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July 24, 2020

What is Cancel Culture?

Each of us can probably recall an embarrassing “caught” moment. Whether it was more innocent—like taking a cookie without permission as a kid—or more serious—like cheating on a test or a significant other—we all have moments when we go against our better judgment and, when caught, immediately feel foolish. In many of these cases, the consequences and repercussions of those actions remain a personal issue that we can learn and move on from without permanently damaging our reputations.

But what if you’re a celebrity? In our social-media-driven world, it’s easier than ever to find the tea about prominent figures. As more and more stories come out about questionable actions from celebrities and influencers, people are becoming quicker to judge and “canceling” those who have made questionable statements or actions. In some cases it can provide much-needed accountability, but for many others it has become an example of forgetting grace and eliminating one’s chance to learn from their mistakes. Gen Z is growing up in a cancel culture, and it’s important for us as parents and caring adults to know what it is and how it’s impacting them.

What is cancel culture?

The term “canceled” means to delete something or someone out of your life. As the instances of public “canceling” have increased over the past few years, it’s become its own culture. While you can cancel just about anyone or anything you want, “cancel culture” has become the mass-movement of revoking privileges, taking away platforms, and trying to blacklist celebrities and powerful figures—sometimes for something that happened decades prior.

Cancel culture generally happens on (but is not limited to) apps like TikTok and Twitter, and spreads through user-created hashtags, usually following a #___isover format (some recent hashtags include #lanadelreyisover and #jimmyfallonisover). Reasons for why someone is considered “over” vary, but for the ones mentioned, Lana Del Rey was accused of being racist in a post about how she feels her music is wrongfully criticized, and Jimmy Fallon was accused of being racist when a video of him using blackface on SNL 20 years ago resurfaced. Racism, homophobia, sexism, sexual misconduct, and overall frowned upon behavior can all be triggers for cancel culture.

How long has it been a thing? Should I be concerned?

The term “cancel” first originated from a line in the ‘90s movie New Jack City, but didn’t begin to take off until the 2010s. After a 2014 episode of Love and Hip-Hop: New York aired in which one character breaks up with his girlfriend by saying “you’re canceled,” the phrase began to take off on Black Twitter.  It eventually made its way into mainstream culture, moving from a phrase you would use around your friends in a funny way to a phrase you would use to promote boycotting a celebrity whose actions you disagreed with.

One of the most notable springboards of cancel culture is the #MeToo movement, where canceling has been used to call out actual crimes committed by powerful figures. In some cases like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, there were factual, verifiable allegations that led to cancelation. With other proven-true cases like Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K., their careers were certainly tainted after allegations, but have since resumed as they were before. However, other cases weren’t so cut-and-dry. Allegations of sexual assault against Cole Sprouse and Justin Bieber were actually found to be entirely false, making the cancelations misinformed and unnecessary.

Cancel culture drawbacks

The #MeToo movement is only a fraction of cancel stories. Cancel culture has grown substantially and will more than likely continue to do so. Nowadays, it’s all too common for a celebrity to be canceled for something they said or did, even if that action occurred years prior. Of course, we do not condone inappropriate language or behavior, but we do question the idea of canceling someone without room for grace, listening, or forgiveness of any kind.

One problem with cancel culture is that it’s just as fleeting as the regular news cycle. A celebrity can be canceled one day, forgiven and forgotten about the next. Stars like Kanye West, Jeffree Star, and Camila Cabello have all been canceled before, yet fans continue to support them as if nothing happened. In many cases, a quick apology post or video is enough for once-enraged people to move on and forget about someone’s cancelation altogether. This quick-fix is worth questioning: Do people participate in cancel culture as a way to fit in with their peers, or are their opinions and reasons for canceling someone legitimate?

Though many have been forgiven and forgotten, no public figure is safe from cancel culture. Whether it’s re-interpreting something a celebrity says, or deep-diving to find something controversial, cancel culture invades privacy with the intent to harm an individual rather than raise awareness for an issue.

How does cancel culture affect Gen Z?

Gen Z relies on social media to be in-the-know about their world, so it’s natural to assume that they’re usually aware of whoever has been canceled on a daily basis. They’re passionate about social justice and activism, and quick to rally together to use their voices against things they disagree with. However, along with this, teens’ brains have not fully developed yet, meaning their wisdom and discernment have yet to fully mature. With the consistent outpour of cancelations, Gen Z may wonder who and what to believe, and be quicker to judge a celebrity based on what their peers say rather than what the facts say. In an effort to feel included, teens may rely on what social media says when they form their own opinions.

Discussion questions

While it’s important to talk to your teens about the repercussions of discrimination and misconduct, it’s equally important to make them aware of the repercussions of posting things on social media for anyone to see, as well as how to navigate showing grace to those who have. Use these questions to start a conversation with your teen about cancel culture.

  1. Do you know what cancel culture is?
  2. Have any celebrities you follow been canceled? Do you know why?
  3. Have you personally canceled anyone from your life, whether you know them personally or not? Why?
  4. How do you find out about someone being canceled?
  5. Do you think cancel culture is healthy? What are some other ways you can hold people accountable for their actions?
  6. At what point do you think someone should be canceled versus giving them another chance to prove that they learned from their mistake?
  7. Do you think it’s okay to cancel someone just because they have an opinion you don’t agree with?

(P.S. Check out our Parent’s Guide to Cancel Culture to continue the conversation with your teen!)

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