I fully believe influencers and celebrities should be de-platformed for being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. I find it reasonable and necessary to hold people accountable for their mistakes. However, I do not believe in “cancel culture”, because it does not exist.
A “canceled” influencer may get cyber bullied and maybe even trend on Twitter for a few days. Depending on the degree of their mistake(s), they may even lose a few sponsorships. The canceled influencer may even have to take a social media hiatus for a bit, to step away from all the heat they are receiving. “Oh, no! Cancel culture has struck again!” Well... not quite.
When said influencer returns to social media, their initial fanbase is still there waiting for them. This includes those followers who defended the influencer’s racism like they are paid to do so, despite not knowing the influencer personally by any means. This pro bono PR team forgives the influencer on behalf of those they actually offended, flooding the comments with love and support. Their supporters welcome them home as if they were bullied off of the app for no legitimate reason. Now, those hurt by what this influencer did—depending on the level of fame of this social media personality—have to see this person pop up on their social media feed.
Cancel culture works even less effectively on non-influencer celebrities. The outrage of mere common-folk does not faze a multimillionaire. R. Kelly married 15-year-old Aaliyah all the way back in 1994, with assault and child pornography charges piling up over the years, but it took his arrest in 2019 and an exposé documentary for people to “cancel” this man. Not to mention, there are still plenty of people who play his music at cookouts because “we have to separate the art from the artist!” Even if they’re child rapists?
Even though R. Kelly may seem like an extreme example. I made this connection because I feel it is necessary to point out that even people who commit absolutely heinous crimes and hurt people in unimaginable ways can have a fanbase of dedicated supporters and revenue.
A popular example of the myth of cancel culture is beauty influencer and entrepreneur, Jeffree Star, exposed several times for shouting racial slurs, saying a Black woman should have battery acid thrown on her, and several other scandals during his career. Every time he has been exposed for being racist, social media drags him for a day or two; then he makes an apology, his followers forgive him, and not a single penny was lost for him.
Jeffree Star Cosmetics, Star’s beauty company, along with his YouTube channel and 9 other businesses, has made Star a multi-millionaire who has accumulated enough to afford to live in the same Calabasas neighborhood as the Kardashians. Yet he has been “canceled” several times.
Some have such an issue with canceling celebrities and influencers because they know they have said or done similarly offensive or inappropriate things. Others have an issue with cancel culture because they confuse holding someone accountable for a mistake with de-platforming someone who has repeatedly offended or violated groups of people.
I believe that the practice of holding an influencer or celebrity accountable could be more effective. Dogpiling and cyberbullying someone—especially a minor—over an offensive mistake is rarely the way to go about doing this. Reacting to mistakes in this way is unlikely to bring about changed behavior and understanding, and more likely to bring retaliation and defensiveness. However, an outraged reaction to ignorance or bigotry is justified.
Folks have dismissed valid and necessary criticism as “cancel culture.” Calling influential people out for saying or doing harmful things is not “cancel culture” or just “everyone is so sensitive these days!” I’ve seen countless comments across social media platforms where users claim that they’re afraid to say anything on social media because they’re afraid of getting canceled.
This so-called “cancel culture” has trickled down to the non-famous crowd. Several colleges have rescinded their acceptances to students who have been found to be racist. Employers have terminated “Karens” for calling the police on Black people for existing. Without social media, these people would have gone through life without consequences for their actions.
It is not too extreme to contact the workplace of a doctor who said the N-word on social media to have them fired. Racism within the medical field is a prevalent issue, and weeding out those with biases is just grazing the surface of what really needs to be done. Getting a pre-law student kicked out of their college for posting about how they hate Black people on social media is not “ruining a kid’s future,” it’s saving a Black kid’s future.
Seeing how people have weaponized the phrase “toxic cancel culture” to silence or mock those who are speaking out against ignorance, bigotry, or prejudice makes me wonder what part of our current culture is truly toxic.