‘Cancel culture’ and problematic celebrities

We must hold famous people accountable and push them to reflect, rather than retract

Now more than ever, celebrities are being called out for their problematic comments. This has resulted in many of them being “canceled,” meaning that society no longer supports them due to their past behaviour.

Cancel culture does not address issues such as sexual misconduct or illegal activities, but rather offensive comments the celebrities have shared, mainly found on social media platforms and in interviews.

I think there should be a distinction between “cancelling” celebrities and simply calling them out. Let’s use Katy Perry as an example. Perry lacks a lot of social awareness. This was clear in 2008 when she came out with the songs “Ur so gay” and “I Kissed a Girl.” These songs were extremely problematic toward the LGBTQ+ community. She has also practically embodied the definition of cultural appropriation with copious tone-deaf music videos. Do I think Perry has no chance of effecting positive social influence because she released problematic songs in 2008? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that society’s criticisms put pressure on Perry to be more respectful. Whether or not she learns from this criticism is her choice.

One of the main issues surrounding cancel culture is the iconization of an individual celebrity. I think, as a society, we give celebrities too much influence over our lives. Personally, I often catch myself obsessing over specific celebrities I think hold the same values as me. It’s one thing to love the work of certain famous people, to enjoy their platforms and learn from them, but I think there is a reoccurring issue of giving them too much influence over how we think. This is problematic because when they inevitably make mistakes, we often do one of two things: ignore the mistake and make excuses for them, or cancel them because they weren’t who we built them up to be. Frankly, I often forget that my favourite icons are not actually my friends; they’re people with flaws and insecurities, hopes and dreams, fears and demons. I don’t actually see them outside of the way they’re presented––I don’t see them as multidimensional characters with depth.

Cancel culture is extreme because celebrities often end up representing a lot of the western world. They become our role models and, if they get cancelled for an offensive comment or statement, it sends a message that there’s no use in learning from your mistake. If these celebrities get completely shut down, then how can they be expected to learn from their mistakes? This applies to non-famous people too. This is not to say that offensive comments should be excused, but celebrities should be encouraged to introspect and reflect when they slip up, rather than make a simple PR statement or be cancelled.

Overall, the phenomenon of “political correctness” is a movement that has promoted respect and understanding from different intersections of society. Yes, cancel culture does make celebrities fearful about what they say and do—and to a certain extent, that’s a very good thing.

Marginalized communities have been fighting tirelessly for their voices to be heard. One way they can do so is by expressing their distaste or anger towards problematic comments made by celebrities. However, I think we need to find a balance between shutting someone down entirely and reprimanding them for their ignorance. They should have the space to reflect and grow.

When people say the world is becoming too sensitive and that people are too easily offended, it’s very important to remember that this isn’t true. People were always offended. Only now, thanks to societal shifts, decentralized communication and increased community organization with social media platforms, we can hear them a bit better. But let’s remember to hear everyone out, and offer wrongdoers the space to grow and learn, rather than be cancelled and shunned.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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