Original motives of ‘cancel culture’ not always realized in real life practice


Josephine Teran and Miles Thomas, Acalanes High School

From pineapples to Johnny Depp, cancel culture seems to know no bounds. 

   Cancel culture exploded on social media in 2020, allegedly to encourage accountability and growth. Cancel culture is a form of ostracism in which the mass “cancels” a person for past or current actions. Typically, fans abandon support for a creator in order to hold them accountable.

   Some students believe the movement had an initial positive motivation to encourage growth within individuals and take power away from undeserving public figures. 

   “I think that the aim of cancel culture initially was to take power away from people who don’t deserve certain privileges because they are spreading hate … Cancel culture aims to affect the person being canceled in hopes that they will learn from their mistakes and become a better person from it,” Acalanes junior Gabriela Benveniste said. 

   Teenagers commonly argue that, when not abused, cancel culture can positively impact social media given its constructive motivations. They believe it can effectively remove harmful influencers and monitor offensive content. 

   “It can definitely be used positively and take platforms away from people who definitely don’t deserve them and people who do bad things,” Acalanes sophomore Jeffrey Strause said.

   Now, in 2022, many people use cancel culture to ostracize creators rather than hold them accountable.  

   “The actual motivation is to help people be better. What really ends up happening is people use shame and humiliation to get somebody to admit that they were wrong for something and that’s not helpful,” Acalanes junior Amelia Morgan said.

   Additionally, social media users cancel people to strip them of their social statuses for making minor mistakes or as a result of false accusations.

   “There are also people who get accused of things that they don’t do and get canceled for no reason, and get all this hate, and get their addresses leaked, so I think overall it’s negative,” Strause said.

   This supposedly unjust treatment was apparent in the media following the release of a pop-rock artist Olivia Rodrigo’s album, SOUR. Given that the album depicted her breakup with a Disney Channel co-star Joshua Bassett, fans were quick to attack her ex following its release. He faced death threats and several false accusations. Some students believe moments like this reflect the selective nature of cancel culture.

   “This is a time where I think people really took it too far, where someone didn’t deserve the hate they were receiving and chose to focus on a celebrity breakup rather than ‘canceling’ people who are actually harming others,” Benveniste said. 

   Meanwhile, other figures, like country music star Morgan Wallen, find themselves less ostracized for other situations. Wallen has a long history of controversial behavior, and in February of 2020, fans found a video of the country artist saying racial slurs. As a result, many music platforms pulled his music and his record label, Big Loud Records, suspended his contract. 

   Despite his career downfall, fans still show continued love and support; selling out the artist’s live performances and purchasing his digital album. His album Dangerous: The Double Album saw a 1220 percent increase in sales following coverage of the racial slur incident.

   While many look down upon this continued support, students understand that it’s difficult to stop supporting an artist whose content they enjoy. 

   “It can be somewhat concerning to me when people still listen to his music but I know that separating the artist from the person can be difficult sometimes. Although I think he shouldn’t be performing or gaining praise for his music because of the harmful things he has said, I understand that people can’t just immediately stop liking his music after hearing about what he’s done,” Benveniste said. 

   For others, the situation determines their decision on whether or not they choose to continue their support. When artists take genuine accountability for their actions, students are more open-minded. 

   “If an artist is getting canceled for something they said 10 years ago that they’ve apologized for and taken accountability for their actions, and have actively moved towards change, I wouldn’t exactly stop listening to their music,” Acalanes junior Alyssa Fong said. 

   Alternately, when a canceled figure has a long timeline of controversial behavior and their actions do not demonstrate a clear change of heart, some choose to end further support.

   “If last week it comes out that an artist has said something that is extremely offensive and they have a track record of doing so, I might consider whether I should really support their platform,” Fong said.

   Factors such as the canceled individual’s amount of fame can dictate the media’s response. These may impact one’s degree of social ostracization. 

   “In regards to fame, I think that the bigger the platform, the harder it is to cancel. Because if you have a bigger platform, you’re gonna have more haters, but you’re gonna have a lot more support,” Acalanes junior Joy Baker said. 

   The Wallen debate sheds light on the larger issue of creators not taking responsibility for their mistakes, and thus prohibiting growth. Students have concerns that while public figures’  apology videos posted on social media appear genuine, their expressions of sorrow are less than legitimate.

   “Most of the creators canceled have a [half-hearted] apology, and then come back a few weeks later as though it never happened,” Baker said. 

   Furthermore, students believe most public figures make apologies to save their image, rather than take genuine accountability. 

   “I feel like that’s the majority of apologies. It’s not ‘I’m sorry for my actions,’ it’s ‘I’m sorry, you caught my actions,’” Baker said.

   Refraining from making a genuine apology contradicts the motivation to cancel culture: to encourage change within an influential figure. 

   “[The canceled individuals] need to actually change. But I think a lot of time that doesn’t end up happening. What does end up happening is that people just kind of forget about it and then the person doesn’t really take responsibility for their actions and … they just end up going back into the spotlight as nothing happened,” Morgan said.