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Should People Be Canceled?

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| February 3, 2022

As cancel culture becomes part of our acknowledged lexicon, it leaves room for debate—is cancel culture toxic? Or are there pros and cons to the movement?

If public opinion is the firewood, social media is the gasoline. When news breaks about indiscretions by celebrities, politicians or even your next door neighbor, it can feel like everyone has something to say. And while voicing your perspective is one thing, purposely canceling something is another. So, what is cancel culture, and is it actually toxic?

Cancel culture is relatively new, and yet its many early iterations (primarily) in pop culture have been brewing since the 1980s. The 1981 song by Chic “Your Love is Cancelled” makes reference to a breakup being like a canceled TV show. The song’s popularity, and the 1991 movie New Jack City, which made reference to a woman being canceled, was all it took for the term to circulate through the ’90s as a part of African American vernacular.

The movement of canceling others grew to wider usage with the “call-out culture” of the #MeToo movement, which started in 2017. And, now that canceling people has become more popular, we were curious…what are the pros and cons of a cancel culture? 

So, we asked readers what they thought of cancel culture by posing the question: Should people be canceled?

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What Is Cancel Culture?

First, it’s helpful to have a definition of cancel culture. From Wikipedia, cancel culture is “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles—whether it be online, on social media or in person.” Basically, cancel culture is the boycotting of individuals—usually celebrities or public figures, but this could apply to anyone—in response to their behavior

Cancel culture has come under fire for being a movement born out of both the declaration of (and subsequent shunning of) free speech and has widely been debated as a form of censorship. 

Canceling first started as a way to revoke support of or attention to figures whose platforms depended on public acknowledgement and support. However, the term has created a wider debate surrounding the ethics and effectiveness of shaming and punishing those who “step out of” the societal moral line. 

Examples of cancel culture can be seen after:

  • Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling tweeted support of a transphobic researcher. 
  • Talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres was accused of creating a toxic and hostile work environment.  
  • Activist and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky faced “devastating humiliation” after her relationship with President Bill Clinton gained national attention.

Cancel culture is a sticky subject. But it’s increasingly common. So, how do our readers feel about cancel culture? As it turns out, readers had a number of arguments for both sides.

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YES, People Should Be Canceled

Those in favor of cancel culture say that holding people accountable for their actions via cancel culture—the public to those that offend—upends modern power dynamics.

  • "Yes, everyone has the right to choose not to interact with content or behavior they find reprehensible."
  • "Yes. When someone isn’t punished for their serious/perpetual crimes."

Cancel culture weaponizes mass opinion to create consequences for people (often who depend on the public’s support for their livelihood) who may otherwise cause harm and never see justice.

In addition, by canceling someone or calling them out, people are utilizing their free speech—each individual can act and speak in a way that aligns with their opinions and beliefs. In this way, cancel culture can be seen as a method of taking power from those who have it and handing it back to individuals.

However, this last statement doesn’t take the mob mentality effect into account. As human beings, we’re social creatures and can be swayed from our individuality if we’re swept into a mass opinion.

And we’re also left wondering: Does canceling someone have the same effect on everyone? Canceling a celebrity with near untouchable wealth versus a local figure, a colleague or the average person can have very different outcomes. 

That leads us to keep thinking...who has the right to cancel, and how can we classify actions done by the canceled as simply mistakes or egregious affronts to humanity?

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NO, People Should Not Be Canceled

Those against cancel culture claim that respect for everyone’s basic (naturally flawed) humanity should afford everyone a chance to correct themselves and create space for people to change. 

  • "We should treat others as we want to be treated and nobody wants to be canceled."
  • "No, everyone deserves a second chance to rectify themselves."
  • "No. It takes away grace, compassion and the opportunity for redemption and change."
  • "No. It’s unsustainable."
  • "When we find a person not aligning with our views, it’s better to leave rather than hurting them mentally." 

Public health officials commenting on the topic claim that there’s a very real effect on a person after they’ve been canceled, and it’s not pretty. 

Canceling is akin to bullying and can lead to loneliness, which has become the #1 silent killer of human beings worldwide. Canceling creates a sense that people are “giving up on you before you’ve even have the chance to apologize,” says one professional on the matter.

Given these very real consequences, we challenge you to replace the person who's been canceled with your best friend. Your mom. Someone you love. How would that change the way you approach canceling?

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People Should Be Canceled SOMETIMES

These readers see that beneath cancel culture is a public plea for justice. Human beings are imperfect and will make mistakes. However, the severity of that mistake may engender some form of correction that requires canceling.

  • "Only if they’re a legitimate threat to society…not if they accidentally used the wrong pronouns once."
  • "If they’ve said something morally reprehensible, then criticize. Canceling is a Murdoch myth?”
  • "People shouldn’t be canceled, but they should be held accountable for their actions."

This response opens up a new debate: Who gets to decide what is “morally reprehensible”? And what mechanisms do we have other than the law to hold people accountable?

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Cancel Culture: The Final Word

One reader leaves us with a final note to ponder: “No [people should not be canceled], because that limits opportunities for dialogue and growth.”

At the end of the day, cancel culture leaves us tired, confused and oftentimes unchanged—in opposition to the very outcomes cancel culture claims to produce. This view proposes a middle way between the two sides of the argument, and a few questions we will leave you with: How can we acknowledge someone’s behavior as questionable without calling them out, and how can we create a space that encourages healthy dialogue and exploration? 

Like these thought starters? Get more of these perspectives and insights delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing to The Doe’s blog today!

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