#thetimeisnow

OPINION: Cancel culture doesn’t exist. It never has. If cancel culture does exist (which it doesn’t) it’s extremely ineffective

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Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Suad Alad, Contributor

 cw: racism, sexual assault, transphobia

“Cancel culture”, also known as “call-out culture” is a form of social and real-world boycotting of a public figure who has done wrong by an individual or a group of people. Typical celebrities and public figures that contribute to acts of social discrimination such as racism, misogyny or homophobia are so called “victims” of our “toxic cancelling”.  Many argue that the existence of cancel culture is harmful and it only discourages people to grow from their past mistakes.

I, however, argue that while the intentions of cancel culture are displayed during public scandal, the entirety of cancel culture as a concept doesn’t exist. I believe that it’s only in its first stage of existing. And this first stage is not nearly as prominent in today’s society nor is it as effective in “ending people’s livelihoods” as it is often made out to be.

While I agree that there are celebrities that have had their careers ruined due to actions they have made in the past, I wouldn’t say that public figures are “victims” of this boycott. Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, two men who have commited countless sex crimes, are examples of celebrities who have been publicly cancelled and sentenced to jail for their crimes. However, two examples are not enough to prove that cancel culture exists.

If we’re going off the idea that cancel culture is once a public figure has offended a group of people, their careers are ruined and they aren’t ever allowed to change, then more than half of Hollywood and the public leaders of the world would be jobless and hated by the masses. However, this is not the case. In fact, there are many public figures who publicly defame and maliciously target groups of marginalized people whose careers have yet to be destroyed.

 In fact, there are many public figures who publicly defame and maliciously target groups of marginalized people whose careers have yet to be destroyed.

Jordan Peterson, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto, is what the far right describes as a man who says it how it is. He does many talks on the dangers and toxicity of political correctness and believes that freedom of speech is under attack by the left. However, many of Peterson’s supporters use his arguments about freedom of speech to justify their refusal to call trans students by their preferred pronouns, and to endorse or promote oppressive rhetoric without backlash. 

Many U of T students disagree with Peterson’s transphobic ideologies and some have petitioned for him to be fired. If cancel culture really existed, someone like Peterson would lose their job in an instant. Not only does Peterson still have his job, he appears at many events across Ontario at universities to discuss how freedom of speech is in great need of protection. By giving Peterson the platform to express this harmful narrative, universities are essentially enabling Peterson and telling marginalized students they don’t matter to the administration. McMaster is no exception to this. Peterson gave a talk at McMaster, despite student protest, in 2017. 

Former President Patrick Deane of McMaster defended the university’s decision to have Peterson come speak about political correctness stating that taking opportunities to listen to someone speak, even someone one might “vehemently disagree with” is a crucial part of education. He felt that for this reason, excluding Peterson, or any controversial figure, would be an unjust decision, even though one of Peterson’s main topics of focus is the protection of transphobic rhetoric.

What many people fail to acknowledge is what the actual purpose of cancel culture is. It does not exist to end the careers of innocent people, nor does it exist to not accept the fact that people can change. It exists to hold people accountable for actions that are inexcusable, and its intentions are to let people know that in the future, the same sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. And this sort of accountability rarely occurs.

What many people fail to acknowledge is what the actual purpose of cancel culture is. It does not exist to end the careers of innocent people, nor does it exist to not accept the fact that people can change. It exists to hold people accountable for actions that are inexcusable, and its intentions are to let people know that in the future, the same sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. And this sort of accountability rarely occurs.

Even our Prime Minister isn’t expected to own up to his problematic past, no matter how harmful and racist it may be. Just this past October, Justin Trudeau was recently under fire for having taken part in forms of black and brown face in his college years, which came to light during the Canadian 2019 Federal Election. Although Trudeau did publicly apologize for his racist actions, he barely acknowledges in his apology that they were racist. He more so plays it off as a dumb mistake he made as a teenager. 

Many black and brown Canadians took to social media to express their disappointment in both Trudeau’s actions and his apology and for a short period, his numbers in the campaign polls dropped. Nevertheless, mockery of racialized people did not seem to affect Trudeau’s career. Despite his racist past being exposed so close to voting day, the public backlash he faced clearly wasn’t enough for him to experience genuine repercussions since he won and will serve as Canada’s prime minister for another four years.

I won’t deny that the intentions of cancel culture are there and that for a short period of time, the public tries to hold public figures accountable. I also won’t ever see this as a bad thing. But intention and trying to hold someone accountable doesn’t mean anything if the consequences don’t follow through. We are in the very midst of having cancel culture become real and it could be a good thing if demonstrated correctly. However, the perception that cancel culture is “toxic” and “discourages people” to change only allows room for transphobes and racists to avoid owning up to their past, but to completely ignore it. And it is important to remember that there is nothing toxic about calling out prejudice when it occurs.

If racist people can be presidents and prime ministers and white supremacists can still make a decent living and function within society without repercussions, then it’s safe to say that cancel culture is nowhere near close to existing. At least not in the way we think it does.

 

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