Cancel Culture is not a new term. The term has been used for some time now, with people like Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson being some of the first to receive it on social media networks. Twitter, specifically, made the term big with trending hashtags, such as #CancelBillCosby or #BillCosbyIsCancelled.
According to The Daily Azetc, Urban Dictionary defines cancel culture in the following manner: “to dismiss something or somebody; to reject an individual or an idea.” The Daily Aztec goes on to note that the practice of cancel culture “encourages a community to blackball, isolate and shun an individual from society.”
When “cancel culture” began gaining steam, the idea made sense to a certain degree. No one could argue with the fact that a man like Bill Cosby no longer deserved a platform if he was guilty of all the things he had been accused of. Why should society endorse and financially reward someone who behaves in such a socially unacceptable manner? Although you’re innocent until proven guilty in America, Bill Cosby is one example (of many) of someone that had so many accusers, there obviously had to be some validity there. As the old saying goes, when everyone says you’re dead, it’s time to lie down.
Today, though, cancel culture is taking on an entirely new direction. After the horrific murder of George Floyd– and the Black Lives Matter protests that have arisen across the country- cancel culture has shifted from just targeting individuals who have been accused of horrific things, to targeting television shows, names of bands, names of schools, and more.
Here is a list of just some of the recent things that have been the target of “cancel culture” as of late:
- Lady Antebellum changed their name to Lady A, due to the word antebellum having a relation to slavery.
- The Dixie Chicks changed their name to “The Chicks” due to the term Dixie having an affiliation with the South during the Confederacy (when slavery was still in existence).
- Princeton University has removed the name Woodrow Wilson (the 28th President of The United States of America) from their School of Public and International Affairs and residential college. This was due to Wilson having a history of racism.
- People calling for Yale University to change its name, due to Elihu Yale, who the school is named after, having owned slaves.
- Cops, a TV show that ran for 32 years, was canceled due to its “glorifying police.”
- Live PD, a very popular TV show on A&E, was canceled due to reported filming of an altercation between a police officer and a 40-year old African-American man who ended up dying.
- People calling for Paw Patrol, a children’s cartoon, to be canceled due to its positive depiction of police.
- Taylor Selfridge, a star of MTV’s Teen Mom OG and The Challenge, reportedly being let go from the network due to past racist tweets she had published (even though MTV was well aware of these tweets and she dealt with them- and apologized for them- on Teen Mom OG).
- Stassi Schroeder, Kristen Doute, Max Boyens, and Brett Caprioni being let go from Bravo TV’s Vanderpump Rules. Stassi and Kristen were let go for allegedly calling the cops on an African-American co-star (after they allegedly saw an article that cops were looking for an African-American woman and called in that it was her). Stassi also had made past comments on her Podcast that could definitely be deemed as racist. Max and Brett also had racist tweets surface before their season of Vanderpump Rules started airing. Bravo was obviously aware of all of these things and now suddenly decided to take action.
- Siesta Key (an MTV show) star Alex Komopothecras being let go from the show after alleged racist social media posts.
- MTV fired The Challenge star Dee Nguyen over some comments she made regarding Black Lives Matter that were deemed to be offensive.
- Hulu removing an episode of The Golden Girls that had the women wearing mud masks and one of the characters saying “this is mud on our faces, we’re not really black.”
- HBO Max (HBO’s streaming service) temporarily pulling airings of Gone With The Wind, then putting it back with a new video introduction that talks about the bigotry in the film.
- Networks like Hulu and Netflix removing episodes of certain shows that contained characters in blackface.
- Bravo firing Peter Hunziker, who is currently on Below Deck: Mediterranean, due to an alleged racist post. Along with firing him, Bravo noted they are working to minimize his appearance this season.
The above are just some of the examples that have arisen as of late. While in no way is racism ever acceptable- and it’s undeniable that things need to change- what is cancel culture actually accomplishing? And what messages is it sending?
First, a portion of the new cancel culture is clearly driving home the message that police are bad. Canceling things like Cops and Live PD definitely perpetuate that message. While there are bad cops- and there are inarguably racist cops who need to never have a job in this profession in the first place- there are also good cops. There are cops that save the day, cops that save people’s lives on a daily basis, cops that save our children, cops that help the elderly, etc. To paint the idea that every single police officer is bad is a detriment to society could, in effect, create a lawless society. Do we want children thinking that all cops are bad and if they get lost from their parents somewhere it’s safer to approach a stranger than approach a police officer? I’m not so sure about that. Furthermore, both Cops and Live PD didn’t just show the cops dealing with African-Americans. They were also seen dealing with caucasian people, and people of other ethnicities as well.
Aside from some of the new cancel culture sending a message that “all cops are bad,” there is also a concern as to what the cancel culture is actually accomplishing. By throwing people off of television who have made racist remarks in the past, and canceling shows deemed ‘racist’ or ‘pro-cop,’ and having musical artists feel compelled to change their name because it could be deemed offensive- what is this actually doing? Are people who are racist suddenly less racist due to these cancellations? Is this teaching people who would not be accepting to suddenly be more accepting? Frankly, a better approach would be to start to educate people. People aren’t born racist. Racism and hate are taught. And, once they’re taught, they need to be untaught. Canceling someone or something isn’t un-teaching racism; rather, it’s removing an elephant in the room from actually being dealt with and used as a teachable moment.
In addition to the two aforementioned points, the new cancel culture is also sending the message that people cannot evolve. Using the Taylor Selfridge MTV example, Taylor has owned that she put up racist tweets in the past. She has apologized for them, both on camera and off. She went on to have a baby with a bi-racial man (Cory Wharton) and is a step-mother to Cory’s first child, Ryder, that he shares with Cheynne Floyd (who is African-American and should be applauded for the amazing job she’s done bringing awareness to Black Lives Matter). Many people who know Taylor would acknowledge she is not a racist. Even Cheyenne was reportedly not happy with MTV parting ways with Taylor. There is no denying that Taylor made ignorant comments in the past, but she has repented, apologized, and acknowledged that she was not in the right and she has changed. If we don’t educate people on why racism is wrong, help them to see that, all men are created equal (as our Declaration of Independence says), and thus help them to evolve, are we really doing anything to accomplish abolishing racism? Or, are we just erasing them from our viewpoint, forcing them to the side, and giving ourselves a pat on the back that we did something to help promote making the world a less racist place.
There is a lot of progress that needs to be made in terms of racism. No one can argue with that. For every step forward it seems that we’ve taken, it seems there have been multiple steps backward. But, in actuality, what is canceling things actually doing to make people less inherently racist? Where is data showing that this is actually working and making an impact? Wouldn’t time and resources be better spent on education, working to undo racism as much as possible today, working hard to have difficult conversations surrounding race, implementing programs that focus on ending racism in public schools, and on TV (a la Sesame Street), etc? Yes, there is work that needs to be done, but don’t we need to ensure the work we are doing on this very sensitive topic actually is capable of accomplishing a goal? By brushing shows, reality stars, musical act names, and more to the wayside, I’m not certain that it’s actually accomplishing anything.
Furthermore, one could argue the point that George Santayana‘s quote of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is why HBO’s approach actually makes a lot of sense. Rather than erase Gone With The Wind, they added a new prologue discussing the racism of the movie. They are using the movie, which is s a historic piece, as a means to teach why racism and slavery are wrong.
Why is this same logic not being applied to reality stars? In the case of Taylor Selfridge, again, it actually was applied to her. MTV had her discuss it on screen, they had her face her awful comments head-on, and she owned them and apologized. She evolved. But, with the current climate, opportunities like this are being undone and not offered. We have so many opportunities to actually teach these people (such as her or stars of Vanderpump Rules) why racism is such a massive issue and why words can hurt people and actions can have a detrimental effect on people. By erasing them from our screens, are we really accomplishing those goals?
We need to do better. There’s no denying that. But, if we are not careful, the work we are doing in terms of cancel culture may actually have little impact. We need everyone to recognize how harmful being racist actually is, but we need to be sure we are doing it ways that actually drives that message home. Only then will we finally start to make progress towards everyone in this country feeling the way they should- equal.