By Brooke Eickmann
Fame isn’t for the weak. This saying has been around for a while, so it could stand to be updated a bit. I’d add that fame is also not for the dramatic, scheming, or problematic.
People in the public eye, being seen by that eye through a microscope, are inevitably going to get things wrong; whether it’s doing too much or not enough, saying the wrong thing, something that happened before they had an audience, or the way they treat people, someone out there will find something wrong with what they’re doing. As I write this, I realize it sounds overly vague, which is fitting as the standards for those in the public eye are not only at times vague, but unrealistically high. These expectations began the complex and impossible to decipher concept of cancel culture. In order to see if there’s any rhyme or reason to people getting “cancelled,” I researched and compared three situations that seemed to have nothing in common other than the fact that there was a situation.
Source: NBC News
First, James Charles. Since 2019, it seems that he’s been under constant inspection, for large-scale and beyond problematic instances, as well as smaller things that easily could’ve been internet trolls looking for something to be upset about. I won’t launch into a full recount of everything that’s happened, but a summary can be found here.
Source: Hindustan Times
Next, JK Rowling. She tweeted several highly transphobic comments, and defended herself in such a way that only increased the scrutiny toward her.
Source: NBC News
Last, Teen Vogue. After a high ranking employee, the editor in chief, Alexi McCammond, was discovered to have tweeted racist content in 2011, the company fired her. Because the first tweets were discovered and posted to Instagram, people looked for more, and found homophobic content as well.
Since Charles and Rowling are individuals, they faced more long-standing backlash, since all Vogue had to do was cut ties with McCammond. It’s easier for large companies to save face, because if they were no longer associated with the problematic person, the only thing that the public has to be upset about is that they were hired in the first place. Furthermore, if the one faulty person is let go, people who support the business know that they’re not supporting that person.
With individual people, their fate is more complicated than breaking the chain in one place and being done with it, because they are the chain. As for Charles and Rowling, they both had repetitive wrongdoings, Rowling repeating the same things about her opinions and not letting it go, and Charles having a constant string of frowned-upon events. Her misdemeanors were less recent, and have been less in-your-face in the news than James’s, but that’s not to say they weren’t offensive. Since her offenses were limited to a tweet here and there, no matter how problematic, it blew over easier, but not without repercussions.
There’s a smaller margin of forgiveness when the instigator has been involved in numerous unrelated scandals, like Charles. At first, people liked his content enough to return at the same rate as before, despite his wrongdoings. After he became more problematic, people had too much trouble separating him from his work, and he lost a lot of his audience, not to mention brand deals and his monetization from YouTube.
This differs from Rowling, who has kept her audience, although they make it clear that they’re only there for Harry Potter’s story, and it has nothing to do with her. Many Harry Potter fan accounts on Instagram say in their bio that their account is a safe space and that they don’t support Rowling. The replies to her tweets have similar themes.
Teen Vogue, James Charles, and JK Rowling were all cancelled at one point, and while the word for the reaction each audience had was very different, the similarities between them are what defines cancel culture.
Simply put, cancel culture is the unfollowing, shunning, boycotting, and/or ignoring of a creator who has done something that offends people, or that many view as wrong. However, cancel culture isn’t a simple thing, so it can’t have a simple definition. One of the problems with the general view of cancel culture is that most see it as a linear process: the creator does something wrong, so they don’t get attention anymore. This simply isn’t the case. Cancel culture is a cycle: the audience gets upset but usually comes back anyway, waiting for the next less than okay thing the creator does.
People jump on a bandwagon of hate toward an individual or company, and since most only follow the story because it’s trending, the creator’s life goes back to normal when the trend is over. Cancel culture is a trend of toxicity, people spew hate until they forget why they began to do so.
When a creator does something wrong, they should be called out. However, the way it has evolved, with finger pointing toward the creator, isn’t constructive, and most people are being snowballed into the cancellation without knowing much about the situation. Cancel culture can be dissolved if people just read an article or two about the topics and form their own opinions before diving into social media and listening to what their peers have to say.