By Nikos Theologou,
Before you start reading this article, let me say this once, loud and clear: no person should be thrusted out of a social or professional circle, in a modern form of ostracism, because they have made a mistake in their past. In fact, I am a firm believer that a person’s past mistakes should not define their character in the present. Having said that, the idea there is a culture, which operates as an epidemic, cancelling one career after another, simply due to controversial or insulting statements is a very well structured and fabricated fairytale. But let us take it from the top.
What is cancel culture?
According to Dictionary.com, “Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” It usually involves three separate parties, the celebrity or franchise who is getting allegedly “cancelled”, the company that employs the celebrity and the -so called- mob. After a controversial video or statement by the celebrity/franchise resurfaces, the mob goes on Twitter, the digital equivalent of a public square, and crucifies the celebrity and the company that employs them, forcing the company to let the celebrity go and distance themselves from their beliefs, thus “cancelling” the celebrity. And, while there have been multiple occasions (certainly more than I can mention) where celebrities got laid off from big projects over a social media controversy, almost no career has been “cancelled”!
If you are a Harry Potter fanatic, like me, or just a pop culture enthusiast, you cannot forget the recent outrage sparked over J.K. Rowling’s tweets targeted at the transexual community. While Rowling’s views quickly found some supporters, who believed that the famous writer was simply exercising her freedom of speech, the vast majority of people on Twitter called her out on her transphobic views. The controversy peaked when starring actors of the Harry Potter saga were asked to take an open stance towards the writer’s tweets and immediately distanced themselves from her, thus turning a major part of her fanbase against her. At the time, people referred to Rowling as “the latest victim of cancel culture”. However, 5 days after her widespread online criticism, Rowling released her book “Troubled Blood” which instantly reached No.1 spot in the UK’s book charts with 65.000 copies being sold in the first 5 days! Not only had cancel culture not affected Rowling’s book sales, but the “bad publicity” seemed to expand her audience and increase the sales. But let us go as far as to say that, maybe, J.K Rowling was an exception to the rule. Maybe, what she said was not controversial enough to get her “cancelled” or maybe she, like Harry Potter, was “the one who lived”.
Let us take a look at extreme cases of insulting and controversial behaviors. Cases that, if it was not for their celebrity status, they would be “cancelled” or thrusted out of social groups due to their actions. In 2010, the entire world heard Mel Gibson shouting racial slurs at his girlfriend, through leaked tapes, and was accused of domestic abuse. This came 4 years after Gibson unleashed a huge anti-Semitic rant. Yet, after all these scandals, in 2016, Mel Gibson received a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival where he premiered Hacksaw Ridge (2016). A movie that went on to receive 6 Oscar nominations, including Gibson’s for Best Director! Not convinced enough?
Remember Chris Brown? The singer/serial domestic abuser who beat his girlfriend (Rihanna) to hospitalization in 2009? Just three years after that incident, the Grammys welcomed him back with open arms, awarded him the title of the best R&B album and, to top that off, the producer of the show went on to admit that he “was rooting for him” because he felt like “he deserved a second chance”.
Or Louis C.K? The comedian who openly admitted to sexually assaulting 5 women and is still receiving standing ovations in comedy clubs where he performs. Not to mention, that a great amount of people considers Louis C.K. a victim of “cancel culture” and demand his return to show business.
The list goes on and on and on… but the bottom line is this. No career has been cancelled, even the times where cancellation would have been justified. Celebrities kept earning their paycheck, maintained their fame and went about their careers relatively unharmed.
Entertainment: Where morals and profit almost never meet
You see, looking at the social phenomenon cancel culture which was triggered by the rapid progression of political correctness and the liberalization of society, is like missing the forest for the trees. Cancel culture is a very believable and divisive fabrication created by the entertainment industry, whose profit solely depends on public acceptance and satisfaction, for two reasons. Firstly, in favour of wealthy and privileged entertainers who use cancel culture as an excuse to avoid being held accountable for their actions while showcasing themselves as victims who have suffered mild consequences, and secondly, to put entertainment companies on a moral high horse in the public eye. Take Disney for example. The company laid off director, James Gunn, in 2016 over some controversial and very insulting tweets the director had made in 2010. After the online storm blew over, 4 years later, Disney decided to rehire Gunn to finish the project he was hired for. In both 2016 and 2020, Disney acted according to the public’s wishes. The myth of cancel culture was never about ethics and morals, it was about the one thing any company cannot get enough of. Profit.
Time, Cancel Culture Is Not Real-At Least Not in the Way People Think. Available here.
NewsOne, Cancel Culture is a Myth to Silence Marginalized Voices. Available here.
Youtube, Cancel Culture Isn’t A Thing, You Snowflakes-Some More News. Available here.