A disservice to public figures everywhere
By Sydney Goldstein
We were raised upon the premise that everyone makes mistakes and that, as humans, they are fundamental to our growth. It appears as though society has decided that mistakes, no matter how big or small, how recent or how long ago, can be used to one’s demise. This concept is called cancel culture and has affected hundreds of celebrities. Someone with the plan to destroy a particular celebrity’s reputation will leak an image, tweet, video clip or other form of media, often from years ago, and share it. This generally leads to a storm of opinions and hatred towards the public figure, in which fans turn their backs on them, joining the bandwagon. It appears as though supposed fans fail to make their own judgement about the scenario, and instead follow the lead of the individual who started this mess in the first place.
The problem with cancel culture, is that it compares today’s standards of political correctness with that of years prior. This is simply unjust, seeing just how much political correctness has changed this year alone. It attempts to establish a pure, flawless group of public figures that fit perfectly into the mould that their fans and the world have set for them.
Comedians, such as Louis C.K. and Shane Gillis, have been boycotted, fired from their jobs and have had their shows cancelled, both literally and figuratively. The former was a well-liked figure in comedy, selling out shows and touring nationwide stadiums. In November 2017, C.K. admitted to several allegations of sexual misconduct, putting out a statement about his remorse for his actions. Media companies immediately stopped working with him and his colleagues and publicist renounced him. While his actions toward these women is truly despicable, he is one among very few men caught up in the Me Too movement that not only admitted to, but apologized for his behaviour. I do not by any means think that we should condone sexual assault or sexual harassment and I disagree completely with C.K.’s reasoning and vie for sympathy, but there is something to be said for making the effort to change your ways. After being banned from most comedy clubs for many years, Louis C.K. announced that he would perform at Yuk Yuk’s, a comedy club in Toronto, for 7 nights this past October. People on Twitter blasted the comedy club, and demanded that others not give money to the controversial man. However, many of his fans who stuck through the scandal were thrilled that he would be performing in their city. It all boils down to individual opinion; do you like and support Louis C.K.? Or do you not? Your answer may be different than mine, and mine may be different than that of millions of commenters worldwide. But that’s the great thing about this world: I don’t have to see a Louis C.K. show if I don’t want to, or vice-versa.
Hollywood celebrities aren’t the only ones affected by cancel culture. Youtubers are the main culprits, because their lives are constantly being documented, on display for everyone to see. We have, for example, James Charles. He rose to fame in 2015, propelling himself into the platform’s beauty community, which is known to be the most competitive and unforgiving of YouTube’s genres, and taking it by storm. He quickly acquired a vast and devoted fan base of approximately 16.5 million subscribers by this past April. The following month, his former best friend, mentor and fellow beauty community member Tati Westbrook posted a video about him. This 43 minute video seemingly came out of nowhere, considering their public relationship that seemed to only flourish over the years. In her video, she discussed the fond relationship she once had with Charles and then elaborated upon the many instances that led her to cut her ties with him, such as his attempts to seduce men who are questioning their sexuality (James Charles is gay), and his negativity about other beauty influencers behind closed doors. The internet was quick to turn against him: mere minutes after the video went live, he began losing followers by the thousand, and had reached 13.8 million subscribers in the subsequent days. In addition to his rapid subscriber loss, he also received death threats and hate comments on all social media platforms. Videos were spread on Twitter of fans destroying their James Charles X Morphe eyeshadow palettes, and Youtubers, even those that appeared to be his friends, shared how they dislike him too, adding fuel to the massive fire that was consuming James Charles and the dream life he’d built for himself. On May 18th, 2019, Charles retaliated, posting a response video titled “No More Lies”, telling his side of the story with screenshots of text conversations to back him up. And then, what do you know: subscribers started pouring back in and he reached 16 million once more in the matter of no time. The James Charles incident is the perfect example of the detriment of cancel culture because of how quickly it was reversed. Fans turned into haters and back into fans in a week’s time, proving that it was more about fitting in with the trend of people unfollowing him than about the victim himself.
This just goes to show the absurdity of cancel culture. It attempts to rip away someone’s accomplishments in reason of a mistake made in his past or multiple accusations that are, for the most part, fabricated. It is crucial that we learn to form individual opinions, as opposed to following those who surround us and jumping on the bandwagon of hatred. It is equally important that mistakes be treated as such, and receive the appropriate consequences. An error, lapse of judgement or misstep are all part of human nature, and it is unreasonable to destroy one’s whole life and accomplishments because of it. Cancel culture needs to be put to an end, or else flawlessness will become the new standard of success.
Weakness or Strength?
By Austin Huang
Many people believe that calling out people for something they did in the past is a sign of weakness, as such allegations require a huge supportive population to be engaged in order to gain any traction. After all, why resort to unstable and improvised public relations (PR) tactics when we have a preferred and well-established method for judgments, aka. the legal system? Should the legal system be fair and square, cancel culture would indeed be a laughable thing. However, as opposed to its design, what we have repeatedly seen is the division of material wealth being represented in courts, where these famous (or “infamous”, should they be known for the call-outs) individuals, with their heavily-staffed legal teams full of well-paid lawyers, crush any plaintiffs getting in their way (Except in rare cases where equally high-profile plaintiffs employ another bunch of well-paid lawyers, in which we shall expect tea). Therefore, it has become very necessary for the grassroots population to such employ PR tactics, which we call “cancellations”, to show our strength against injustice.
Starting from #metoo, the most prominent example of cancel culture. Despite having flaws to be improved on, many (mainly) women, high-profile or not, have discovered a new way to enable themselves to speak up against traumatic experience which, unlike relying on the unpredictable and possibly traumatizing legal system (as many victims of various abuses find difficult to retell, or “relive”, the tragedy), allows them to receive sympathetic support and positive feedback from the general public, both much needed for post-traumatic recovery of themselves, without exposing them to much pressure. Expanding onto other cases, we see people driving out offensive ideologies, whether it’s racism or sexism, with greater confidence. As time goes by, the (mostly online) population is able to establish, and constantly improve on, a democratic system of “street justice” encompassing a greater spectrum.
Cancel culture also concentrates propagation effort (of positive ideas, should I assume) onto certain individuals instead of on a general platform. As academics, we know that a paper will sound infinitely better if it includes many (but not solely) concrete and relevant examples to support its claim. Same applies to social ideologies: By concentrating the effort to attack certain known, representative cases of the topic, aka. “putting a face to the idea”, not only it strengthens the cause, but also it will be able to catch attention from much larger audiences. The Montgomery Bus Boycott during the Civil Rights Movement in the US presented evidence that even by only targeting one specific company’s prejudice on just one person, African Americans were able to bring a nation-wide strike to the racial segregation policies.
Unfortunately, as we see the immense benefit of cancel culture, certain bad actors are hindering the light with false accusations and influencer culture, damaging the reputation of legitimate claims of some people and preventing many more from getting the help they needed. Moreover, cancel culture tends to focus on much smaller and less necessary causes. As residents of Montréal, I’m sure that many of us would recall the stunning attendance of 500,000 people at the climate strike, in which political leaders are called to stronger action for the environment. Why have we not called out specific environment-damaging practices of these politicians, to the extent of #metoo where famous figures have their image completely erased? Imagine if we just focused on the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, or the two campaign jets of Trudeau – clear evidence of disrespect to the environment – and we just sit there and shout to him, but not move? Hereby, I shall reiterate that cancel culture is not a weakness. It is a strength that unites people together. It is a strength that puts coordinated effort towards the cause. Let it be our friend to defend ourselves against malicious interests and crush all the hardships so that we shall progress!