On social media, cancel culture is a way for audiences to remove the power, fame and admiration of celebrities and influencers or anyone with a platform, usually because of something controversial or discriminatory that person has done.
However, in recent years the term has become more of a joke; conversations about cancel culture have turned into social commentary on the selective nature of which celebrities get “canceled”, as well as the way in which “canceling” someone can also double as performative activism — where someone cares more about the popularity of the celebrity and seeming informed and supportive rather than actual social activism. In some cases, though, the reasons behind canceling someone can contain truth and important lessons.
I think that in many ways, the criticisms of cancel culture are true.
It’s hard to keep up with which celebrities have been canceled, and most of the time, it seems like being canceled doesn’t actually do anything. Either everyone eventually forgets, or the celebrity does the same harmful thing again. Ellen Degeneres, for example, was canceled earlier this year for her mistreatment of guests and employees on her show.
And while Degeneres ended her show, people have long forgotten about the controversy surrounding her.
Similarly, many have been canceled over mistakes rather than harmful actions and ideals — in that sense, cancel culture can also be wielded to cause more harm than constructive growth.
But as useless and cringy as it may seem, I think that “cancel culture,” or rather, the tools behind it, can be helpful when used correctly.
If someone has done something harmful or offensive, it only makes sense that they should face the consequences of their actions, especially if they continue to stay rooted in their harmful behaviors.
When regular people use their social media leverage to de-platform a well-known figure, the person’s position of power and their voice are diminished, meaning that their harmful ideals and behaviors affect fewer people. Maybe a diminished voice won’t solve the ever-present problem, for instance, of racist ideals being spread across social media and other platforms. Taking away the voice of harmful individuals only does so much in addressing extremely important and serious problems — but it’s an important step nevertheless.
When a larger audience has less access to harmful opinions and values, those principles have less of an opportunity to spread, hurt others, and take root.
Similarly, with discussions about harmful opinions and actions comes greater awareness about how to be a more compassionate and considerate person.
Sure, not all criticisms that arise from cancel culture are important to take into consideration, but that doesn’t mean that useful advice can’t be taken every now and then. Sometimes, the things we do and say can unknowingly affect other people, and part of growing and becoming a better person is becoming aware of that and taking accountability and responsibility for that.
This isn’t to say that canceling someone is always the way to go when it comes to addressing important issues. But while cancel culture is often passed off as a performative attempt at social activism, the idea behind it can hold lots of value and potential for growth — if used correctly.
Niveditha Bala is a freshman at The University of Texas at Dallas. Contact her at email@example.com