You’ve seen the news stories, individuals of varying degrees of fame called out on the internet for a comment, a tweet, or a malignant behavior. These “call outs” that result in the individual’s intense negative press, and excommunication from internet society, are part of a trend known as “cancel culture.” Canceling an individual means calling to attention their villainous or socially devious behavior, and forcing accountability by making association with their brand social zeitgeist.
Before diving into a discussion of a particular instance of cancel culture in action, I would like to lay down some preliminary thoughts on the subject. First of all, the only reliable source I could find on the story was a Buzzfeed article, which speaks volumes for the seriousness and validity of the entire discussion. That is, the events and surrounding discussion rely not on credible reporting, accountable police work, or even deeper than the shallowest of sandbar analysis. No, these events take place entirely in the fictitious realm of human opinion, where opinions are based on opinions on all sides.
Nonetheless, let’s examine the strange case of beauty influencer James Charles conflicts with public image and the media. James Charles rose to prominence and internet fame through success on youtube, where he vlogged about makeup and beauty related topics. Overtime, he accrued a massive youtube following, and contracts with many makeup brands like Morphe. In 2019, however, he was struck a blow by peer beauty Youtuber Tati Westbrook, who uploaded a video accusing James of using his fame to entrap heterosexual men and seduce them. James responded to this by posting a response that subsequently became among the most disliked videos on Youtube. Through the scandal James lost over a million subscriber in a single day.
Here’s the interesting part. Some time after the allegations, it came to light that Westbrook was coerced into making them, and that they were entirely false. Thus the issue with cancel culture becomes clear: there was no roadmap of justice being followed. No investigation by officials took place. One individual that nobody should necessarily have any reason to trust posted a video, and suddenly public opinion was swayed such that the world really moved. That is, thousands of dollars youtube engagement “cancelled” over insubstantial claims.
Flash forward to 2021, and James is again being called out on the internet. This time the accusations involve the testimonies of several young boys who accused James of sexually grooming them. Whether or not this is true is unverified- he denies the claims, and yet they exist. This situation leaves the average media consumer in the precarious position of formulating their stance on the element of trust alone, to trust James, or to trust the acusors. On one hand, they know the celebrity, and not the acusors. On the other hand, it’s more fun to believe the bad news, the more dramatic reality. Either way, no output from the discussion can be considered as approaching justice because the grounds are entirely insubstantial in analytic investigation. There are no facts to go by.
Based on these cases, I can only say that cancel culture exists to the detriment of society. We live in a world where opinion, subjective human opinion, can move millions of dollars and change peoples lives. Over the allegations, many companies cut commercial ties with James, and his videos were demonetized on Youtube. However, that cannot be called justice. If the allegations are true, then James belongs in the justice provided by the legal system, not by the court of he-said she-said, at the expense of millions of dollars. For James that may not be a lethal blow, but for the average individual excessive negative media attention, for any reason, can be horribly toxic. It also sets up a system where employers can excommunicate you if your name is merely bad association.
I’m conflicted in how I feel about cancel culture in my own dealings with the internet. One one hand, I want to say that I couldn’t care less what people think about me on-line, but on the other hand I know that those baseless opinions could spill over to the workplace and negatively impact how I live my life. If anything, it makes me slightly fearful, and maybe a little less overall willing to engage with the internet, in case I achieve a modicum of fame and someone uncovers my cringe worthy old Facebook account, and suddenly my phone is going off because a million strangers decided they didn’t like me. My only advice for others in dealing with the internet would be to avoid fame altogether- people will break you down and find anything to hold the moral high ground against you. There’s nothing you can do to win against that. Instead, try to be a genuinely good person in all your actions. People are born with a moral compass that can distinguish right and wrong. Follow that and you’ll never have to worry about cancel culture because it simply won’t matter to you.