Let’s Cancel Cancel Culture
by Maya Pollacco
If you are part of Gen Z, then you might have probably wanted to be either a vlogger, a YouTuber or an influencer at some point whilst growing up. You would grab your phone or even your webcam and record yourself talking about who knows what. We grew up watching these YouTubers and influencers having fun and sharing their wonderful life with us, who can blame us that we wanted what they have? But the more we grow up, the more we realise that what’s on the surface, is not the true reality of what’s taking place behind a screen. I used to think how fun the life of an influencer can be, then realised…cancel culture is a thing so I rather not.
Those of you that form part of Generation Z, you don’t need an explanation of what cancel culture is. If you are not part of Generation Z and are intrigued by this fancy term, let me explain it to you. As Natalie Wynn puts it perfectly in her video: “Cancelling is online shaming, vilifying and ostracizing of prominent members of a community by other members of that community”. Think of it as a modern witch hunt or a modern exile. Back in the day, people used to search for individuals who have been labelled as witches, or individuals that have wronged the community in one way or another. They would either be publicly executed or banished from the village. Now, the internet mob searches for individuals with differentiating views or a problematic tweet that is 10-years-old, only to ruin their life and their reputation.
I see countless public figures getting cancelled for something they’ve done years ago – like 5 to 8 years ago, and the majority of these public figures are still in their early or mid-20s. There is this misconception that a person remains the same as 5 years ago. If you take away 5 or 8 years of their age, they were just a teenager – learning and growing from their mistakes. It would be quite worrisome if someone remained the same as they were in their teenage phase. With the world changing at a fast pace, it’s impossible to remain with the same ideologies and perspectives that you had 5 years ago. There are a lot of topics today that I did not agree with A YEAR AGO, and now my perspective has changed on the matter. Does it make me a bad person that ONE YEAR AGO I had a different ideology than I do now? I sure hope not.
Malta as a country is severely close-minded on topics that people get cancelled for. A few years ago, it was trendy that we call each other with the n-word. Yes, as bizarre or distasteful as that may sound, people would go ahead calling each other the n-word as if they are calling them by their name. It was trendy and everyone followed. Now obviously, that is bad and I do not agree with it at all – but shall we go around cancelling everyone that said it? I do not think so. Shall we try to educate the public as to why certain terms are harmful to a community? Absolutely. And should the black community accept our apology if we were to give one? That is completely up to them.
I was once scrolling through TikTok and came across a video of one of the TikTokers that I follow, who was apparently getting cancelled. The reason as to why she was being cancelled is because she was being harassed by a 14-year-old user and she responded back. The amount of backlash she received was incredible. And I honestly did not, and still do not, understand why. A person was being harassed, regardless of age, sex, gender, religion, a person has every right to speak up. But no, you are a public figure, an influencer, you are not supposed to show any emotions or stand up for yourself. You are merely another cog in the machine and you must follow this unwritten rule of social media that you must be perfect and silent. Public figures are not allowed to get angry. They are not allowed to show pain or get defensive. They are not allowed to lash out. How many times did we get angry at our parents and said something that we regret? It doesn’t make us a bad person; it just makes us real. Everyone lashes out and no one likes rumours or words getting twisted around, everyone gets angry – it is a normal human reaction.
Initially, cancel culture started out as a vigilante method in order to bring justice and hold powerful people, that were deemed to be untouchable, accountable for their wrongdoings. Public figures such as R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein are two prime examples of how two public figures were brought down due to cancel culture. R. Kelly faced numerous allegations of sexual abuse and predatory on teenage girls and it was also a trending hashtag on Twitter; #CancelRKelly. In 2017, actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted that women who experienced some sort of sexual assault, should come forward and comment “me too”. This generated multiple public figures to come forward and discuss a topic that was being left in the dark. One of them was Ashley Judd, who talked about Harvey Weinstein, who has been found guilty of sexual assault. This tweet revived the #MeToo Movement that Tarana Burke worked for. Back in 2006, Burke founded this movement in order to aid survivors that have experienced sexual violence and harassment, particularly focusing on young women of colour. She helped them deal with their trauma and to recover from a horrible experience. Eventually, this #MeToo movement made a global impact and it is still a solid movement to this day.
However, not everything is sunshine and rainbows and when it comes to the #MeToo Movement this has encouraged the ideology of “always believe the victim first”. There is no universal agreement as to why this ideology is good or bad – some say that it is important to always believe the victim because regardless if the allegation is false, the truth always comes out. On the other hand, some say that it’s bad that we always believe the victim because the reputation of the accused will still be tainted. I was actually discussing this topic with my friends, and they said; “Well, cancel culture is a good thing – people that have done wrong get cancelled and get their reputation ruined.” Well, yes, but, no. I think people learnt the term “cancelled” and just ran with it, blowing everything out of proportion. I don’t think people understand the severity of cancel culture. There is this misconception that cancelling is another form of criticism but it is not. If anything, it is destructive criticism but I don’t think it can even be called that way either. Cancel culture does not give room for one to properly explain himself. Everyone jumps to conclusions. The Johnny Depp case is a prime example. He got laid off from projects due to these allegations that he was abusing his ex-wife which was later found out that it was her that was the abuser. This still tainted his reputation and will, unfortunately, stick with him for life.
And since these public figures are sometimes facing fake allegations or rumours, they feel the need to address it as quickly as possible. This is because cancel culture does not give room for one to properly explain themselves, it creates this sort of pressure on influencers for the need to be quick in their apologies and public statements. The quicker the apology, the more sincere it is. But when it comes to reality, this is the complete opposite. When I am arguing with my mum, boyfriend, friends, whatever, sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me and either say something I shouldn’t have or say something that might make the situation worse. What we all need to do is take a deep breath, calm ourselves down and analyse the situation we are in. After that, one can give a sincere apology because they took their time to reflect. But obviously, this concept is non-existent to cancel culture and who has time to reflect, right?
The problem with cancel culture is that the public thinks they are actually making society a better place when they are cancelling these people when in reality, it is doing more harm than good. Fair enough, there have been cases where it was justified, but cancelling has become more than just calling out sexual predators or homophobic, racist public figures; it has become a phenomenon where people get cancelled for responding back, for using slang that has originated from the black community (such as; periodt, sis, slay), for wearing a garment or styling your hair in a certain way and for other reasons similar to this. While I do understand that some things may upset people, I do not agree that it is enough for one to get cancelled and be labelled something that he or she isn’t. When the public calls someone out, they are not calling them out because they care for the person, but they are calling them out just for the sake of petty drama and something to gossip about with their friends. No one cares about the mental health of an individual on social media, the majority follow these influencers to be the first to stir up drama.
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