by Harry Clarke-Ezzidio
Debates around ‘cancel-culture’ asking whether it’s a tool for good that holds people to account for their wrongs, or an unforgiving beast that unfairly ruins the life of both celebrities and everyday people, have gone on for ages. Recently, former US president Barack Obama gave his thoughts on the issue.
The former president described the world as messy and full of ambiguities, noting that good people have flaws and make mistakes. The idea that everyone is ‘pure’ and that “you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff” should be disregarded. He added that he gets the sense among some young people – which has been accelerated by social media – that “The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough”. He’s seemingly referring to cases where someone has said something in the past that has come back to haunt them, when they aren’t the same person now as they were then. For example, comedians who told old ‘problematic’ jokes which they wouldn’t tell now; or a more active and present example is the daily Twitter battle Piers Morgan has with people on LGBTQ+ issues. These are the types of cases Obama (and I) are referring to, the less serious cases; of course, those caught up in the worst of the worst offences aren’t able to be forgiven by the masses.
“Creating a ‘one size fits all’ rule to deal with those called out by cancel culture is impossible”
Overall, I agree with Obama’s sentiment – I’ve seen this same example countless times across social media. It’s beneficial in lots of ways to portray ourselves online as bastions of everything that is good and right; calling out others for their mistakes and wrongs. When, in reality, we aren’t perfect and have said and done some stupid things that we would hate to be discussed on social media. But because our mistakes aren’t there, and because we genuinely care or are upset about something – whilst also wanting to be seen as ‘good’ for calling it out – we chastise those called out, and call for the cancellation of those who made a mistake, or those who hold different views to us.
It’s really difficult to talk about ‘cancel culture’ in broad terms – it can’t be summed up in bold sweeping statements. Creating a ‘one size fits all’ rule to deal with those called out by cancel culture is impossible as each individual case is different, and the offensiveness of each case differs from person to person. But I feel those who just label ‘cancel culture’ as inherently bad are wrong. Holding people to account for their wrongful actions is a good thing, but the way those caught up in the backlash react to criticism is also important, and of course, time is also a key factor in all of this too.
I’m not trying to excuse people for their terrible words or actions, nor are people entitled to your forgiveness just because they said sorry or are trying to make amends, that’s completely up to you. But for those who have apologised and have changed their behaviour, the least they probably deserve is to not be ‘cancelled’. People won’t automatically vanish because you cancelled them; debate those you disagree with, and know the power your words and actions hold.