“Cancel Culture:” Are we too quick to hit the cancel button?
According to Dictionary.com, "cancel culture" refers to "the popular practice of withdrawing support for (or "canceling") public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” In our quest to become more “woke”, a term we’ve defined by our increasing awareness of social injustices, have we decided that hitting the cancel button is the only way to educate those that need awakening? Is it okay to make mistakes or are we doomed to face the court of public opinion and be deemed “canceled?”
Most of us want to hold others accountable and be held accountable for the actions we take in our daily lives. But does holding people accountable equate to “canceling” them and ruining their livelihoods and reputations? And what actions should be considered worthy of “cancelation?” Holding people accountable starts with having clear expectations that apply to everyone equally and equitably. These expectations should help in determining what can constitutes a mistake and what may be indicative of “a pattern of behavior.” Patterns of behavior should be cancel- worthy. Mistakes should not.
University of Alabama Football coach, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was quoted as saying “When you make a mistake, there are 3 things you should do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”
Occasionally, patterns of behavior emerge in cases like that of Joss Whedon. Controversy first began brewing around him in 2002 on the set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with female cast members and his writing of certain storylines, and later culminated in 2021 when several actors and entertainers cited his abusive behavior and the toxic work environment he reportedly created. When multiple people can corroborate claims and describe in detail behaviors that show a narcissistic tendency to believe they are above these expectations, this is cause for cancellation. This no longer constitutes a mistake. Total boycott of support of an individual that clearly has no concern for another human being and their pursuits and well-being might just be warranted. Yes, this may be “cancel- worthy” behavior.
In other cases, mistakes may give people a way to learn and grow, and help them in understanding the errors in their use of words or actions. People make mistakes. We are all flawed. We have bad days. Generally, these can be forgiven and we can move on. In this fast-paced internet-driven world, however, tweets, comments and broadcast and recorded jokes have a way of rearing their digital heads and setting society’s collective ire against someone.
The internet never forgets and in instances like that of producer and director James Gunn, the past can return to wreak havoc on livelihoods and reputations. Gunn was reportedly fired from the third installment of Guardians of the Galaxy due to decades old tweets. Poor taste, lacking class and tact for the time, sure. He apologized and moved forward.
#Metoo supporter, Selma Blair took notice, saying in a Tweet, “If people are punished despite changing, then what does that teach people about owning mistakes and evolving? This man is one of the good ones.”
The difference is decades of growth and the admittance that the actions were mistaken. Gunn admitted that his previous behavior was wrong and a slew of others backed him up by saying that these actions were not indicative of who he was today.
Maxwell Maltz, cosmetic surgeon and author, said “You make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you.”
Growth matters. Growth guarantees that we are not the same people as we were. We have more life experience and perhaps have had guidance from people we have met from diverse places, religions, perspectives and backgrounds. These people mold us into who we become and teach us about the world and ourselves. Would you recognize the person you were just 20 years ago? Or is that person a distant version of you that has evolved along the journey of life?
Some things one might ask before “Canceling” a favorite personality or brand might include:
1. What exactly was the offensive behavior?
2. Is the behavior or expression something that can be overcome by
education or experience?
3. How recent was the offensive behavior?
4. Is the statement or action a single or isolated event or part of a pattern of
5. Does the behavior put a project, brand or other person in jeopardy or are
its ramifications localized to the offender?
These are all good questions with which to start when considering how we hold ourseleves and others accountable. Most of all, however, one question that we might consider above the others when deciding whether or not to “cancel” someone for an offensive incident or statement may just be: