By Dino Sossi
Alexi McCammond’s journalism career was rapidly ascending. She was a political reporter for Axios and a fixture on cable news.
Jeffrey Toobin was an award-winning lawyer-turned-journalist. He wrote for The New Yorker, provided legal analysis on CNN and authored a New York Times best-selling book on O.J. Simpson.
And Mimi Groves was accepted to the renowned University of Tennessee’s cheer team, who were reigning national champions.
Each life was charmed.
But social media’s penetrating gaze and uncontrollable virality unearthed troubling personal moments for each of them. Their lives became disrupted in ways once unimaginable.
Digital fall from grace
In March 2021, McCammond was primed to assume the editor-in-chief position at Teen Vogue. However, offensive tweets from her teenage years resurfaced. Staff members were outraged and McCammond resigned before she even started.
Toobin was caught exposed during a staff Zoom call, costing him multiple jobs.
And a seconds-long Snapchat video showed Groves stating a racial epithet. Public pressure forced Groves off her beloved Tennessee cheer team, and she later withdrew from the university.
Different circumstances, similar results and each was embroiled in cancel culture. Cancel culture is “promoting the ‘cancelling’ of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies.”
This phenomenon has exploded due to social media’s amplifying powers, society’s deep divisions and difficulties redressing longstanding inequities.
Violating standards of public morality can exact severe consequences, both online and off. This includes penalizing both the transgressors and those harmed by their offensive words or deeds.
The roots of cancel culture
Cancel culture arose in the popular consciousness decades ago. It is paradoxical that a term now used to counter problems like sexism emerged from a song about a bad romance that was later incorporated into a misogynistic movie scene.
Legendary Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers wrote the song Your Love Is Cancelled in response to a date gone awry.
And in dialogue based on that song, Wesley Snipes’ character Nino Brown dumps his girlfriend in 1991’s iconic movie New Jack City: “Cancel that b—h. I’ll buy another one.” Nino’s fiery command is harsh and unforgivable.
At its best, cancel culture minimizes regressive attitudes like Nino’s sexism. It brings them public attention and earns disapproval. Ideally, the targets rethink their position. And even better? They make amends.
The right to free expression
Democracies celebrate free expression — it is essential to their functioning. In liberal democracies, like Canada and the United States, constitutional protections safeguard a wide range of speech.
But at its worst, cancel culture curtails speech. It threatens this longstanding fundamental freedom. If we limit speech by cancelling those we disagree with, other societal pillars also face peril. When expression is compromised, which freedom is next? Freedom of assembly? Freedom from fear?
Cancel culture can grievously impact the cancellee’s professional status. Their livelihoods could end. Think of comedians Louis C.K. or Aziz Ansari — their once-flourishing careers have withered indefinitely.
The debate regarding what to do with those who have been cancelled persists: Should their careers be terminated entirely, forever and without review? Should they be penalized in proportion to their offence? Should their punishment have an end date?
Cancellation is a widespread viral online phenomenon. Due to its essence, it must exist within public discourse to produce its full effects. Given that it occurs among members of wide-ranging internet communities, trying to tailor cancellations on a case-by-case basis seems improbable. Once guilty in the court of public opinion, there is no appeal.
We live during a particularly fraught political moment. The ideological division between right and left in today’s politics seems like an impassable chasm. This perilous gap has never felt wider.
One month before the last presidential election in the United States, nine out of 10 voters believed the other side’s victory would lead to “lasting harm.” And both sides claim their speech has been unjustifiably chilled.
During this era of cancellation, opponents’ transgressions are demonized. Slamming someone as irredeemably wicked on Twitter becomes common. Lives are irrevocably upended. We no longer reconcile differences with respectful conversations.
The long-term outlook for public spaces as marketplaces of ideas becomes worrisome.
But there is hope. A Politico survey conducted in July 2020 found that 27 per cent of American voters believed that cancellation could positively impact society. From this, the negative valence of cancel culture has the potential to be marshalled for more positive ends.
For example, cancel culture could champion pro-social movements that are broadly accepted, like the fight against racism. Following the unspeakable death of George Floyd, support for intractable social problems is strong. A 2020 poll showed that two-thirds of Americans supported racial justice protests. This work is of fundamental social importance and requires constant vigilance. Cancel culture could combat racist expression, ultimately promoting social justice.
Coping with COVID-19 has brought longstanding inequalities into sharp relief. These include racial and class differences driving unacceptably poor health outcomes. Cancel culture’s dependence on the whim and will of the masses means that we cannot move forward together if we speak separately and alone.
Dino Sossi is Instructional Assistant, Technology and Media, at the University of Toronto.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Fool me once (with your lies/actions), shame on you.
Fool me twice (with your lies/actions),
Shame on me.
“We no longer reconcile differences with respectful conversations.” Sadly true.
Palm Coast Citizen says
Cancel culture is a new term for something that’s always existed. Some of what we call “Cancel Culture” is just a new-fangled version of boycotting. Some is just old fashioned “saving face” by an organization. You really think that the peanut gallery of the comment section is really what inspires resignations and firings of big media people whose carereers are partially funded by adverts and commercialism? No. Before social media and the fire-blaze of the comment section existed, people in the media were canned based on the perception of misconduct. We just didn’t see the actual comments.
Also, Toobin? Who wouldn’t have actually been fired?
Actions have always been visible for these people, but now editors etc. can be blasted on social media, but companies worried about image have always canned people based on potential impact to the bottom line. This isn’t in any way new. The only thing new about it is how visible the reasons for canning the people are.
The whole world has gone bonkers. The democrats have lost their minds. I miss the world I grew up in. We didn’t need trillions of dollars given to us to support our families. We worked to support our families and expected nothing free. Not in today’s world though. Sad.
Democrats aren’t the only ones that “cancel culture.” The GOP now GQP has a LONG history of canceling things they perceive as anti-Republican. Last week alone, Ted Cruz, Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley, and others called to cancel places that support masks indoors. Trump just called on his whacked base to cancel the USWNT and LeBron James. Trump is the biggest offender of “canceling” things that speak out against him and his racist dog whistles. Don’t act like Republicans aren’t guilty of the same offenses.
Also, what do you think the Democrats are trying to do with the infrastructure bill? Put people back to work. Do you even know how many jobs this will create across the country? Do you know what the Green New Deal will do for the economy? It’ll create, over 10 years, hundreds of thousands of jobs or more. That will then trickle money down into the local economies. They will then need to hire more people or perhaps expand. Then those people will have more money and can buy houses, pay off debt, etc.
That is how real trickle economics works, not give to the rich so they can pocket it and not give their employees raises. Know what else will help? If Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and all those that skirt the tax laws and avoid paying taxes really should start. That money can go to expanding education programs, training programs, medicare, social security, and so on. If we tax them, it pays for everything. Literally everything. But noooooooo, Moscow Mitch and his goons don’t want to tax them. Why? They make millions off the lobbyists. Democrats do too but to object to billionaires paying their fair share of taxes is absurd. Why do I pay more in taxes than Trump, Bezos, Branson, Musk, and others that make more in one hour than I do in two years? You have to spend money to make money and the GQP is blocking the legislation that will put so many people to work that would cause an economic trickle down to local economies and help solve so many of this country’s issues. You want to blame someone, blame them. The Democrats passed what they could through budget reconciliation as a means to at least get some help to people since the GQP refuses to help but likes to take the credit that they did.
Your experience is not the world. It is a limited view of everything that was happening at the time.
“Cancel Culture” is a corrupt protocol used by those with the money and the power to eliminate anyone who would challenge them or expose the things they need to hide or the dirty agendas that they need to keep hushed. It is alive and thriving in this County and it needs to be eliminated. We can only eliminate by removing the corrupt.
Trailer Bob says
I had the same experience…but the difference was that back in the 50’s, my Democratic parents were pretty much like the Republicans of today. Back then they believed in hard work (not welfare), raising their kids with a good dose of discipline, and if any authority punished us for our actions, they were ALL for it. They prayed and stood for the national anthem, you know…crazy little things like that.
Today my parents are Republicans for those same reasons.
And none of us are racist or crazy.
David Schaefer says
The republicans have lost their minds 4.5 years ago just remember Jan 6th Trumper.
The dude says
Yes… it was “democrats” handing out Trillions of dollars in 2019…
I’m sure when you put on your lie colored glasses Democrats also caused the former guy to run record deficits and borrow and spend record amounts…
If the world you “grew up in” is as factually accurate as your posting here, then good news… it was all lies just like your post here just now. So you “miss” a fantasy that never really existed.
Steve Robinson says
I don’t think the issue has to do with curtailing speech. It has to do with fairness, compassion and a sense of proportion. To those whose fingers are poised over the keyboard, always itching to cast the first social media stone, I would say: Would you want your entire life, your entire worth as a human being, to be judged by the single worst thing you’ve ever done, or the single worst words you ever uttered? If the worst thing you ever did is a violent crime, well, we have judges and juries for that. If you are a politician (or a President) and your words have incited violence, you deserve to be cancelled for all time, if not imprisoned. For the rest, I would say everyone is entitled to a second chance.
Wake up says
Cancel culture is fascism and some don’t want to admit it. Fascism is a forcible suppression of a political opponent and cancel culture is suppressing the views of others that may not agree with your beliefs, even if your beliefs are based on false narratives. Its sad what this country is turning into today.
All this citizens that have come from countries like these are trying to warn you’ll, look at Cubans or Venezuelans or anyone else that fled a fascist socialist communist country and what good have they had to say about the country the fled.
Wake up America wake up
I bought some Land O’ Lakes butter at publix the other day and their Indian logo was missing from the box? So we got rid of the Indian but kept the Land? How America is that?!?
In the land of the offended, the whiners, the weird, the people calling for free money and the haters of everything and pretty much anything, yep the US has lost its way.
Is that why Governor DeSantis wants to cancel Ben and Jerry’s ice cream?
Anthony Dorazio says
Dino Sossi wrote>>>But at its worst, cancel culture curtails speech.
Agreed. Here’s a video that describes a political success story from the 90s that might not be possible today.