Opinion: Discussing the hysteria around cancel culture in relation to our media consumption
In this respect, the meaning of the cultural phenomenon has been unrecognizably diluted
“Cancel culture” exposes our complicated relationship with moral purity, shame, accountability, sensitivity, ostracism and ignorance. The relationship between “cancel culture” and consumerism is an important thing for us to discuss. When handled with care, dialogue pertaining to this phenomenon can be enlightening and fruitful.
Recently, the theoretical good “cancel culture” can cause has not translated into reality. I have not had a meaningful exchange on this topic in which I learned something new from my peers or observed the issue from a new lens in almost a year. In fact, most of what I have found is regurgitated takes or made up non-issues that make me wonder if people simply enjoy being aimlessly angry. I have watched people lose their minds over Dr. Seuss books nobody has heard of and brand logos nobody will mourn, both of which are decisions made by private companies about their own business. It seems that half of the individuals outraged over cancel culture’s supposed threat forget the power of personal choice. Forms of media that have been deemed problematic in the court of public opinion can still be consumed.
College students are easily swept up in these conversations. We are beginning to come into our own and are forming our opinions on the world without interference from parents and teachers. This is why it can be concerning when people sound the alarm on cancel culture, preying on people’s fears of social rejection and evoking the threat of a future without freedom of speech, as if a world where people did not have to face the consequences of their actions ever existed. Among these trends of fear-mongering, it is important to step back and reevaluate why there are individuals who are so incredibly distraught by “cancel culture” and why they evoke the term when institutions reflect on their past and make changes to better reflect the times. They might feel as though society is progressing quickly, leaving people clinging to a past where they could be bigots in peace. Accountability and growth are scary concepts for some people, especially on a stage as public as social media. The result of this is that reactions to genuinely harmful actions are invalidated, dismissed and chalked up to mob mentality, thus enabling dangerous behaviors and ideas.
Talking about “getting canceled” in relation to individual displays of bigotry is an entirely different conversation that requires more nuance and depth, especially when pertaining to celebrities and normal people. For example, holding an individual accountable for a crude and harmful joke they made in the past falls under this category. However, the outrage over businesses making small changes to their own brand is incredibly overblown. While Republicans in Congress throw tantrums over children’s books, the student body at AU can focus on the ways in which the loose usage of the term “cancel culture” diverts public attention away from issues that impact people’s daily lives. It puts cases such as the end of a celebrity’s career over a sexual assault accusations and a deliberate business decision over a children’s toy under the same category, minimizing the former issue. We can all be wary of our language, and stray from alarmist terminology to truly have more thoughtful conversations. In both the classroom setting and within our interpersonal relationships, we have the power to challenge each other to think critically about the type of language we use, and how we could unintentionally magnify non-issues whilst diminishing harmful ones.
Diana Gertsenshteyn is a freshman in the School of International Service and a columnist for The Eagle