Cancel Culture: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Reported by Morgan Stewart

When media companies aren’t reporting about the breakout of a civil war or another climate catastrophe, they’re spotlighting the latest ‘canceled’ public figure.

If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘canceling’ is akin to ending a famous person’s career, someone like a celebrity or a politician who did or said something heinous. Usually the rallying cry occurs over social media, where the evidence of the celeb’s wrongdoing is easily spread.

Everyone seems to love a good canceling. Some start them. Some hate them. There are many ‘cancel culture’ haters out there that will click on stories about celebrity misfires just as fast as the people who support every boycott.

Scrolling through the comment sections these days is exhausting because users are either complaining about what the celebrity said or complaining about what others are saying about what the celebrity said. It’s the same old drivel that never solves anything.

We get it, you’re offended. But do you have to take the bait every time? Save some of this passion for something that actually matters and affects you.

And of course, online media outlets have taken note of this trend. It’s in their best interest to fan the flames. Because, you know, dredging up comedian Kevin Hart’s old homophobic tweets — beliefs for which he apologized and condemned several years ago, I might add — and pressuring him into stepping down from hosting the Oscars is so much more important for audiences to discuss than the abuses of large pharmaceutical companies like Big Pharma or the rise in global sex trafficking.

Screw caring about real problems. Let’s make that repentant comedian pay.

Sarcasm aside, I don’t think canceling someone is always a bad thing. In a way, it’s something we’ve always done to keep society in check, even when we can’t take legal action. If we had no standards at which to hold and to judge people socially, any behavior might fly, no matter how repugnant.

It’s just frustrating, though, when people grab their pitchforks for what seems to me to be the smallest of mistakes. As Jesus said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” Isn’t it possible for someone to change? Haven’t you, angered reader, become a better person over time? Haven’t you cringed at some of the things that have left your lips in the past?

I know I have. Luckily few have wound up on Facebook or Twitter. And I can only hope that the people who knew me then have either forgotten my past transgressions or acknowledged my growth. I’d hate to think they still saw me as ignorant.

Speaking of ignorance, I will admit there is some ignorance that is hard to overlook. For instance, photos resurfacing of white politicians and talk show hosts in blackface. I know about minstrel shows and the deep-seated racism associated with such events, so it makes me uncomfortable and a little angry to see people with my skin color be so stupid. Even though these photos were taken back in the 80’s, I can’t just roll my eyes, flick my wrist, and say, “Come on, guys, that was in the past.”

But then again, maybe I’m just a hypocrite. I mean, I did just defend Kevin Hart, and his actions were hurtful, too.

Where exactly do we draw the line with cancel culture? This is an actual question. I’m asking because I don’t know.

It seems like everyone has their individual biases for what is a cancelable offense and what is forgivable.

We may be more understanding of our favorite singer’s assault and battery charge than of an artist we loathe or toward whom we hold no opinion. We may lash out more often against a political opponent but keep quiet when the charges are against an ally. Sometimes we may condemn and stop supporting them but much less vehemently than we would if the roles were reversed.

And sometimes our own experiences or lack thereof can cloud our judgment.

“Oh, just suck it up,” we say to a group of people to whom we don’t belong. “Stop playing the victim. It’s really not that bad.”

How the heck do we know? And what gives us the right to tell them they don’t deserve to be offended?

Though, if any type of person deserves to be canceled — shunned by society — I think most people would agree murderers, sexual predators, and others who have committed violent crimes fit the bill.

I guess my criteria for boycotting someone is when I feel giving them a second chance — sometimes a third or fourth — would be detrimental to society.

Like, if we were to “forgive” Harvey Weinstein a few decades into the future, when perhaps he has apologized and declared that he has learned his lesson and paid the price. If we were to do that, would that set a precedent that even people who are truly evil — and you’d have to be, if you could stomach manipulating and forcing women into performing sex acts on you for years — could seek and achieve redemption.

What does that tell his victims? Perhaps that coming forward is useless, because in the end, there are no serious consequences for the assailant. Society will decide how long he should stand in exile for an act that they didn’t experience.

What does that tell future perpetrators of such crimes? That’s the scariest thought.

Of course, I could name numerous examples of people who have turned their lives around after going to jail for murder or drug-running, eventually contributing to society. In Christian culture, we celebrate these individuals. Our very own Paul started out killing Christians, but over thousands of years he has become one of the most beloved and respected biblical figures.

To their credit, his fellow followers of Christ didn’t just accept his words at face value. He had to prove to them he had changed.

And maybe that’s what we have to do, as well, when determining in the present who gets ‘canceled’ or not.

We have to let them take the reins and actively prove to us they deserve redemption.

I read a post on Tumblr recently that discussed Liam Neeson’s confession. If you haven’t heard, the actor admitted to wandering through black neighborhoods when he was in his twenties, hoping that a dark-skinned man would pick a fight so that he’d have reason to kill. Even though he condemned the racism of his youth, many people weren’t as willing to leave it in the past.

One line in the Tumblr post said, “If you don’t let people change, they’ll stop trying.”

I believe no one should be forced to forgive anyone if they don’t want to.

But it’s definitely something to chew on.

Jessica DaughertyComment