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Cancelling and condemnation

Ahh, social media. Some may say it's a portal through which we are given the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to present to the world an ideal version of what we'd like our lives to look like. However, even the sun sets in paradise. Social media is a medium of extremes - wholesome, rose-tinted content is juxtaposed with the most menacing, garish truths that are often hard to stomach. Out of this world came the practice of cancel culture. If you haven't heard of this phenomenon, you probably aren't an avid user of social media. Cancel culture refers to withdrawing support from public figures or companies after they have exposed themselves as being offensive and problematic. Or rather, having said or done something offensive and problematic. Because can we equate people's actions to their characters? Perhaps not, but often these actions are what lead to celebrities losing their followers, companies losing their profits and the public losing their faith in people in positions of power. I'm intrigued by this whole notion. What have people done in the past to warrant them being cancelled? Here are some examples: - Making homophobic comments - Making racist comments - Being charged for sexual misconduct - Being charged for carrying out domestic abuse - Lying - Supporting another controversial person It seems there is a hierarchy to being cancelled. Making a derogatory comment about gay people back in 2005 is nowhere near as bad as people finding out you've recently been charged with raping a string of underage women, but still, you end up losing considerable social and monetary support by some if not a significant amount of people who may or may not have liked you to begin with. I think cancel culture emerged with the intention of being somewhat powerful. If you have withdrawn your support for a particular person, you won't go out and buy their latest album. In this scenario, you are wielding what little power you have - it feels somewhat righteous, it feels good. Over time, however, it seems, like most things, the practice lost its true meaning and is now sort of arbitrary. People fling the word about. Concepts are now cancelled. I'm sure you've heard someone utter, '2020 is cancelled' before laughing bitterly to themselves. I'm pretty sure I've even said, at some point or another, 'mushrooms are cancelled' (even though in my eyes they should never have been allowed in the first place. Period.) Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan, who explores identity through digital media, describes cancel culture as a 'cultural boycott.' She says it was born out of a desire for control, and ultimately creates a culture of accountability, albeit a haphazard one. I guess it's true that we, as lowly citizens of the earth, like to believe that we have some sort of impact, that we are able to bring issues to light that need to be addressed. This is all well and good, but the problem is that 1) not everyone can agree on if someone should or shouldn't face particular consequences and 2) cancelling them isn't necessarily going to impact their livelihood significantly. Some people will feel the effects more than others. Meredith Clark, another professor - at the University of Virginia - states that only those whose power is predicated on the attention economy are susceptible to cancellation. It's almost futile to think that you could strip a politician of their career just because of their problematic actions. I mean, look at the world leaders. *sips tea* Moreover, so many celebrities have braved the Twitter storms and continued plodding along, perturbed perhaps, but ultimately okay. Kanye West - the epitome of controversy - is still a bestselling artist. Louis CK is still on stage cracking jokes. Taylor Swift is still one of the most highest-paid celebs in the world. Allegations and enraged keyboard warriors often do little to bring these powerful people to justice - in fact, it sometimes seems that the offenders are able to avoid any impending downfall and are made even more popular because of their demise. I guess that saying, 'any publicity is good publicity' really does ring true. I want to now turn away from the impacts of cancelling famous people and turn more towards disinvestment in the people around us, the people in our own communities - something a bit more tangible and relatable than celebrities who, don't get me wrong, are still human, but have the safety blanket of money to fall down on (basically, if you've got money, you're always going to be okay. That's the sad reality of the world and life is stupid and should I even finish this blog post?!?) I think the whole idea of what people deserve is a fascinating conversation. As mentioned back at the beginning of this post, how do we decide what is problematic and offensive? How do we decide on the consequences people should face for their actions? This subject is a long and winding rabbit hole, but fundamentally I'm asking: where do we draw the line? Recently the statue of famous merchant Edward Colston was pulled down in Bristol by BLM protesters. Colston's fame and wealth were built on the slave trade, and people last week were enraged that his memory was still being honoured by the city. I was totally in favour of this and still am in favour of removing any of these types of concrete memorials that reside on our streets (the founder of my own secondary school included.) However, some people will say that Colston was a philanthropist who donated money to charitable causes (albeit those which aligned with his political and religious views) and therefore he wasn't all bad. It's interesting, because there are so many historical figures who partook in seemingly outrageous practices and yet also invested in bettering society. Good and bad, light and dark - funny, it's almost like the extremities of social media all over again. The other day I thought about Winston Churchill. People (mostly Brits) love to glorify Churchill because he helped end WWII. And WWII was bad. WWII wasn't beneficial for anyone. However, they also love to ignore the fact that Churchill was overtly racist. 'Yes, he may have made a comment or two but we defeated the Germans!' 'Well, he had certain views but it wasn't as if he was the only one - lots of people held those views. Rule Britannia!' Interesting that people regard Churchill as a war hero. A hero who fought against the tyranny of Hitler. I wonder how big the differences were between Hitler and Churchill, considering Churchill saw Indians and Arabs as sub-human, and declared 'Aryan stock is bound to triumph.' Sounds somewhat familiar. Dissecting historical figures can of course be messy because they were seeing the world through different lens. Not that I justify anyone's behaviour because they were products of their environment - it's just easier for us, I think, to look down on the actions and words of our predecessors because we are now more 'woke' than ever before. A lot of us do consider the world we live in now to be far better than the world of fifty, a hundred, two hundred years ago. In this day and age, there is no excuse to be ignorant, because we live in an age of information. But I've digressed. We are all human and we all make mistakes. I for one am a firm believer in second chances. However, I also believe in the power of choice. Even the smallest choices can have an impact. Is there really a need for you to voice your hatred? To demonstrate disrespect? Is it constructive? Is it going to help a cause, or a group of people? If the answer is no, then maybe you should think twice. If you're a public figure, maybe you need to be extra careful. We all have freedom of speech, don't get me wrong - and I support this wholeheartedly - but in my eyes, if something you say is hurtful, just don't be surprised if you get a punch in the face. Or a whole backlash. You should probably be prepared. Now for a slightly different question. What does it mean to condemn people? I, for one, try to keep an open mind. This is important, because I'm not perfect. Condemning people feels good, because a certain detachment is established. I'm not like them. That's what we think, a lot of the time. Condemning someone almost sometimes feels a bit like an ego-boosting activity. The shame only highlights how much better we are. This can be a dangerous road to go down. As a Christian, I think about what Jesus said in the Bible in reference to the adulterous woman who was sentenced to death by stoning. Jesus famously declared, 'let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her' (NIV, John 8: 7) Funnily enough, stoning was a public act of shaming back in the first century. Just as hanging was in the eighteenth century. And digital exposition is today. We all have some idea of where the figurative line runs. Its rightful placement may be somewhat contested and most definitely subjective, but I think either way, the most important thing for us to focus on is how we ensure love is the dominant discourse. If someone has piped up with something hurtful at the expense of another, challenge it. Is there an opportunity here to educate them? If someone apologises, they will have to follow that apology with a change in behaviour, otherwise they cannot expect people to place their trust in them again. Will you be willing to accept that apology and forgive? Finally (and this is just a thought that popped into my head) I think there's something to be said about the way cancel culture reflects the transactional, commodified nature of today's society. We can find out about new things at the drop of a hat, and if we don't like 'em...we'll drop 'em. And that's that. Good? I'm not too sure.


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