The Case for Cancel Culture

In a controversial letter for Harpers Magazine, several prominent writers, academics and activists provided signatures decrying “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism” – otherwise known as cancel culture.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” reads the letter.

J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem and Salman Rushdie are some of the names linked to the letter. Many who have signed the letter have now been asked to be removed after social media users condemned the letter particularly in light of recent comments from Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling.

The internationally renowned writer has faced backlash after several controversial comments were made towards the transgender community. One of which was a highly inflammatory essay that has been described by many as transphobic. Most recently, the author had compared transgender hormone replacement to gay conversion therapy.

 Historian Kerri Greenidge, a professor at Tufts University, was one of the members that retracted her signature:

What is cancel culture?

In the age of social media, it has become common for users to take to their favourite platforms to discuss current affairs and call out those that spread vitriol comments, whether it’s a celebrity or a politician.

Miriam Webster explains the phenomenon: “Cancelling and cancel culture have to do with the removing of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behaviour or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work.”

The act has been an area of contention for some time, many believe it to be akin to mob mentality while others believe that it’s allowing the public to speak truth to power. Social media has been an important tool when it comes to highlighting important issues that have gone unacknowledged by wider media and holding celebrities and other prominent individuals accountable.

But does it actually work?

The Harpers Magazine letter states: “…we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk-taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”

Yet, there doesn’t seem to be significant evidence that this has happened, particularly when it comes to celebrity culture. Many renowned celebrities that have been accused of a variety of immoral acts continue to live off a fruitful career that shows no signs of slowing down.

One of which is director Roman Polanski, who pled guilty of unlawful sex with a minor in the ‘70s, who continues to have a successful film career with his 2019 film An Officer and a Spy receiving several award nominations. Similarly, Woody Allen who has also been accused of sexual abuse is still considered a significant entity in the film industry, with his career spanning several decades and even receiving the Golden Globe award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014.

It isn’t just abusers that have managed to evade the elusive “cancel culture”. Many celebrities have been called out for racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, and yet continue to benefit from their successful careers. If cancel culture does work – it doesn’t last long. In a society where many have evaded accountability for far too long, while still making a significant profit, it seems like people expressing their thoughts on social media as a consequence is the bare minimum.

Photo Credit: Deadline

Aisha Mohamed