“Cancel Culture”, the phenomenon of promoting the “canceling” of people, brands, and even shows or movies due to what some consider offensive or problematic remarks, ideologies, or corporate leadership, isn’t actually a new concept.
Dr. Jill McCorkel, a professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University, says that the roots of cancel culture have been present throughout human history with societies punishing people for behaving outside of perceived social norms for centuries.
The most recent “cancel culture” trend is merely social media focused efforts against these social norm violators who are being called out in a “mob” type approach using these platforms.The bigger question is why this cancel culture occurs and gains momentum. Generally, having the opportunity to become a part of something bigger than our individual self will win out. People feel the need to belong and will behave very differently when alone or in small ‘accepting’ groups than when they are in larger, more diverse groups. Consider how you may ‘talk’ to other drivers on a highway after they cut you off yet, you likely would not repeat that publicly to their face. However, what if you had a collective group of people who all messaged you what a jerk that driver is … it would embolden you, create synergy, power, and a sense of belonging to a whole. Similarly, this is what happens online. We have a personal opinion, comment, or feeling that we want supported, so we seek out like-minded people, gather them together, and create a common goal that we refuse to let go of until we are successful.
Today’s cancel culture is a consequence and byproduct of our training to pass judgment on 140 character bits of tweeted information without context or on a video covering a select—and sometimes edited–30 seconds of an interaction. Canceling someone after cherry-picking proof of them at their worst is hardly impartial or fair. There’s something immoral about a mob waiting in the shadows for an opportunity to launch a full-blown assault against them.
Humans are flawed. We know that. This new “cancel culture” dehumanizes others for making mistakes—something all of us do. Would it not make sense for society to, perhaps, invoke a grace period before casting the first stone? Do we really believe someone is expendable, worthy of disregard, simply because of a comment that may have been taken out of context or may have merely been made during a lapse in judgment?
Steve Harvey was demonized when he issued a memo demanding that staff no longer “pop” into his dressing room uninvited or expect him to glad-hand backstage visitors. He was simply tired and had nothing left to give. Is it unreasonable to want privacy or to need a moment alone? JK Rowling had her own encounter with the mob when she was vilified for comments some felt were transphobic. Whether you agree with her comments or not, was the mob’s response acceptable?
How about a little empathy for others? How about a little humility? The humility not only to recognize that you too have made mistakes, but also that your view on a social norm is not a declaration from the Oracle at Delphi. People do have the right to disagree.
A Twitter message does not define the essence of someone; nor does a 15 second Instagram video. Try giving people the benefit of the doubt because before you know it, you’ll be looking for the benefit from them. Karma has a long memory.