Social media is often the battleground for the anti-politically correct of the right and the heated so-called “social justice warriors” of the left. If you’re looking for an open-minded, composed discussion supported by facts, you won’t find them in comments and retweets.
It’s that same group of young, avid internet users who try to “cancel” celebrities’ careers so much that Dave Chapelle has called the practice “celebrity hunting season.” Canceling is essentially a boycott of a celebrity’s work based on anything from allegations of sexual misconduct to a comment made on social media suggesting they are of questionable moral character.
Cancel culture is a game of whack-a-mole. Those apologizing for their behavior don’t know why they’re apologizing. Instead of eliminating problematic behavior, it keeps popping up, those guilty kept getting knocked down and the cycle repeats itself.
It works like this: a celebrity will do something harmful or offensive, either recently or in the past. Someone on social media will post about it, and deem the celebrity “canceled,” meaning that the person’s products, events and music should not be supported. Not all celebrities deemed “canceled” actually see their careers suffer or ended, but enough have for it to be problematic.
Cancel culture is fair when the target is someone who faces serious allegations of abuse, such as R. Kelly, the singer, songwriter and producer once hailed as an R&B legend. He has been accused of using his star status to lure young girls into a sexual relationship, which he has denied for years. In 2018 R. Kelly released “I Admit,” a 19-minute song dismissing his victims’ allegations. He doesn’t show, and has never shown any guilt or interest in changing. It’s evident he does not feel sorry about his alleged behavior and deserves to be boycotted.
But cancel culture becomes dangerous when it targets someone like Kevin Hart, who was pressured into stepping down as the Oscar Awards host following a controversy sparked over some decade-old tweets.
The tweets were admittedly insensitive – he said someone’s profile picture looked like a “gay billboard for AIDS” and joked about breaking a dollhouse over his son’s head if he played with one. But many of those who tried to cancel him for his behavior believed that Hart didn’t learn from his mistakes, or refused to accept his apology. They’re examples of the widespread and growing close-mindedness of young people is just beginning to develop political opinions.
Remember, to find Hart’s jokes, someone had to dig through 10 years of tweets. The very prospect suggests that self-proclaimed social justice activists look for celebrities to cancel because it makes them feel morally superior. It’s pseudo activism.
In the age of social media, it seems that intent doesn’t matter, and genuine ignorance is to be dismissed. Gwen Stefani, who is white, rose to fame in the ‘90s as the lead singer of the band No Doubt. She often wore a bindi, a religious mark worn on the forehead by South Asian women. In the early 2000s, during her solo career, Stefani had a group of backup dancers she called the “Harajuku Girls” for the region in Japan they came from. She often discussed her love for Harajuku culture, and incorporated it into her music. She also released a “Harajuku Love” line of perfume.
Though no one demanded her cancelation yet, she’d been criticized for wearing a bindi and fetishizing Asian women. In an interview with TIME in 2014, Stefani responded to the criticism by calling her work with the Harajuku Girls a “pure compliment” and said what she did was “all meant out of love.” This October, she said she’d started wearing a bindi out of appreciation for Indian culture she developed after spending time with the mother of her ex-boyfriend and bassist for No Doubt, Tony Kanal.
In 2012, she released an admittedly insensitive music video for “Looking Hot,” in which No Doubt played a game of cowboys and Indians. Though the apology she later issued may have been nothing short of a cover-up, there isn’t enough evidence of malicious intent behind her earlier appropriation to warrant blindly bashing her.
In November 2018, an ex-fan of Stefani wrote an article for Vice describing her transition from adoring Stefani to regretting her support for the singer because she appropriated minority cultures. The article spread quickly on social media, and inspired calls for Stefani’s cancelation. She still performs, but whether she was totally canceled or not isn’t the point.
In the digital world, everyone is connected. An army of civilians whose opinions would otherwise be irrelevant have the power to end careers, or, at the very least, influence others to think the same.
Continuously giving in to such a group’s demands feeds a culture where voice volume is political currency, and dialogue is taboo. It means less thinking and less questioning, even when that means making disingenuous apologies and cancelations that leave people confused.