Cancel culture has appeared as mysteriously as a storm and strikes just as unpredictably. It has been popularized abruptly in the last few years, as dozens of influencers and celebrities have fallen prey and have been “cancelled.” The victims of cancel culture range from social media stars, such as James Charles, to admired musicians, such as Doja Cat. But whether or not these victims are actually victims at all is debatable.
The act of canceling, or withdrawing support and effectively deplatforming, only comes after these public figures have done something offensive. Consequently, the masses of the Internet become the judge, the jury, and the executioner, revoking someone of their relevance in a way that is not unlike excommunication by the Catholic Church.
The Start and the Evolution
The start of cancel culture can be traced back to around 2015 or 2016, when Twitter users began “over parties.” Over parties were characterized by a trending hashtag about a celebrity who was in the wrong. One example can include ‘#TaylorSwiftIsOverParty’ during the infamous Kanye West and Taylor Swift drama. Over parties were a quick, shallow rebuttal to unsavory behavior by somebody in the spotlight. For the first time, it felt like the average person could have some power over what seemed to be the most powerful people in the world. After all, what’s worse for a celebrity than being told your turn on the pedestal is over by the people who put you on it in the first place?
The evolved, modern version of cancel culture has found the answer to that question. Cancel culture is no longer just a hashtag that will trend for a few hours and give you a bad rap for a few days. When celebrities are cancelled now, they face much more serious consequences. In 2019, when James Charles was “canceled” in the midst of his drama with fellow YouTuber Tati Westbrook, he lost a total of almost 3 million subscribers in the span of a weekend and became the first YouTuber to lose one million subscribers in 24 hours. It can be inferred that he likely lost money in the form of brand deals and partnerships as well. If over parties were being told your time on the pedestal was up, being cancelled today is being forcibly evicted from the pedestal, and then robbed of the clothes on your back. And now, the height of the pedestal itself seems weak in comparison to the height of the monstrous collective power of the Internet.
“Canceling” and Accountability
It is easy to villainize cancel culture. It’s harsh, cruel, and often wrong. Singer and rapper, Doja Cat, is proof of this. She rose quickly to the top of the music scene at the end of 2019, and fell just as fast in May of 2020. Despite the popularity of her songs such as “Say So” and “Like That,” the star was swiftly cancelled after videos of her allegedly participating in racist, alt-right chat rooms surfaced. Many fans have walked back on their support of the singer and condemned her online. But on September 9, the original poster of the allegations confessed on Twitter that it was all fake. He “f**king lied” because he wanted revenge after Doja Cat rejected him. Additionally, James Charles was able to redeem and defend himself against Tati Westbrook’s claims in a 41 minute long video, and has since gained over 7 million subscribers. When cancel culture is so powerful, but also capable of making mistakes, it’s very easy to condemn it. In the most ironic way possible, cancel culture would probably be cancelled for its blunders and failures if it was a celebrity.
However, the root of cancel culture is arguably good. “Canceling” at its core is well-intentioned, seeking to hold people accountable. Celebrities need to be held responsible for their actions, especially the ones that are offensive and objectionable. The public has a right to deplatform celebrities who do bad things, like citizens of a nation have a right to vote a representative who no longer serves their interests out of office. But cancel culture has become far too unforgiving. The masses choose who gets pushed front and center, based on their looks and pleasantness, and expects them to never stumble or falter. We expect the people we revere to make no mistake, and tear them to pieces when they do.
While the logic has remained at the root of cancel culture, it has blossomed into something much uglier and messier. But the same could be said for celebrity culture. Celebrities are no longer just people we admire; they are idolized and worshipped. Celebrities and fame have become so grossly and powerfully controlling and influential that it was necessary for something to check them, lest they become too out of control. That something just happened to be cancel culture.
Modern celebrity culture pushes the prettiest and most charming to the top. Perhaps cancel culture wouldn’t need to exist at all if we didn’t give people such height, such power, such unnecessary glory. Perhaps in a world where celebrity is a disease, cancel culture is just a symptom.
Bailey Townsend is a 17 year old from Sacramento, California. She is an award-winning poet who loves reading, politics, and film.