Speaking Out: Striking a balance on cancel culture

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • December 16, 2020

Social media has fundamentally changed the world. While it has sparked generational, international connectivity, it has also been a gateway to a never-ending stream of controversy. Nowhere has this played out more than in one concept: cancel culture.

Cancel culture is a millennial and Gen Z phenomenon, and a double-edged sword. It does indeed hold creators, celebrities, influencers and “role models” accountable for their actions. Still, it is reactionary as some people are often wrongfully “blacklisted” for not holding the “correct” view because, on social media, you are guilty until proven innocent.

The principle of cancel culture itself makes sense: viewers and the general public elevate celebrities and influencers by buying their products, listening to their music or watching their video content. Therefore, we should be selective in who we choose to support, and withhold support for racist, sexist, amoral and disrespectful creators.

However, the culture has become warped with the idea of selective cancellation. Gen Z is holding critical discussions about race, gender and privilege, but we are only applying moral standards to some.

We’ve cancelled and called out creators who have worn blackface, and rightly so, but we have conveniently forgotten that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put on blackface, multiple times. It’s difficult to draw the line between what is considered growth from previous errors and a cyclical repetition of insensitive actions.

We face the challenge of understanding that the past had different standards for what was moral and what wasn’t. However, we should acknowledge that racist and sexist actions in someone’s past were still racist and sexist.

While the theory behind cancel culture seems correct, the practice has morphed into an “easy out” of tough conversations, and is plainly hypocritical.

One of the most recent examples happened when social media personalities Charli and Dixie D’Amelio were criticized for spitting out a meal made by a professional chef. They were mocked and ridiculed for being disrespectful, which was fair, but it raised why other creators of the same age were not being criticized for similar behaviour. Other TikTokers, namely boys from the creator-hub Sway House, modelled disrespectful behaviour by holding house parties during the COVID-19 lockdown. Yet they have not received nearly the same level of backlash from the public. 

It seems unfair that creators, who are often minors, are criticized for being uneducated when some of them haven’t even had the time to be educated. And experienced professionals have not learned from their pasts, berating young creatives despite receiving backlash of their own in the past.

YouTuber Trisha Paytas, an influencer who has openly mocked people of colour, has stated she doesn’t fear being cancelled, all while criticizing Charli D’Amelio, a 16-year-old, for not being sensitive to the complex nuances of the world. 

As Catholics, we have the responsibility to hold ourselves to the highest moral standards. While I agree that some creators do not deserve a platform for their egregious, and sometimes criminal, actions, Catholics believe that everyone deserves a chance at redemption and growth.

Cancel culture takes away that chance — hypocritically choosing who is worth saving and who is not. This Christmas season, instead of writing people off without a word, maybe we should choose to hold back our original gut reactions. Let’s open the floor to decent conversation and active listening. We should allow dissenting voices to be heard, and hold firm to our values and what behaviour we will tolerate from those we support, on social media and beyond.

(Henricus, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Cawthra Park Secondary in Mississauga, Ont.)

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