed to support them anymore it’s like you’re kind of in a box, and you have to just listen to what everybody wants to do,” she said. “It’s hard.”
Cancel culture, according to Nardone, can go too far and do more damage than repair. She said once you’re canceled, it becomes really hard to make a genuine apology, and even if you do people still might not believe you.
“We should just acknowledge that people make mistakes,” she said. “I think cancel culture is just really toxic, but people also need to be held accountable.”
For Teron Kinnard, an MSU junior studying anthropology, he said accountability is exactly what makes cancel culture beneficial.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative thing, unless people get canceled who don’t need it,” he said. “I think it’s a way of holding people accountable to some degree when people usually get away with things.”
Kinnard said he thinks because the entertainment industry socially elevates celebrities to statuses that can create conceited egos, cancel culture is a good way to bring them back down to earth.
“I feel like a lot of times with big celebrity names, they can get away with some things that most people can’t get away with,” he said. “Cancel culture and social media, those things are really up to the public to decide whether or not they still have their platform.”
While there is always some risk in making accusations, Kinnard said cancel culture turns us, the public, into the judge. We, therefore, must investigate on our end to make informed decisions.
“That’s always a danger when someone is falsely accused, but I think when it comes down to it, you just have to do your own research,” he said. (Quote source here.)
There is no single accepted definition of cancel culture, but at its worst, it is about unaccountable groups successfully applying pressure to punish someone for perceived wrong opinions. The victim ends up losing their job or is significantly harmed in some way well beyond the discomfort of merely being disagreed with. Someone like J.K. Rowling isn’t really a victim of cancel culture—she’s too rich to be punished in any meaningful way and she doesn’t have the kind of job that one can be fired from.
Powerful voices on the institutional left claim that there is no such thing as cancel culture. For example, the New York Times columnist Charles Blow, tweets: “Once more THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE. There is free speech. You can say and do as pls, and others can choose never to deal this [sic] you, your company or your products EVER again. The rich and powerful are just upset that the masses can now organize their dissent.”
This argument confuses dissent with punishment. The victims of cancel culture are generally not powerful people. They are often vulnerable people who suffer devastating harm. A previous post discussed an African American school security guard who was fired for using the N-word in the course of telling a student not to direct that word at him. (Thankfully, he was eventually re-hired after a national furor erupted.) The same post discussed a teacher who was fired for inadvertently failing to address a student by his self-identified gender pronoun. The security guard and the teacher each have four children to support and lost their health insurance as well as their income when they were fired. They are hardly examples of the rich and powerful.
But at least one can say the security guard actually used the n-word and the teacher actually did have a religious objection to recognizing transgender identities. But as people, especially in educational settings, have grown more intimidated, it has been harder for the cancel culture warriors to find such people. So instead of finding someone who actually used the n-word, they expand the definition of cancel-worthy language. A professor at the University of Southern California was placed on leave for using a Chinese word that some people think sounds like the n-word even though it is simply the Chinese word for “that.” The professor is a member of USC US-China Institute, and was teaching a communications course and was using the word to illustrate how different languages use different words to fill in pauses.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that one no longer needs to say anything to be targeted by cancel culture. At Skidmore College in New York State, a professor is being boycotted for merely attending a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally. He didn’t participate in any way, he didn’t speak or shout slogans, or carry a sign. He says he just wanted to hear what the demonstrators had to say. But an email circulated at the college saying, “Tonight, I and other Skidmore students witnessed Profs. David Peterson and Andrea Peterson at an anti-Black Lives Matter protest. We demand the immediate dismissal of both Skidmore staff members for engaging in hateful conduct that threatens Black Skidmore students.” (It turned out that Andrea Peterson doesn’t work at the college.)
The professor found a notice on his classroom door saying “STOP. By entering this class you are crossing a campus-wide picket line and breaking the boycott against Professor David Peterson. This is not a safe environment for marginalized students . . . By continuing to take this course you are enabling bigoted behavior on this campus.”
According to Professor Peterson, as a result of the boycott, he has no remaining students in one class and only a very small number of students in his other two classes. He also says the university is investigating him for possible bias.
This extravagant expansion of cancel-worthy behavior is not limited to academia and it is not limited to anything a person has said or done anytime this century. A top executive at Boeing recently lost his job because of an article he wrote in 1987, opposing allowing women to serve as fighter pilots. The executive apologized for the article, writing: “My article was a 29-year-old Cold War navy pilot’s misguided contribution to a debate that was live at the time. The dialogue that followed its publication 33 years ago quickly opened my eyes, indelibly changed my mind, and shaped the principles of fairness, inclusion, respect and diversity that have guided my professional life since.” That was not enough to save his job.
In no way is contemporary cancel culture about free speech or debate. Nor is it any longer primarily about social justice. The power to get someone fired must be a thrilling feeling. It also strengthens group bonds and can raise one’s social standing in certain groups. It is not hard to understand why many people would be willing to look further and further afield to find targets: an innocently uttered Chinese word for “that,” mere attendance at a rally to hear a point of view, or a 33-year-old article that the author has renounced and apologized for.
What is harder to understand is why the truly powerful, those with the power to suspend and investigate professors and to fire people, are allowing this? Perhaps they fear becoming targets themselves. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that cancel culture exists and is getting worse. (Quote source here.)
The articles above have been a rather sobering read. But not even the cancel culture crowd knows what the future holds. I’ve never understood a mindset that is capable of destroying the lives of others for the sheer sport of doing it, although there is no doubt that an agenda is attached at some level. However, in the end, we all die sooner or later. I’ll end it with the opening phrases of a soliloquy from Shakepeare’s play, “Hamlet” (source here):
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished…
To die, to sleep . . .
To sleep, perchance to Dream . . .
Aye, there’s the rub . . . .
YouTube Video: “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and the News: