The Idea behind Cancel Culture

Rothrongru Sangtam
Modern College, Piphema

Cancel culture, this phrase, surprisingly of recent creation has become ubiquitous in pop culture and reached the highest halls of power, used to describe ‘cancellations’ large and small. 

The idea of cancelling began as a tool for marginalised communities to assert their values against public figures who retained power and authority even after committing wrongdoing - but in its current form, we see how imbalanced the power dynamics of the conversation really are. 

‘Cancel culture’ describes the phenomenon of frequent public pile-ons criticising a person, business movement, or idea. 

A celebrity or a public figure says something offensive - the public backlash fuels up over social media, followed up by the so called ‘cancel culture’, where the calls to cancel the person - that is, to effectively end their career or harm their public image starts, whether by boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from their employer. 

This phenomenon actually had an innocuous beginning before it morphed into a mechanism that can turn a person or brand onto a pariah into a matter of tweets. It came out as a misogynistic joke. The earliest reference to cancelling someone comes in the 1991 film New Jack City, in which a gangster dumps his girlfriend by saying, "cancel the bitch, I'll but another one".

After which the expression came into circulation during the late 2010s in hip hop songs and shows. By 2015, the concept of cancelling had become widespread on 'Black Twitter' to refer to a personal decision, sometimes serious and sometimes jest, to stop supporting a person or work. Into the 2020s, the phrase has become a shorthand employed by conservatives in the US to refer to what are perceived to be disproportionate reactions to politically incorrect speech. According to Jonah Engel of The New York Times, the usage of the word ‘cancellation’ indicates the "total disinvestment in something". Overtime isolated instances of cancelation became more frequent and mob mentality more apparent and the culture became more like an outraged culture. 
The expression 'cancel culture' has mostly negative connotations and is used in debates on free speech and censorship. 

The 44th US President Barack Obama criticised this call-out culture by saying, "People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their children and, you know, share certain things with you".

Pope Francis also said that cancel culture is "A form of ideological colonisation, one that leaves no room for freedom of expression", saying that it "ends up cancelling all sense of identity".

On the contrary, some argue that cancel culture does have its benefits, such as allowing less powerful people to have a voice, helps marginalised people hold others accountable when the justice system does not work, and cancelling is a tool to bring about social change. 

So is cancel culture an important tool of social justice or a new form of merciless mob intimidation? This question is receiving mainstream consideration, as it is not just about the fall of public figures but also about establishing new ethical codes and social norms and figuring out how to collectively respond when these norms are violated.