Shane Dawson, Ellen DeGeneres, Lana Del Rey and J.K. Rowling — all of these people have one thing in common: they’ve been cancelled.
Cancel culture has been a polarizing subject of public discourse for the past few years. Some believe it causes people to be more careful and empathetic with their words, others think it takes accountability to an extreme. Recently, a decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss’ books due to racist imagery has brought the conversation about cancel culture back into the public eye. In interviews with Mustang News, four students and two professors voiced their opinions on Cancel Culture.
Communications Professor Leslie Nelson wrote in an email interview to Mustang News that some say the concept of cancel culture extends back to the Civil Rights Movement — specifically to the act of boycotting.
“Cancelling (or boycotting) was a pathway to resistance and survival — a way for Black individuals to reclaim and/or assert power via disengagement with people/companies who were spreading harmful ideas,” Nelson wrote.
The modern definition of cancel culture, Nelson wrote, can be described as the practice of no longer supporting, or “cancelling,” companies or people for saying or doing something viewed as problematic or downright racist, sexist or homophobic.
Nelson said that cancel culture can affect the way that we speak to one another, and that can be a good and a bad thing.
“I think cancel culture has prompted people to be more thoughtful about their words and actions, and I think that’s important and necessary,” Nelson wrote. “On the flip side, I think the fear of being cancelled may prompt the silencing of some folks, perspectives, and ideas.”
One of the more recent controversies involving cancel culture is the decision made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to stop publishing six of Dr. Suess’ books that contain racist imagery, including “And to Think That I saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo.”
Business administration senior Kaela Lee said she supports cancel culture more than she is against it.
“[Cancel culture] should make people more aware of their actions and words before they say anything, which is a good thing,” Lee said.
In regards to the Dr. Seuss controversy, Lee said the decision to stop publishing these books is a respectable one, and demonstrates the way that society as a whole is changing and learning.
“A lot of [cancel culture] is focused on racism, and the only proper way to respond to that is make amends and apologize,” Lee said.
Lee said that the conservatives who are upset about Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ decision are coming from a privileged perspective.
“They don’t experience [racism] so of course they don’t feel offended or see any problem with the depictions in Dr. Seuss’ past work,” Lee said.
Lee said that during this time, when there is so much information out there and readily available to people, that there is no excuse for ignorance.
COVID-19 has also had an effect on cancel culture, according to Lee. She said that the pandemic has highlighted injustices happening in the United States, and that it has inspired people to make a stronger effort to hold more individuals and institutions accountable.
Economics freshman Andrew Reitz said he thinks cancel culture is counterproductive.
Like Lee, Reitz said that the pandemic has caused many people to be angry at institutions in the United States, however, he thinks that people are misdirecting their anger.
“I think a lot of people are using the frustration they feel from very understandable and important issues to get mad and go after something that’s kind of low hanging fruit,” Reitz said.
Reitz said that cancel culture has served to widen the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans, and that people who identify as politically conservative believe that they make up the majority of the people who are being cancelled.
“The things that conservatives are being canceled for, in my opinion, are really just non-issues,” Reitz said.
In Reitz’s opinion, it’s valid to cancel someone only when their offense extends beyond speech. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, for example, is someone who Reitz believes was justifiably fired and “cancelled” after substantial sexual assault allegations were brought against him.
Reitz said he thinks that much of the outrage surrounding the Dr. Seuss controversy is performative, and that many of the prominent conservatives speaking out against it are using the situation as a way to distract people from some of their more unpopular policies.
“Some people try to frame it as this cancel culture mob trying to tear down Dr. Seuss’ legacy or trying to censor beloved books, but that’s just not what happened,” Reitz said.
Construction management sophomore Eddie Pascua said that cancel culture needs a “re-imaging,” and that the things people associate with the words “cancel culture” don’t reflect it’s true purpose.
“The way that cancel culture has been framed doesn’t lend itself to the idea that we are trying to hold these people accountable,” Pascua said. “That’s how some people are able to take advantage of it and turn it into something that doesn’t seem appealing to most people.”
Pascua said that in order for people who have been cancelled to redeem themselves, they have to prove that they’ve grown as a person, and even then they have to accept the fact that the community they’ve hurt or offended may not accept them back.
“It’s only up to the people and the victims that have been through that pain to forgive them,” Pascua said.
Philosophy Professor Rachel Fernflores said that the #MeToo movement has been associated with cancel culture, and that cancel culture in some ways has served to benefit it.
“It’s less and less acceptable for women to have to accept sexual harassment or assault in the workplace,” Fernflores said.
Fernflores said it’s important to make sure all of the facts are correct before cancelling someone.
“We have to make sure we’re not being alarmist about things because people’s reputations, and entire lives really can be destroyed,” Fernflores said.
Content Warning; sensitive language
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will not be incarcerated — so kinesiology sophomore Camden Cavill said the cancel culture surrounding the #MeToo movement is a way to serve justice to those who don’t face prosecution.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t get prosecuted, so it’s up to the public to cancel them,” Cavill said.
Cavill said that social media has both positive and negative effects on cancel culture.
“It’s valuable in the respect that a lot more people’s voices can be heard, even if they don’t have a platform,” Cavill said. “It’s also really easy to spread information that hasn’t necessarily been fact-checked.”
Public relations Professor Yan Shan wrote in an email interview with Mustang News that the dangerous part of cancel culture is it’s performative aspect.
“A lot of these cancel culture disputes we see on mainstream media (like the recent controversy over the decision to depublish some of Dr. Seuss’s books that contain racist imagery) is a major distraction from any meaningful conversation about the actual systemic suppression we have in our society,” Shan wrote.
Cancel culture leads people away from important conversations related to policy and structural changes, according to Shan.