Graphic by Julia Landy.
In recent years, the idea of empowerment against systemic oppression and one’s oppressors has driven the public’s growing desire to enforce the accountability of influential figures. This ideal is upheld by cancel culture, which is when people disparage and ostracize a detested figure in protest of their reported actions.
Because of the extremely fast and public diffusion of information through digital media, those in support of cancel culture argue that its lack of barriers and restrictions enable the people to conveniently enforce social justice to their jurisdiction. It exists as an alternative to traditional systems of justice due to the distrust of these systems’ ability to properly, timely and effectively address others’ crimes.
Unfortunately, cancel culture’s appealing qualities also induce unwarranted harm to the parties involved. Unregulated for its accuracy or severity, this inflamed social justice purposefully punishes an influential figure, regardless of whether it is fueled by misunderstanding. This can result in unwarranted damage to a figure’s financial and social wealth.
According to Social Science Research Network’s study, “Does Apologizing Work? An Empirical Test of the Conventional Wisdom”, “The evidence suggests that when a prominent figure apologizes for a controversial statement, the public is either unaffected or becomes more likely to desire that the individual be punished.” Because one is unable to verify whether a figure is genuine in their redemptive actions, apologies and other forms of admission and improvement are often futile in quelling public outrage.
The unforgiving nature of cancel culture is based on the assumption that people are unable to grow and improve. While some crimes are heinous enough that this seems rational, since there is no regulation on what circumstances warrant what reaction, the default response of cancel culture is often the most severe ostracization achievable, regardless of the offense.
Since this social justice seeks the eradication of a figure’s base of support, it relies on large numbers of people to broadcast a figure’s abuses and subsequently boycott their work. When individuals do not support the movement, they directly defy the movement’s source of power. As such, the populations supporting and opposing cancel culture are at greater odds due to the significance of the conflict to the strength of the movement.
Furthermore, those who practice cancel culture perpetuate a black and white worldview of how their methodology is the most correct and righteous course of action. As a collective, the consensus creates a sense of solidarity, which ultimately fuels their mentality of combating an influential figure’s villainy.
This mob mentality of cancel culture heightens emotional bias and irrationality when addressing sensitive issues such as an influential figure’s crimes being aired. It perpetuates the hypocritical ideology that the elite are demanded to be accountable for their actions, even though there is no accountability to be found within the mob demanding their persecution.
Ultimately, cancel culture is harmful because it dissuades individuals’ development of rationale by encouraging mob mentality, and justifies the censoring of an artist’s platform to protest their actions, regardless of whether that is the appropriate response to the situation.
Another possible reaction to alarming news about an influential figure’s actions is the separation between art and artist. This practice is when one deliberately avoids acknowledging the history of an artist’s actions in order to interact with their art without addressing the ramifications of this context.
By ignoring the artist’s history when interacting with their art, one is unable to interpret the art in its full context, as they don’t know what concepts and experiences influence it. The interpretation of the work will be less genuine than its actuality, which leads to the audience to lack a full grasp of its message and purpose.