In the last several years, the phrase cancel culture has risen in popularity to describe the trend of ostracizing or boycotting celebrities for their controversial and problematic actions. Those in the public spotlight who commit these transgressions have faced damaged reputations, severed business ties and public backlash.
Celebrities have been canceled for a range of scandals, including racist, homophobic and sexist comments, unburied offensive social media posts, sexual assault allegations and convictions and questionable or illegal actions.
Some would argue that cancel culture helps hold those with large platforms and followings accountable for their actions. With fame comes great responsibility, especially when a person has influence over the masses.
Others would argue that with the swiftness of social media, people have become too quick to condemn actions without knowing the full context. And there are those who would argue that cancel culture infringes on free speech.
Morgan Wallen, the most recent celebrity to join the bevy of those who said or acted in a questionable way, has sparked conversations on the effectiveness of cancel culture after video surfaced of Wallen saying the n-word in early February. Consequently, radio stations pulled his music from rotation and streaming services removed his music from their suggested playlists, according to Rolling Stone.
Despite the withdrawal of support, Wallen’s newest album “Dangerous: The Double Album” has stayed at the top of the music charts and has seen an increase in sales, according to The New York Times.
No, issues run deep within cancel culture.
By Kat Elgersma
The problem with cancel culture is that it fails to address the deeply rooted issues within the industry from which scandals arise. In the recent case of Morgan Wallen, the real issue isn’t necessarily the use of a racist slur (though the use of the word is objectively wrong). It’s the racism within the country music industry and in the U.S., in general. If racism is a wound, canceling a few individual offenders is like slapping a band-aid on a severed artery.
In fact, in many cases, public figures who are canceled actually see their careers improve. Since the video of Wallen using the slur came out, streaming of his songs has increased as well as his Twitter following. This is a result of several factors.
One is that people who have never heard of Wallen or his music stream it out of curiosity. Another is his fanbase might be streaming more intentionally to show their support. In addition, his music not being played on the radio may prompt some to stream it instead. In any case, it goes to show that any publicity is good publicity.
None of this is to say that public figures shouldn’t feel the consequences of their actions. They absolutely should if for no other reason than to ensure that we as a society are holding to our moral standards. However, cancel culture is arguably not about holding individuals accountable and more about publicly shaming people on the basis of misconduct of which many of the shamers are guilty. The focus is on condemning the person for doing wrong when it should be on educating the public on the deeper problem.
On a more human level, public figures should be treated as people who are flawed by nature. While people should feel the consequences of their own actions if they are in the wrong, canceling them fails to acknowledge that they are capable of growing and changing from their mistakes.
When a public figure does something wrong and gets called on it, how they respond is nearly as important as the original offense. People often forget that celebrities are people too, and like all of us, they make mistakes and are constantly learning and growing. They should be allowed to do so.
A person is not their past mistakes, and, personally, I think if they show through their actions that they are genuinely working toward change and personal growth, they could remain in the good graces of the public.
Ultimately, however, it is up to the individual or the community that has been wronged whether someone is forgiven or not. In Wallen’s case, that would mean the Black community and especially Black country music fans. There has been discourse on this front, and time alone will tell if the actions Wallen has taken is a show of his genuine intent to grow or if they are a response to salvage his career.
Cases like these prompt many to consider whether or not art could or should be separated from the artist. In my opinion, it could. When an artist chooses to share their work, it is still their art, but if it means something to someone who sees, reads or watches it, then it is a little bit theirs too. Enjoying someone’s work does not mean supporting everything they stand for. It’s okay to like the art but not the artist.
We are at a point in our society that we have to acknowledge that each of our voices carries weight, and we are responsible for what impact we have. The lesson here is not to be so quick to condemn a public figure because that is the easy thing to do. Instead, we must use these scandals as an opportunity to educate ourselves and to promote real change.
Yes, controversies deserve consequences.
By Teague Schultz
Yes, celebrities need to face consequences for their actions. Celebrities are people too, and as such, are not above scrutiny for their words and actions.
There has been an emergence in the past few years of celebrities being canceled. Some have been canceled for things that are seemingly small, such as a politically incorrect social media post. Other celebrities, however, have been canceled after being exposed as sexual predators.
These two examples, disparate as they may seem, both have the power to end careers, and rightly so.
A politically incorrect social media post, as innocuous as it may seem, can have a far greater impact than expected. In the era of fake news and misinformation, a celebrity with a large following posting problematic information can lead their audience to inaccurate and false conclusions.
The firing of Gina Carano from the popular Disney Plus series, “The Mandalorian,” is a prime example of this. After sharing a post on her Instagram story which likened the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi Germany to the current treatment of Republicans in the United States, Carano was let go from the series.
It seems the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. After all, she is merely expressing an opinion. But that isn’t the case.
What happened to Jewish people during the Holocaust is in no way comparable to the mere distaste some Americans feel toward Republican ideals.
However, much of Carano’s audience share her views and would most likely spread this dangerous rhetoric of false equivalency. Disney and its fans were right to cancel Carano.
On the other end of the spectrum, there have been sexual assault scandals that include the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K.
The #MeToo movement, which gained prominence in 2017, exposed the aforementioned men — among others — as sexual predators, using their positions of power to rape, sexually assault and harass both women and men.
It is indisputable that people like this need to be brought to justice for their despicable actions. Non-celebrities would have been tried and jailed, but due to their high status, celebrity abusers can keep their victims quiet, out of fear for their careers.
However, it is not only a matter of what is illegal but a matter of what the public is willing to forgive and forget.
Chris Brown, who infamously assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009, is curiously still popular. Although he was charged with two felonies and the resulting public outcry caused Brown to lose several deals and endorsements, he is still making music.
In 2020, he had a song reach No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is only possible due to the public’s ability to forget about a celebrity’s past, simply because they are famous.
Holding celebrities accountable for their actions is not wrong and should be encouraged.
Those who face no consequences, or very few consequences such as Chris Brown, are only emboldened by the fact that they can get away with these things.
The public’s use of canceling celebrities is a powerful way to punish those who take things too far and, when used with discretion, keeps celebrities from using their fame as a get out of jail free card.
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