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Emily Lichty

Celebrities and teenagers face cancel culture online and in person, many argue the trend’s value

Treated employees disrespectfully. Lied about her daughter’s athletic ability for college admissions. Posted transphobic statements online. Failed to follow social distancing guidelines. Titled cosmetic products with offensive names. Made racist comments online and in person. Refused on camera to eat a meal cooked by a professional chef. Celebrities have been cancelled for a variety of reasons. 

The concept of cancel culture, or call-out culture, has become more prominent in the past several years on both social media platforms and in real life. With celebrities and ordinary people alike becoming “cancelled,” many wonder if cancel culture has a positive or negative effect on society.  

The term cancel culture roughly began in 2017, following the #MeToo movement. While the exact definition is disputed, Merriam-Webster refers to it as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass cancelling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” 

“[Cancel culture is] removing somebody from society or their social status because of something they’ve said or done,” upper school Guidance Counselor Meredith Stuelpe said. “I think about it as doing it through social media, but I’ve also heard of it called call-out culture, which would mean calling people out, whether it’s for a racist, sexist or homophobic gesture online or in life.” 

Cancel culture commonly applies to a celebrity losing their status or being shamed for a mistake, often online. With social media growing in prominence over the past several years, many celebrities have been cancelled for different reasons. Among these celebrities include Ellen Degeneres, Vanessa Hudgens, J.K. Rowling, Demi Lovato, Charli D’Amelio, James Charles and Lori Loughlin. Many have debated whether cancelling a celebrity was justified or not. 

“I would say [cancel culture is] appropriate in some situations,” junior Erika Batson said. “There are a lot of instances that I can think of where people were unrightfully canceled…If someone says a racial slur or says something inappropriate, they definitely should be canceled for that, but if someone is dragged into something and gets canceled in the mix, it’s definitely a downside.” 

Many have spoken out against cancel culture in the past several years, calling it toxic and too harsh of a punishment for, often, one mistake or misled comment. Public figures including Barack Obama, Kevin Hart and Taylor Swift have spoken out against cancel culture, as everyone cannot be expected to not make mistakes. According to a Feb. 17 poll of 131 students, 42.7 percent of students do not support cancel culture in most situations. 

“Cancel culture is deciding that someone’s opinion doesn’t deserve to be heard,” freshman Miles Wooldridge said. “Instead of hearing them out, you’re just going to not listen to them and make it a public decision that no one should listen to them. Basically, you disagree with their opinion by silencing it.” 

In replacement of cancel culture, some think that discussions with the celebrity or person who made a mistake are more productive towards preventing future errors and permanent harm to a person’s life or status. For example, when actress Lori Loughlin’s college admissions cheating scandal came out, her daughter, Olivia Jade, faced severe repercussions from her parent’s actions to get her into the University of Southern California. After losing many brand sponsorships from her YouTube channel and facing outrage on social media, Jade dropped out of USC. Wooldridge believes with many instances of cancel culture, the response should be helping those who make mistakes learn from their actions. 

“If you disagree with something, the answer to that is not less speech, it’s more speech,” Wooldridge said. “If you find someone’s opinion to be preposterous, horrible and wrong, then it should be pretty easy to disprove. You can disprove it in any way possible, if that’s voicing it directly to the person, if that’s retweeting them and then saying why [its] wrong, that’s perfectly fine. It’s not okay to just decide that someone doesn’t have the right to voice their opinion.”

Cancel culture does not apply exclusively to celebrities, but average people as well, especially teenagers. According to a Feb. 17 poll of 131 students, six percent of students have been  cancelled before. Stuelpe finds there are often many causes for cancel culture amongst teenagers, including making a comment online or in person, getting caught in a lie or even excluding someone from an event. With cancel culture often being more personal and direct for teenagers, Stuelpe hopes that instead of isolating a teenager through cancel culture, their mistake can be used as a learning opportunity for them. 

“If you disagree or you have a problem with what somebody has done or said, approach them directly in a way that is kind and will lead to change or growth,” Stuelpe said. “Try to find a way that is helpful and kind while also trying to set limits with what is acceptable. Right now, teens are so isolated. If they make a mistake online and then they get canceled, they’re at home alone with no social outlet and they think that they have no way of coming back. That can really lead to some serious depression.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, cancel culture has taken on a new meaning, with celebrities and teenagers being cancelled for not following proper social distancing and safety guidelines. 

“We’re more aware of what people do, whether you believe it’s right or wrong, since people’s actions are more radical [during COVID-19 pandemic],” Batson said. “Eating inside a restaurant can be seen as radical right now, but, a year ago, I’d go walking into restaurants, and it was not a big deal. Definitely because of COVID-19, everyone is way more aware of what people are doing outside of school because it affects them that much more.” 

Some dispute if cancel culture is even real. In an opinion piece for Time Magazine, writer and journalist Sarah Hagi expressed the belief that cancel culture is not real, but that it is just when people receive criticism for their actions, something they are not normally used to. Junior Gabbi Butler does not think that cancel culture is a problem amongst teenagers, but something that mostly applies to public figures. 

“People now joke around about it and say someone is cancelled for people for making stupid mistakes,” Butler said. “I don’t think people would [cancel someone] because that’s something that is just in the media. I don’t think it really happens in real life. People will joke around [with cancel culture], but I don’t think people actually cancel people.” 

But many see social media as the cause for an increase in the prominence of cancel culture over the past several years. Stuelpe finds that cancel culture often occurs on social media, because people hope to elevate their status through calling out someone else. 

“There are some good things that have come out of the use of social media to bring people together to make change that’s much needed.” Stuelpe said. “People have seen that if you cancel or call out somebody online, that can increase your own social status… People are online all the time, and there’ve been a lot of divisive and negative examples in our culture. People, especially teens and middle schoolers, learn by what they see and hear. They are seeing that played out from people that they respect and they’re just doing what’s being modeled.”

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