Why has ‘cancel culture’ become the retort to accountability in the entertainment industry? – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

“Cancel culture” is one of the hot-button issues of today in politics, entertainment and social media. It has, to some effect, changed the way we interact with different modes of entertainment like film, music and literature. 

Getting “canceled” is a real fear of entertainers today, but what does it really mean? To be “canceled” is an action akin to being ostracized. Frequently occurring in the entertainment industry, “canceling” is when audiences collectively decide to no longer support an individual or anything associated with that individual.

The idea of “canceling” someone made its resurgence during the “Me Too” movement when victims would name their abusers. In this scenario, “canceling” applied to the abusers, who, in many cases, worked in the entertainment industry. 

Given the nature of our world, especially in the context of social media, someone cannot be “canceled” in the full sense of the word — that person will always have a group of people supporting them. As one of the most sensationalized social phenomena of our generation, people intentionally misuse the phrase to the point that “canceling” has become synonymous with calling out — people who are getting “canceled” are not experiencing any true consequences.

The effect of this misuse is that when entertainers are held accountable, those at their defense say they are unjustly being “canceled.” Occasionally, someone will get removed from a job or position, but, at that point, one has to ask if it is because they got canceled or because they actually broke the rules. Contrary to popular belief, “canceling” is not the act of getting fired from a job, especially a public-facing one, as the result of breaking a code of conduct like “The Mandalorian” actress Gina Carano whose anticipated contract renewal did not happen because of her inflammatory social media posts. “Canceling” is the act of social rejection that will later negatively impact someone’s public image to the point of near permanent ostracization. 

Since the pandemic began, more entertainers have been the targets of “canceling” efforts, including show host Ellen Degeneres, author J.K. Rowling and actor Chris Pratt. What they all have in common is that their actions or words greatly upset their viewers, readers and fans respectively. 

The real question here — did “canceling” them have any impact on their careers or lifestyle thus far? No. In fact, “The Ellen Degeneres Show” is still functioning in its normal capacity, the Harry Potter series is still on the shelves and Chris Pratt is set to start in the third installment of  “Guardians of the Galaxy.” This goes back to the idea that any publicity is good publicity.

Singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar literally told his fans to “cancel” him after a few hot takes on Instagram Live in 2019. There was a short period where it seemed like it was taking effect, but it appeared to not have a huge impact on his career as he continued releasing albums and even performed at the University a few months after the incident. Caesar was not truly “canceled,” rather people were simply calling him out. 

There have been a few rare cases of entertainers successfully being “canceled.” Grammy-award-winning artist Chrisette Michele is still feeling the effects of being “canceled” in 2017 in response to her decision to perform at former President Donald Trump’s Inauguration. She has been performing for significantly smaller audiences, sometimes not even filling half the venue. The reason “canceling” Michele actually worked is because she has more of a niche fanbase, whom most of aligned themselves against her actions and were willing to participate in a boycott. 

There has been plenty of debate about the future of “cancel culture,” and many people are worried they will become targets in the supposed witch hunt. Given the incidents of “canceling” referenced earlier in this article, “canceling” does not have the longevity needed to cause worry for the entertainment industry moving forward.

For the most part, “call-out culture” has been misidentified as “cancel culture” and “canceling” only really works when the actions are criminal or when the party being canceled does not have enough influence to maintain their footing. For example, actor Mark Wahlberg was convicted of hate crimes yet still maintains a successful career because his fanbase does not care enough to condemn his actions. This example serves to highlight the powerful influence that creative entertainers hold over the world — if a person can use their talent to distract from their misdoings, then no one cares. Since “canceling” someone is really hard to do, we all might benefit from retiring the term in favor of holding people accountable.

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