Author Sandro

03.08.2020 18:21

Is “Cancel Culture” Cancelling Free Speech?

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Political correctness if off the charts. Definitely not everywhere, and surely not among the majority of people. Millions still suffer from hate speech and racism. But in some circles (or bubbles, to be more precise) the picture is different. This is where political correctness might really dangerous. 

Let that sink… Not quite sure why, but I suspect that some might find what I wrote above offensive. The most offended readers might even suggest to cancel me. And if this article gets enough attention, they most probably will succeed.


What is Cancel Culture?

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” - This is an excerpt from a letter published by Harper’s Magazine and signed by over 150 public figures. Among them is J.K. Rowling, the author of “Harry Potter” books, who recently was accused of Transphobia for her tweet...


and attacked by angry people on social media... It’s just one example of a cultural phenomenon that has been identified as “Cancel culture”.

In 2019 The Australian English Dictionary Macquarie has named the "cancel culture" the word of the year. It refers to "the attitudes within a community which call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from a public figure”. The primary reasons are so-called social "offenses", such as inappropriate speech.

According to Google Trends, amid the recent protests against racism and slavery, the “cancel culture” debate is back with a vengeance.  

On one hand, the mobs always had plenty of torches and pitchforks prepared against the ones, who’s opinion they didn’t like. But some supporters claim that this time people are fighting against powerful wrongdoers.  Recently Jimmy Fellon, Kevin Heart, Scarlet Johanson, Youtuber PewDiePie, and many others recently became the targets of social media users for various statements and actions.

With few exceptions, (among whom Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey stand out) there were no serious consequences.  Ross Douthat the columnist of New York Times, suggests that celebrities are the easiest people to target, but the hardest people to actually cancel.  Most of the celebrities are back on track, as they avoided canceling and regained their name pretty soon. 

At the same time, people who are in the middle of climbing on a professional and social ladder are much more vulnerable. This is where “cancel culture” starts going wrong. For example, children’s author Gillian Philliphs was sacked for tweeting support towards J.K. Rowling.


Is it going too far?

Canceling was originally seen as a force capable of holding celebrities accountable for their controversial behavior. In the era of #MeToo, with the help of cancel culture, people have made it possible to start a dialogue in society about sexual violence in the industry, which was previously hushed up. 

The supporters try to explain, why we still need it: “The goal isn’t to punish everyone, or even very many someone; it’s to shame or scare just enough people to make the rest conform.” 

However, the “canceled” themselves now call for attention. They say that it’s an “unstoppable force” aimed at destroying the careers of people who dare to cross moral boundaries.

The debates about the dangers of the phenomenon started back in 2019. Feminist Loretta Ross called canceling a "toxic" practice in which " people attempt to expunge anyone with whom they do not perfectly agree, rather than remain focused on those who profit from discrimination and injustice”.

Former President of U.S. Barack Obama expressed a similar thought:

"Among young people, particularly on college campuses, there is this sense that 'the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that's enough.'" - He said, and added: "That's not activism. That's not bringing about change. if all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far. That's easy to do."

“Society is still grappling with what’s considered ‘too far’ on the internet,” - Anne Charity Hudley, the chair of linguistics of African America at the University of California told USA Today. She explains - Something that can be used for good can also be weaponized. Everything can go too far; even free speech.


By the way, the threat of cancelation looms not only upon the living: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others… People gathered at the monuments of historical persons are furious - these slavers and exploiters need to be canceled too. 

The critical voices against the phenomenon are getting stronger. But for now, the “cancel culture” is pretty far from being canceled itself.  While some note that it tries to repress the viewpoints, which are no longer welcome, others warn us - there are attempts to censor not only the present but also the past. And this is where it might get really unpredictable for everyone. 


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