Cancel Culture Isn't The Problem
Lately it seems as though everything is being cancelled. From comedians to country singers, rappers and even cartoon characters. Every day there seems to be a new abrogation of prominent figures from our present and past. And needless to say, people are pissed. So they dash to the keyboard to express their outrage over the loss of their beloved cartoon skunk or favorite b-list singer. They claim the world is too soft; we're too easily offended. And maybe, sometimes, we are. But is cancel culture really the problem? Are we, as a society, taking it too far? Or is the outrage response creating a bigger issue entirely?
I would argue that cancel culture isn't as prevalent as most make it out to be. Sure, there have been a handful of companies or celebrities who have experienced the harshest consequences of cancellation- but the ones who don't recover are typically the most extreme cases: Think Shane Dawson, R.Kelly, Jesse Lacey. I think we can all agree that they deserved to be pushed out of the spotlight. But what about cases like Pepé Le Pew? There seems to be an uproar lately over the lusty skunk's big cancellation. But what's the truth behind the reposts?
Turns out that Pepé, like many others, wasn't actually cancelled. Some tweets were sent out by an opinion columnist for the New York Times explaining why he thought Pepé was problematic. And can we really disagree with him? Pepé spent his entire life chasing after a woman who constantly had to push him off and said "no", even having to a lock a door to escape him, yet he still continued to pursue her. Why was this character created in the first place? It does seem a bit odd, doesn't it? Dave Chappelle once made a joke in a stand-up routine, referring to the skunk as a rapist.
This was the point being made by the New York Times columnist when he shared his thoughts on the subject. These tweets, seen by many, were shared across various social media platforms. millions of people declared their disappointment, running quickly to the skunk's defense. Shock ensued as keyboard warriors realized that Pepé was taken out of the new Space Jam movie. Outrage and anger flooded the feeds as fans took up for their sudden favorite cartoon skunk. But had everyone stopped for a moment to think rationally, consider the source, and dig for the truth before recklessly abusing the "share" button, they would have realized that these cancellations aren't exactly as they appear to be.
Pepé was not cancelled by Gen Z, or "cancel culture" (which is often referred to as some structured entity, but it is not). In actuality, the creators of the new Space Jam movie decided to remove the skunk from the film back in 2019 , because they, too, felt his character was problematic. Nobody forced them to do this. Nobody bullied the production team into removing him. They made the decision, in private, on their own. Companies are perfectly within their rights to run their business or create their art as they please. If anything, expressing outrage over the removal of something from their film is just another form of cancel culture itself. You're attempting to cancel the company for making their own decisions about how to run their business. Suddenly, the anti-cancel culture crowd is the one doing the cancelling. The tides turn.
The same thing happened with Dr. Suess books. I woke up to find my Facebook feed flooded with reposts about how Gen Z has "done it again", complaining that "cancel culture is in full force". The keyboard craze gets its grip on so many people, who thoughtlessly react and share, not even realizing what they're really outraged over. I've been guilty of the same recklessness. Which is why I've been working so hard to do better. Because I want to live in the real world. A world enriched with truth, not fake news and empty outrage. I want authenticity, not social media fluff.
So I performed a quick google search and found out that Dr. Suess wasn't, in fact, cancelled. Yet again, it was the company making a private decision to discontinue the print of certain books which had insensitive or questionable content. They realized that to create a better world, we all have to work to do better. And when we find things from our past that are problematic, we fix them. To me, this seems like an attitude Dr. Suess would have gotten behind- don't you agree? Even the Who's eventually realized their own faults, changing the way they treated the Grinch. So many of us are just trying to change and do better. The only way doing so would upset a person so much is if they are either a) jerks to begin with or b) getting the wrong information. I'm thinking (or maybe just hoping) it's the latter most of the time.
Maybe both sides need to take a breath, calm down, and think rationally before cancelling or defending the cancelled. If we took a few moments to think out these situations, do a little research and find the truth behind the reposts, perhaps we could eliminate so many of these meaningless debates. Put on a skeptic's cap, and ask questions before you jump to conclusions and outrage.
Here are some questions I like to ask myself before forming an opinion:
1. Am I Jumping On A Bandwagon, Or Am I Legitimately Concerned?
It's so easy to fall into the social media bandwagon trap. I know, I've done it. I see a friend share something with a scathing opinion and I think, "yeah, that sounds right. I agree!". And shared. Just like that. I've perpetuated the spread of another person's opinion. But is it really my own? Did I take longer than the amount of time needed to read the opinion to form one for myself? I surprise myself often by how quickly my thoughts on a matter can shift if I just consider it a little longer than a few moments.
2. Who Is Doing The Cancelling?
This is such an important question to consider. When I read a headline about the newest cancelled celebrity, the first thing I do is find out where the cancellation is originating. I think so much misdirected outrage could be prevented if all of us stopped to figure this out before joining in on the shock.
Sometimes the "cancellation" comes from a collective group of people who've come together to express their concerns, usually via social media platforms like Facebook groups and twitter. These threads can gain popularity quickly, because everyone loves to share their opinion. Other times, it could be something as basic as a few tweets from an opinion blogger, or even a private decision made by the company in an attempt to be more ethical. The "who" and "why" is very important. We should do better to find the source before jumping to a response.
3. When Did The Transgression Occur, And How Has The Transgressor Responded?
This is my go-to question when weighing if someone or something deserves to be cancelled. Let's be real, we all judge other people to some extent or another. It's human nature. I believe people should be judged based on their present behavior, not their past. Of course, there are grey areas to this as well. For example, in cases of sexual harassment and assault, many of us might agree that these transgressions might make a person unredeemable (consider Marilyn Manson, who all of us should want to distance ourselves from, even though recent, evidence-based allegations go back many years). But basic human error or insensitivity should be forgiven if a person has learned from their past behavior and worked to better themselves. We all deserve that opportunity. We are all learning and growing at different rates. We were raised by different villages with varying perspectives and biases. We find our own way, and it takes longer for some than others.
But what if you're Morgan Wallen, and you mess up in present day? I had personally never heard of him before his infamous drunken slip, but the day after the video was released, I was made well aware. There were many of my friends running to his defense, claiming he was "only human" and shouldn't be punished for making a "small mistake". I can see how some would feel this way. We've all said things we didn't mean when we were drunk. I'm glad that none of my embarrassing drunken nights were captured on film for the world to see. But his "slip up" seemed a bit more sinister- If not, then arrogant at the least. Twenty years ago, it was not as frowned upon to use such a slur (although it has always been racist and problematic). But I think we can all agree that in today's time, anyone who's still using that word (even if drunkenly) has made a habit of it. That is problematic. Writing off his expression as a mistake, whether intentional or not, is an act of sweeping blatant racism underneath the rug. It is a sign of acceptance, something our society shouldn't be embracing if we are working to do better than our past. So when the music industry decides to cut ties because you showed your true colors, you can't really be too surprised. In my opinion, anyone who stood behind him was standing on the wrong side of history. Outrage culture strikes again.
4. How Does This Affect Me?
Really, is my life so much different if the new Space Jam doesn't have a rapey skunk? Will I miss stereotypical racial depictions in children's books I no longer read? If I have children, will I want them to read books that have racially insensitive content? Or will I want them to read books that encourage them to be more open to learning about what makes other cultures so great? How am I being negatively affected because Morgan Wallen won't be playing on the radio? There was even a time when Loius C.K. was my favorite comedian. I watched his show every week with my husband. But when we found out about the perpetual cases of sexual misconduct that he did not deny, we both wrote him off for good. We couldn't find it in ourselves to enjoy watching him anymore, knowing the kind of person he is. I'm not even convinced that everything he did was cancel worthy, since he has been apologetic. But my perception of who he is has changed, and I just don't find him worth watching anymore. It isn't about cancelling. It's about becoming aware enough to cultivate an environment that doesn't coddle, excuse or perpetuate harmful behavior.
5. How Does This Affect Those Around Me?
This is a significantly more important question to ask than the former if you want to live in a world that revolves around compassion and empathy. We are all walking very different paths, with different personalities, experiences, privileges and struggles. No two people are exactly alike. If we want to create a society built on empathy and overall wellbeing of the majority, we have to consider how our actions and behaviors affect those around us. Does it hurt me when someone uses a racial stereotype or slur? Not personally, because I don't know the struggle. But I do have empathy for those who have had those words thrown at them by people who refuse to look past the color of their skin. I know that I have friends and acquaintances whose great grandparents had those slurs quite literally beaten into them, and that the words carry a heavy weight still to this day. I don't want to live in a world where everyone else is only thinking about themselves. If we all stop to consider one another, we'll find a clearer path to peace and harmony. And we'll find ourselves having to cancel, or defend the cancelled, much less often.
I'm going to be better about thinking more rationally when presented with information on a scrolling blue screen. I'm going to work harder to research these claims and accusations, and form my opinion based on logical thinking, compassion and empathy. I hope we find a way to break through the noise; the media fluff; the trolls; and find it within ourselves to be more reasonable and open, and willing to refrain from succumbing to the baseless drama that is both cancel and outrage culture alike. Stand apart from it. Think for yourself. Do your research. And share responsibly.
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