It seems like every day I open up my phone to the news that a different public figure has been canceled due to controversial actions. Whether it is Ellen DeGeneres creating a toxic work environment or J.K. Rowling’s transphobic tweets, celebrities are being “canceled” by the masses.
Cancel culture has become an increasingly talked about topic and now more than ever people are being “canceled.” So, what is the big deal about cancel culture?
According to an article by the NY Post, cancel culture is “the phenomenon of promoting the ‘canceling’ of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies.”
I find no problem in calling out public figures when they have done wrong. They are role models for people around the world, whether they asked for that responsibility or not. With this responsibility comes publicity and the ability to voice one’s opinions publicly.
When people misuse this responsibility by acting racist, sexist, transphobic or simply unkind, they deserve to have that abusive behavior recognized so people know that in this society, we will not accept the disrespect of others, especially from people in the public spotlight.
Yet, people often forget that celebrities are only human and make mistakes the same as every other person. Do these actions warrant them being “canceled”? Well, that depends on the situation.
I think there needs to be a differentiation between those who may have done questionable actions in the past but are actively working to better themselves versus those who have acted poorly and continue to do so.
However, differentiating may be a difficult task. How can you tell if someone has genuine remorse for their actions or if they merely apologizing performatively?
We can answer this question by looking at the apology and subsequent actions to see if the person follows through with what they promised. If someone’s apology seems robotic or forced, they probably do not feel remorse and will continue to act badly. On the other hand, when people appear emotional and genuine, they may actually be sorry for those they have negatively affected and will do better in the future.
Looking at an apology is not the only factor in deciding whether a person is genuinely atoning for their actions. More importantly, we can also look at what the person has actually done to help the communities or people they have hurt.
Has the person volunteered their time to help marginalized groups? Are they using their platform to raise awareness for important issues? Are they encouraging their followers to make systemic change? All of these are examples of what public figures could be doing to create positive change in their community.
However, even if a person has made a genuine apology and is actively seeking to do better, this could still all be a performative scheme to make them appear more likable in the public’s eye. All the while, we believe them to be good people.
Therefore, the only solution is to stop depending on celebrities to be the moral good and bad of society. As previously mentioned, celebrities are only human. Like everyone else, they may make questionable decisions or be a saint, depending on who you ask.
We cannot force public figures to live up to unreasonable standards. We do have a right to shed light on their actions as we do to anyone that is acting cruelly. However, permanently “canceling” someone for their past behavior is toxic, especially if they are genuinely trying to atone.
In a time where it seems everyone is divided, allowing people to do better in the future may be the answer to unity.
Though cancel culture has its flaws, it has allowed people to truly acknowledge their behavior and strive for more progressive action.