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Digging into Cancel Culture - by Dr. Bob Habib

Today, we are talking about Cancel Culture….now before you jump to any conclusions or log into your social media account to create a new ‘cancel’ hashtag, let’s first get some context as to what this term means:


According to Merriam Webster, the word cancel is getting a new use. Canceling and cancel culture have to do with the removing of support for public or private figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work.

According to Urban Dictionary, “A desire to cancel out a person or community from social media platforms. It is characterized by the response of a *person when they are shown to be wrong. Narcissists make up the majority of the people who engage in cancel culture, and others who do this would include immature individuals.”


Think about that for a second….objectionable behavior. Is that an objective standard that can be applied universally? Likely not. Are we really going to consider potentially ruining someone’s livelihood based on subjective information?


Beyond that, the idea of canceling—and as some have labeled it, cancel culture—has taken hold in recent years due to conversations prompted by #MeToo and other movements that demand greater accountability from public figures. The term has been credited to users of Twitter, where it has been used as a hashtag. As troubling information comes to light regarding celebrities who were once popular, such as Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Roseanne Barr, and Louis C.K.—so come the calls to cancel such figures. The cancellation is akin to a cancelled contract, a severing of the relationship that once linked a performer to their fans. As Jonah Engel Bromwich writes in the New York Times, the word echoes the trend of on-demand subscriptions of content, from which a user can opt out just as easily as they opt in.

Through the lens of the reasonable person standard, this means that you can simply stop following someone on Twitter just as easily as you started. To put it more simply…if something bothers you, don’t keep subjecting yourself to it. We’ve all participated in cancel culture in some way, shape or form….my wife hates TV commercials so when they come on, she changes the channel – Cancelled. When you hear a song on the radio you don’t like, you typically change the radio station – Cancelled. When Wendy’s changed their style of French fries about a decade ago, I stopped going there because I didn’t like the new ones – Cancelled. You get the point.


Back to Merriam Webster:

Now, there is a performative aspect to canceling, one that ironically amplifies that which it seeks to squelch, if only for the moment. To cancel someone publicly often requires broadcasting that act, which then makes the target of one’s canceling a subject of attention. The objective behind canceling is often to deny that attention, so that the person loses cultural currency. Lisa Nakamura, a professor in the Department of American Cultures at the University of Michigan, stated, “People talk about the attention economy — when you deprive someone of your attention, you’re depriving them of a livelihood.” That pretty much sums up social media in a nutshell! Most of us are guilty of wondering how many likes our latest post will get…is that what is truly important?

Don’t get me wrong….I have no issue with raising eyebrows in regard to people who have acted inappropriately, but where do we draw the line? When did social media go from sharing positive things, events, and ideas with friends and family to publicly shaming and bullying people you don’t even know?


Leslie Hauler from Good Morning America said that “Online shaming has been around since the dawn of social media but cancel culture, or call-out culture as some have branded it, entered into a new league in the last few years. It started out as a form of internet justice -- not just against products but also outdated morals and values -- but can involve people being quick to judge, or even considered bullying.”


Just as with emails and texts, words can often be taken out of context, especially given the variances in tone, dialect, and yes, emojis that can often be misinterpreted.

Hauler went on to say “Online culture often doesn't leave room for nuance. People quickly unleash mobs of online attacks on people who they feel did wrong and "cancel" them, sometimes without having all the context or taking the time to discover the full story."

The reasonable person will do their homework before putting their thumbs to the keyboard on their smartphone. Like most things in life, wait a few minutes before taking action. Let your emotions, impulses, and frustration settle, then decide how best to respond. If you determine that cancelling someone or something is the best course of action for you, then for all that is holy, please get all of the facts first!


Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of "iGen," stated, "These cases of social rejection can be more extreme and thus, more harmful," about social media use among adolescents.”

Now this is not just a challenge for adolescents, it’s a challenge for everyone. Even former President Barack Obama has spoken out about the dangers of the social media phenomenon. “If you’re casting stones, you are probably not going to get far.”

When we judge one another, especially without a factual basis, we are forgetting the golden rule. Past that, the reasonable person will likely not use demeaning words, belittling comments, and/or pass judgment as a vehicle for change. The reasonable person will conduct research and will be able to provide logical, evidence-based information as a part of their argument for or against something or someone. Anything less than that is often a time waster and will likely not prove to be effective…other than to come across as simply self-serving.


Casting stones is not how we work together to affect change. That is how we will alienate one another, furthering the divide we feel within our communities. Sure, you may feel good after cancelling someone based on a perceived wrong doing, but what if you are wrong? What if the roles were reversed? Ever consider giving someone a second chance? Don’t you deserve a second chance?


Let’s say for the sake of this discussion you are perfect, and you don’t give second chances, and you are ready to destroy someone’s livelihood without actually knowing them or having all of the facts. That brings us to the 1st Amendment argument….you are right, you do have the right to voice your opinion…but don’t forget that I also have that same right. Who decides which opinion is more valid than the other? One of the biggest issues I see here is that people want others to respect their right to voice their opinions and ideas, but oftentimes don’t offer the same opportunity in return.


Let’s come together and have open discussions about our differences, about the feelings we have, about the perceptions we hold, and come up with a unified way forward. And, let’s have those discussions in respectful ways. That is how we grow together and help create a community that cares for one another. Reasonable people do not simply throw stones.

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