Cancel Culture: A Discussion on Boundaries

I rarely use Twitter. When I do, it’s mostly to stalk my favorite authors and scream into the void. Despite my unfamiliarity with the idiosyncrasies that govern the Twittersphere, the think pieces written about the think pieces about “cancel culture” have managed to reach my exasperated eyes. Just what is cancel culture?

As Robinson Meyer writes for The Atlantic, “The Internet’s only currency is attention.” Currency that the public has recently yielded in the eyes of many in an irresponsible manner, potentially detrimental to growth and learning. “You’re canceled!” is a dreaded tweet, but an email from the publicist or Human Resources announcing the cancellation of income takes it a step too far, to many.  

Where’s the line? What’s the statute of limitation? Concerns over whether canceling people allows enough capacity for people to learn from their mistakes are expressed by bystanders and victims of the culture alike. Some stand under the banner of “education” and “growth” as the path to get to the root of the problem. Others think people should be separated from the products of their minds, even if expressed thoughts and actions from the same minds may be toxic, offensive, or hurtful to some.

You’re Canceled, You’re Canceled, EVERYBODY IS CANCELED!!

Like its baby cousin, “Cut-Off Culture”, personally, I love it! Purging my playlists, amending my preferences to reduce suggestions, unfollowing social media accounts…it’s all cathartic. Almost as much as finally hitting that block button on an ex. Redirecting my hard-earned coins away from brands that don’t act like they care to receive them is my own way of saying “it’s not me, it’s you.”

2018’s Word of The Year for me was Boundaries. Sure, I’d gotten acquainted with the concept before. However, the most significant part of last year was mastering the idea that setting boundaries and honoring them when loved ones overstepped is not about correcting their behavior, it’s all about self-respect.

Saying “I love you but this is it for us” is not about getting the other to “act right.” It’s investigating and accepting the reality of the others’ actions toward us. It’s accepting our complete powerlessness against people’s choices and our absolute power over our own and acting accordingly. It’s less about making a statement. It’s an act of self-love. I make my canceling decisions on the same basis.

Don’t “Anti-Cancelers” at least have a point?

To those who attempt to dictate what is or isn’t canceling-worthy, those who wonder where the line to tiptoe around should be, I say there isn’t one. People hold different value systems, who are you to decide what should be offensive to someone else or a group to which you don’t belong?

Of course, I am not saying that just because a person or a group finds an expression to be offensive, the “perpetrator” should be canceled. Especially in cases where the offense was committed years before being brought into the public light. The growth argument can be legitimate. People change. (Please note here that I’m not referring to criminal acts like rape, sexual misconduct, pedophilia and the like.)

However, to those who argue that canceling people does not allow them the capacity to learn from their mistakes, my retort is how so? If the desire is truly to learn from their mistakes, what does public disapproval and removal of support do to prevent that? Especially in the case of celebrities, what’s stopping you from stepping down from the pedestal of privilege, disconnect, or ignorance?

Is no longer having the spotlight what’s stopping you? People don’t owe you absolution. If you do sincerely regret your actions like that PR-designed social media apology post seems to suggest, do the work and forgive yourself. If your audience doesn’t, oh well, build a new one.

Canceling someone is not the best way to handle differing opinions or problematic behavior. But I’m not entirely convinced it’s meant to be. It is the same as when a friend reacts to your behavior by cutting you off. Sure, you could have benefited from your friend’s help to stop the offensive behavior if you felt that you needed to. However, people’s reaction towards your offensive energy is not dictated by what you need or could gain. You can always find the help you need elsewhere. So do so, instead of blaming whom you’ve offended for not doing the emotional labor of teaching you to respect them.

What about separating the Art from the Artist?

Maybe that’s a good compromise for some. But I would push you to ask a few questions. What did the artist do? What is the art about? It’s one thing to say that I will continue to watch and feel a certain way about The Cosby Show and what it represented for so many black people. I can stay impressed by the show’s recorded effort to not publish negative stereotypes about black people. In the same breath, I can be glad that justice has been served for Cosby’s victims.

However, in the case of artists like R. Kelly, writing hypersexual lyrics, using cliches like “age ain’t nothing but a number” that thinly veil his proclivities, that celebrate them even, and reveling in making of us all accomplices, I personally can’t. His art is about Him. He does not want us to separate them. Rocking to his unforgettable hooks “regardless” is how he gains absolution.

Which brings me to my last point of whether cancel culture is even a thing.

I have no answers

Why is how to separate the art from the artist even a question? We seem to have mastered that art quite well, often by ignoring, denying, deriding the victims’ existence and/or pain. Name an artist and artworks that we’ve definitively canceled. I’ll wait.

If you came here for answers, I have none for you. Instead, I’ll invite you to ponder with me. What constitutes a “culture”? Why do we choose to cancel? Do we feel pressured to cancel because others publicly have? Why do we try to shame others into canceling?

We don’t need a choir.

We could simply decide to do the best for us. Our support needs not to be held hostage. Nor does it need to be used as a guillotine. It’s our own personal power that we can choose to yield on a case-by-case basis. And that’s okay. There’s no rulebook. Conflict should not make us so uncomfortable. Instead of trying to find a consensus on what to like and dislike, what to keep or cancel, maybe we ought to take more time to find how to disagree more and disagree better.

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