Should Cancel Culture Be Canceled?

 The first time I heard the term “cancel culture,” I was listening to the radio, flipping through broadcast after broadcast. Confused, I pressed pause on the scanner, straining to hear the commentator through the static as she referenced this unknown concept—yet, despite no prior exposure to the term, I felt an instant surge of recognition at its description. Without realizing it, I had seen cancel culture in action and never even questioned its existence. Today, this phenomenon is more common than ever… but is that a good thing?

At first glance, nothing appears inherently wrong with cancel culture—quite the opposite. Watching people get called out for despicable behavior seems wonderful. But if you look closer, you may realize that some of these comments go beyond what should be acceptable. What do I mean by this? 

The pressure to add to cancel culture has become so great that participants will go to extreme lengths to prove someone’s flaws, such as digging through old tweets and messages from years, even decades ago. Unfortunately, humans are complex organisms and we change drastically over time. What one person said twenty years ago may be completely different from what they believe now. Cancel culture fails to account for this and instead punishes the canceled, regardless of personal growth. 

Cancel culture’s goal is to create positive change in the world, right? By pointing out a problematic comment or action taken by another person, one aims to enlighten everyone and the transgressor to the error they have committed so that they may do better in the future. Wrong. If cancel culture’s goal is to simply highlight a wrong, well done, but making a positive impact is another matter entirely. This environment that we have perpetuated leaves no room for mistakes or improvement. One misstep leads to an entire career and life in shambles forever. The vigilant agents scouring the internet are ruthless and tear a person to shreds for a single misdeed. And how does said person react when others decry them as a loathsome creature, evil to the core? They turn to the only source of positive affirmation left—people who support whatever they have said/done and drive them to continue along this vein of thinking. Society pushes the canceled away, leading to a more polarized and vitriolic atmosphere than before, and we have only ourselves to blame. 

If this is true, then why do we accommodate cancel culture? Canceling makes us feel so darn good because if we are calling out someone on their flaws, we can ignore our own and place ourselves in a category superior to whatever lowly soul we face. As a result, we feel validated and assured of our own morality, and this drives away our insecurities, so we ignore the horror that we are complicit in creating.

If cancel culture is not the answer, then how do we respond to disturbing offenses committed instead of acting as silent bystanders? While we must continue to speak out, we must do so with the caveat that while what occurs is upsetting, it need not be defining. Although second chances are not infinite, they can be a blessing when incorporated correctly. We can combat bad behavior without becoming a monster ourselves. At the end of the day, there is only one thing we need immediately cancel without further questioning and that is cancel culture itself.

– Isabella Folio ’22

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