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  • Nicole Sherwin

Cancel Culture is Cancelled

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

I realise if people listen to or read this and disagree with me, I run the strong risk of being ‘cancelled’ myself.


Last week, my LAL partner Jess wrote an amazing article on Ellen. So, I had it on my mind when I came across ‘cancel culture behaviour’ in action! It made me want to scream, but instead I decided to use this platform to call it out, which is mildly terrifying because I realise if people listen to or read this and disagree with me, I run the strong risk of being ‘cancelled’ myself. But that doesn’t make a good news story, copying everyone else and hopping on a bandwagon. And we didn’t. If you did read Jess’s article, I have used parts as flavour throughout, but it’s not the same piece, so you can keep listening/reading.

"It's an extreme form of censorship masquerading as 'wokeness', and it seeks to chastise anyone whose opinions don't align with that of the status quo."

The internet can be amazing, but it can also a pretty cruel and unforgiving place. Cancel Culture ensures, no matter what you have done your whole life, one fuck up and you're done. We’re not talking racial, homophobic, sexist, or discriminatory talk and actions.’ Weinstein, Bill Cosby, stay in the bin. But the cancel culture we are experiencing today isn’t like that. You could be Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa and you get snapped holding a baby the wrong way, you’re done. It's an extreme form of censorship masquerading as 'wokeness', and it seeks to chastise anyone whose opinions don't align with that of the status quo, branding you instantly 'right-wing' (which I personally am not) and uneducated (which I have several degrees to suggest I also am not) because you don't agree.

What did I see that that triggered me? Let me tell you a story (with maybe a few facts irrelevant to the entire segment, but I was fired up!) I’m in this Facebook group. Sometimes it’s a great group full of sexually empowered women. But sometimes, it’s authoritarian, judgemental and toxic. It’s full of young women, a swarm of which have a degree is ‘wokeness’ from the University of Facebook. Signs of this degree are the constant use of the term ‘emotional labour’ parroting memes like ‘doing nothing about racism is the same as actively being racist.’ Not necessarily bad things at all, just strong signs of where they’re getting their information from. A problem with this surface-level degree (and as I’ll get to explain with ‘Cancel Culture’), is that these people only study the trending modules that come across their socials, not the whole subject. Which is how I came across a post of racism deniers. In fact, these women were trying to ‘educate on racism’ while being racist themselves.

A woman with Italian heritage pointed out a ‘casually racist’ comment on her Instagram along the lines of “Of course, she’s Italian, it’s always the spicy whites.” The responses. “That’s not racist.” “I have never heard of Italians being discriminated against in Australia for their heritage or looks.” Whhhhhaaat! Maybe, ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ isn’t on the school curriculum anymore, but if you’re not familiar, Franscesco Ricatti summarises in his book Italians in Australia that Southern Italians particularly were considered racially inferior. In countries of Italian migration, they fostered the idea they had black blood in their veins due to their proximity to Africa. Or just ask your Italian friends how their families were treated when they migrated.

Another constant theme was trying to one-up each other one who receives more persecution. As if racism isn’t a spectrum. Of course, some persecution is worse than others, some are more recent. But it’s like saying, I was whipped 500 times and you were only whipped 400 and yours was last year so it doesn’t count. It was completely irrational. Comments, upon nasty comments, an angry mob, piling up on this girl, bullying her, shutting down her every response, with absolute, condescending, conviction their opinions were certain. All these behaviours are at the very core of ‘Cancel Culture.’ What I saw in this little corner of the internet is a microcosm for what’s happening in a much broader sense. It’s worrying, it’s dangerous and it needs to be called out.

" a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. " - Harpers Magazine

So, what exactly is 'Cancel Culture' According to an open letter published by Harper's Magazine July issue, 153 writers and intellectuals who signed it defined it as 'an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

A person, usually in the public sphere, does or says something that is deemed offensive by a small or large amount of people. Ultimately this leads to a mob mentality which spirals and any rational voice is lost. Public backlash ensues, and even if there is an apology, the mob seems to get louder and there are calls, usually through a social media bandwagon, for the person to be 'cancelled'- that is, as stated in Vox, to 'effectively end their career or revoke their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer.'

"Taylor Swift got cancelled for having a fight with Kim Kardashian..."

Approximately 34,200 celebrities have been cancelled over the past few year for in the scheme of things, when there is out of control climate change, inept global leadership, widespread disease and illness, well Vanessa Hudgens got cancelled for being an insensitive drunk, Justin Bieber got cancelled for fighting with his ex-girlfriend Selena, Taylor Swift got cancelled for having a fight with Kim Kardashian and then again for a song about standing up for bullies and probably about 300 other times for having a boyfriend, or a pimple. Yeah, so in most cases, Cancel Culture is the gang of mean girls at school who bullied you with lines like “I saw your dad at your footy on the weekend and he was drinking beer and yelling at the team because they were losing,” Like I guess it’s slightly more negative than neutural, but it’s pretty harmless and you really shouldn’t care, but it’s bullying so you do.’ There might be no rational argument behind the ‘cancellation’, but their loud and toxic enough to threaten the voice of opposing response.

Writer Steven Greenhut argues that 'The result is self-censorship [and] a narrowing of the public discussion...How many of us think twice before posting a legitimate message—not because the post is offensive per se, but because of the possible repercussions...I had another Italian friend reading the comments in that Facebook group, but of course, wasn’t going to go up against the mob. So it very quickly escalates to a scenario where the loudest, but not the most popular opinion is heard.

Comedian Ricky Gervais has lamented that his own stand-up act and The Office probably wouldn't even get made today because of the amplified societal views and mob mentality. "You turning off your own TV isn’t censorship. You trying to get other people to turn off their TV, because you don’t like something they’re watching, that’s different' he argues.

It’s not enough to be cautious about what you make in the future, Cancel Culture expects you have been perfect your whole life. Think back to 10-15 years ago. How many times would you have described something as ‘gay?’ Or made a casually racist joke? You’d hate your entire career, legacy and being to be judged now based on that. You’ve grown, you’ve learnt, you know better. That's pretty much the point of being released from jail or rehab. Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Hart have both been ‘cancelled’ this year for mistakes they made years ago. Even after denouncing his previous behaviour of making fun of gays and then aligning himself with gay advocates, Kevin Hart was forced out of hosting the Oscars which he had dreamed of doing since he was a boy, and Jimmy Fallon feared for the future of his show after a clip of him going blackface as Chris Rock during an SNL skit resurfaced. He said how can I say, I’m not racist and I love this guy?!” Which to me is an obvious, rational response. He couldn’t though, he was advised not to say anything because that just that feeds the beast.

"The challenge for nuanced, complicated and most importantly personal. It’s is not something that can be resolved in 280 characters"

These days Cancel Culture means simply not aligning yourself with the next big 'Cancellation' or 'Outrage' makes you abhorrent, dumb, entitled, or a hate mongerer. To be honest, if I don’t align myself with the next celebrity that gets cancelled for having an argument with their ex I’m not sure I am the dumb one here. This is exactly what we saw during the black and white photo challenge. If you celebrated women and didn’t mention the femicide cause, donate, or declare of your offline activism efforts, your actions were deemed to be insufficiently enthusiastic and you were considered to be ‘dumb’ for not precisely aligning with the criticisers.

As the black and white challenge and the Facebook group example indicate, not all topics are so frivolous when it comes to ‘cancel culture.’ And people absolutely have a right to draw a line of association and some point. Perhaps one of the most complex examples associated with ‘cancel culture’ is JK Rowling. She has consistently defended her personal stance on transgender people and problems with cancel culture, but her impact on the world through Harry Potter is undoubtable. Understandably the challenge for fans, who have had their lives changed, even saved by Harry Potter, when Transphobia is such a strongly disagreeable position is nuanced, complicated and most importantly personal. It’s is not something that can be resolved in 280 characters or less or by an angry mob. As Obama said, “The idea that you’re never compromised and you’re politically woke, you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities.”

"People are far more multifaceted and complex than a single opinion or action."

I have friends and family who vote differently to me, think differently about political situations and individuals, and whose views don't align with my own. I don't like it, it’s not always comfortable, in fact, it’s usually very uncomfortable. And as someone who cries when their mad, when I have a debate with family or friends over a differing opinion, it never ends well for me. But, I don’t write them off into the abyss because their opinions aren't the same as mine. Because it’s just not that black and white, like Obama said, the world is messy. People are far more multifaceted and complex than a single opinion or action. (And again, I want to be clear there are examples where a personal moral or legal line is crossed in which case, you may choose to write them off.)

Generally, I find the very notion of 'cancelling' someone because they simply don't agree with is you, is ironically very simple-minded. It’s childish. It’s like deciding not to be friends with someone in primary school because they don’t want to play tag one recess. It’s childish at the very least and somewhat arrogant in the belief that your opinion is 'correct', but at its worst, it’s quite fascist. To have someone cancelled because they don't agree with you isn’t a new concept. We’ve seen this before umpteenth times in history – Russia, Germany Italy, Sudan. It’s can become really dangerous territory.

Most recent in the arena of unwarranted, toxic bullying we’ve seen the attempted cancellation of “Ellen.” When you read closely, the allegations against Ellen have been largely to do with her workplace, behind the scenes, and anecdotal encounters. News outlets like Buzzfeed will write articles with 'explosive' claims or my favourite brand of lazy journalism, screenshots a few ‘extreme tweets’ on the topic. Then supporting them with an article that insinuates those are the popularist view, which in fact, there may be 2-3 tweets of that nature. It’s just clickbait, but other news articles pick it up and it spirals. The personal allegations against Ellen herself, come down to her ‘not being as nice as she seems.’ Which, so what? I don’t like talking to anyone at work when I have to be there before 9, but give me a coffee and speak to me after 10am. It’s Jekyll and Hyde. Just because she’s built an empire on being kind and doing good things it doesn’t mean she’s not human and she can’t have a ‘moment’ like the rest of us. Hardly cause to destroy someone’s life.

"Cancel Culture deals with the symptoms of a sick society rather than treating the disease.” - Jenna Wortham

Now before you @me, let me stress, bullying in a workplace, or a toxic workplace is not okay. I've experienced it myself. It is utterly soul-destroying. Personally, though I would never think suitable retribution would be to destroy the CEO’s life. I would think if you want to make change there would be more immediate managers to be held accountable first and addressing the actual problems at hand, which is toxicity and bullying. This is what Cancel Culture doesn’t do. As Jenna Wortham of the New York Times, suggests Cancel Culture deals with the symptoms of a sick society rather than treating the disease.”

But that’s just me in my experience, and I, like most of us, don’t work at The Ellen Show, so I have no right to assess the appropriate resolution for that business. The alleged allegations are being investigated, as they 100% should be, and the resolution should come from that, not from angry mob on Twitter. As Obama said, The way to make change isn’t to be as judgemental as possible and feel good about yourself for condemning someone’s mistakes

I get it, it’s more nuanced different because Ellen is a public figure, so it’s arguably in the public interest at least, but she has owned that this happened on her show and the buck stops with her. To me her apology is heartfelt and genuine.

As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me" (excerpt from Ellen's apology sent to staff, WBTV, 2020).

Sure she may have had her PR team help with that, but she gets it. She does. She’s upset and horrified. She’s human. She fucked up, she apologised. She’s not committed a crime, so let’s move and be better. But cancel culture is like anti-vaxxers, or anti maskers, no amount of logic makes them see reason. Cancel culture does not accept apologies. Cancel culture ignores the fact that nobody is perfect, yet expects everyone to act as if they are. And it will relentless kick you when you’re down until you re completely destroyed. The punishment does not fit the crime.

"People who do really good stuff have flaws" - Obama, 2019

Look I know I’m quoting Obama a lot, but he’s a bit of a heavyweight, so it gives some pretty good backing to my argument, so as Obama also said, “people who do really good stuff have flaws,” and what Cancel Culture conveniently ignores when it comes to Ellen, is that she does a lot of good stuff. So much good, that this mistake shouldn’t even be a blemish on her resume filled with kindness and generosity. And this resume is lengthy.

· She literally created a show after being cancelled herself for being gay, and she could have made it about anything - home shopping, comedy, self-indulgent interests, parody, just interviews, mean-spirited skits, another sitcom or talk show - but she chose to make it about making the world a better place. Besides Oprah, who does that? None of the other talk show or late-night hosts:

  • She was the first woman to come out on national television in her sitcom, paving the way for marginalised LGBTQIA people despite it nearly destroying her career

  • Her motto in life is to simply 'Be kind', which she has done through countless charitable partnerships, ongoing campaigns to spread kindness and philanthropy throughout the world and her tv show.

  • She launched a $5 million dollar fundraiser on her show to support people and animalsduring the Australian bush fires

  • She donated $1 million dollars to assist victims of Hurricane Harvey

  • She can speak whale! And got us to learn to as well in her character filled with heart, Dory, from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory

  • Throughout her course on her TV show Ellen, she and her partners have donated over $50 million dollars to various charities and individuals in need

  • She is a partner of the Small Change Campaign, which benefits Feeding America, a US hunger-relief organisation

  • She runs The Ellen Fund, which 'supports global conservation efforts for endangered species', with an immediate focus on mountain gorillas

  • She donated over $14K in gift cards to members of the Redlands Fire Team who fought the 2018 California bushfires

  • She donated over $1 million to corona-virus efforts

  • She donated over 200,000 meals to animal shelters

  • She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA's highest honour

She does this because Ellen is quite simply a good person. Her values:

"If you don’t know me very well — if you’re just watching maybe for the first time, or you’re just getting to know me — I want to be clear, and here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for."

So tell me again, why the mob is hell-bent on destroying this woman’s life and legacy?

As Obama said, “Cancel culture is not activism. It’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.” Cancel Culture is a temporary arena for toxicity that hides behind a façade of moral righteousness. It destroys people, not the diseases of society and it needs to stop. If the cancellers want to make real positive change, maybe they should seek the advice of someone who has made real change to thousands of people’s lives and take a page out of Ellen’s book.

Thirsty for more? Listen to a new ep of the Large Almond Latte Pod, every Tuesday.


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