Cancel culture: why society should cancel it


With social media permitting millions of individuals to access information, stories and opinions with the touch of the button, it’s no surprise that cancel culture took the internet by storm.

Dictionary.com describes cancel culture as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” With social media at hand, cancel culture worked its way into the everyday lives of the average Joe or Karen. While this practice leaves participants in cancelling an individual with the intrinsic reward of seemingly docking a celebrity one less follower or forcing a company to drop their partnership with them, it causes some to question where their morals stand with the practice.

America undoubtedly faces serious issues like racism, sexism and inequality. While cancel culture typically targets individuals that support such oppressive ideals, it also promotes the idea that people cannot change. In a way, this movement mirrors how America lacks social reform and progression compared to its European counterparts.

Take European country prisons systems example, which primarily focus on rehabilitating the perpetrator. An article from Business Insider in 2014 reports that Norway maintains a recidivism rate of 20 percent, whereas the United States sees 76.6 percent of prisoners return within five years. These numbers remain true today, with the exception of the United States recidivism rate growing by two percent. According to the article, Norway’s prison system relies on “restorative justice” which aims to rehabilitate the perpetrators – their living conditions mimic the “real world” as closely as possible to allow prisoners to re-enter society smoothly. Many European countries hold the same prison practices.

These practices essentially demonstrate that individuals who commit crimes possess the ability to change. If countries can recognize that criminals can change and provide them with the opportunity to do so, why can’t we allow celebrities and everyday people to rehabilitate their morals and harmful actions?

Cancel culture prevents this. It provides immediate repercussions without allowance for any excuses. Why is this an issue? Why can’t people simply learn to not make mistakes or entertain problematic ideals?

This practice creates an issue by forming the idea that people cannot grow and change, that rather they deserve immediate punishment and no opportunity to atone for their actions, much like the American prison system. In return, this demonstrates to society that everyone must act in accordance with the morals of the vocal majority or face serious consequences otherwise.

In a way, this also mimics Pavlov’s learned helplessness experiment. It teaches individuals that they cannot change; society leaves them helpless to reform their morals and improve themselves as a person. As children, our parents help us develop our frontal lobe, responsible for decision making and cognitive control, most commonly with positive and negative reinforcement or punishment. Through cancel culture, society uses negative punishment, but nothing more.

Not always does society see the positive results they want when negative punishment is applied through cancel culture. Take Jeffree Star for example, an internet celebrity who enters hot waters relatively often. A simple google search of the star’s name results in various articles ranging months to years apart covering his various scandals. Did cancel culture change that behavior? No.

While cancel culture provided many beneficial changes through movements like #MeToo, it recently shifted to targeting everyday people and their wrongdoings. Companies now face backlash if they don’t fire a racist or sexist employee. But isn’t that good? The issue seemingly only stops there, whereas the company should instead target that employee for personalized rehabilitation and mandate educational workshops against inequality for all employees.

Cancel culture targets one person at a time, not a whole, and it only works towards the immediate gratification of momentarily harming a celebrity’s reputation or damaging an average civilian’s livelihood. Instead, those in power should work towards providing as many people as possible with opportunities to rehabilitate their discriminatory ideals, rather than shun them away. This only teaches observers that change isn’t possible, when in reality, change should be encouraged.