Cancel Culture: Civic Duty or Modern Witch Hunt?

Cancel culture: the double-edged sword, the two-headed snake. It’s sometimes noble, other times destructive, but all the time subjective. Social media is no longer strictly social in the casual laugh with your friends. No, social media is now a business tool that many industry professionals and independent entrepreneurs alike use to promote their business, product or trade. However, on social media, they are open to a more keen level of scrutiny than has ever existed between consumer and producer.

Enter cancel culture. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. The inner-conviction people feel to not only point out others’ wrongs but to publicly shame and condemn them is not a new concept. While, luckily, we’re not throwing stones at people or stamping a scarlet letter on their chest, cancel culture still thrives off of the contagious virus of ignorance and can affect the person being condemned all the same.

Before attempting to place a definitive label of good or bad on it, we have to first poke holes in the boat. And, let me say, there are lots and lots of holes. To begin with, freedom of speech is hardly ever brought up when someone digs up a “controversial” tweet that a celebrity posted years ago (because what else are you going to do with your free time?). Of course, those who choose to speak are not free from the consequences, such as angry comments, but they are free, according to the amendment, from retaliation, censorship and legal sanction. However, when freedom of speech threatens public safety the latter is held up in court, which is why it’s illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded area. More often than not, though, these controversial tweets are harmless, even if they are ignorant, offensive or just plain dumb.

With the digging up and display of these old quotes inevitably comes the bandwagoning mob, now armed with phones instead of pitchforks. And with the mob comes the collective feeling of self-righteous hypocrisy. When controversy surfaces, everyone is lightning quick to throw their stone and point the finger, because if the spotlight is always on someone else, someone who “matters”, then they never have to answer for their own speech crimes. The dialogue often centers around demonizing the accused and sanctifying the jury. It’s not exactly democratic.

Furthermore, cancel culture is unreliable, biased and hypocritical. What one person or business is held accountable for, everyone should be held accountable for at all times. At least, that’s how it should be.

For example, James Gunn, writer and director of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, was fired from the franchise because of offensive and, in my opinion, tasteless “comedic” tweets resurfacing after nearly ten years. Kevin Hart, who was slated to host the 2019 Oscars, was the next on the stake when homophobic tweets from nearly ten years ago reared their ugly heads, forcing him to turn down the position.

Now, let’s bring it back to fashion—an industry notorious for wearing controversy like red lipstick: boldly. In January of 2018, when H&M released that tone-deaf “Monkey” ad, everyone raised their digital torches for a couple days then went back to their online shopping carts and hit “place order.” This was but an insignificant blip in H&M’s revenue.

More recently, and perhaps of greater note, Dolce & Gabbana experienced public outrage after releasing a series of short promotional videos campaigning their fashion show in Shanghai in mid-November. The ads relied heavily on caricature stereotypes of Chinese culture, despite China’s consumers making up 32 percent of the luxury market. In a word, it was disrespectful. The ad alienated and boxed a group of people that are predicted to account for nearly half of luxury sales by 2024.

The response to this offense went beyond angry, but ultimately ineffectual tweets. Many prominent models and celebrities set to appear at the show turned right around after seeing the ads, pulling their support and calling their fellow Chinese to boycott the brand. To add fuel to the viral wildfire, a dm conversation revealed Stefano Gabbana’s offensive thoughts on the country and its people, which he later claimed was the work of a hacker; but his history of blatant racism says otherwise.

In fact, this is not the first time D&G has made some questionable business decisions. Just two years before the Chinese ad incident, they released a shoe which they dubbed the “slave sandal.” Again, Twitter exploded, then fizzled out, like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and Dolce & Gabbana remain one of the largest and most successful fashion houses in the world with Stefano Gabbana worth $1.4 billion. And it’s not just D&G. Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 are in the media for some insensitive graphic t-shirt every other month as sure as the phases of the moon.

All of these examples have made controversial comments, some from years ago, some recent, some as an intentional ad created by a team, others by a single individual on a whim. One is crucified while the other gets a slap on the wrist. One loses a career while the other continues to make millions. This inconsistency illustrates the classic bully concept. People, too afraid and insecure to hold the big bad companies accountable, turn to attack individual celebrities and influencers. Simply put, it’s easier; it makes us feel better about ourselves and our own powerlessness. Cancel culture, right or wrong, is ultimately a response to our own human weakness.

If we want to perform our civic duty as a society and embrace our responsibility to sweep the dirt from under the rug and bring the dark to light, we should stop wasting our time and efforts on what someone said ten plus years ago and illuminate the unjust actions of celebrities that affect victims individually and directly. I would rather see actual criminals get convicted, rather than someone lose their job that, at the end of the day, isn’t a job worth losing. Who’s really watching the Oscars anyway? Do you really care who directs “Guardians of the Galaxy” as long as you can see Chris Pratt and his adorable crooked smirk?

Now, don’t get it twisted. I am in no way condoning or agreeing with their words. People are people and people say dumb things that can cause someone else pain. However, what I am saying is pick your enemies wisely. I’d rather see people like Brett Kavanaugh, R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein behind bars, paying for their actions. That would be the ultimate cancelation.

Written by Ka’Dia Dhatnubia

Graphic by Day Toscano

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