What is "cancel culture" ? A phenomenon that's becoming more and more widespread and spares no one

If this term comes to us from the United States, it is gradually appearing all over the world. What is "cancel culture" or the cancellation of culture?

We hear more and more about it. Cancel culture seems to be raging online. But what is it? This term, which can also be called the culture of cancellation, is a call to boycott a person, physical or moral after the latter has had comments or acts deemed problematic. This can relate to racist, sexist, or even LGBT views. The call to boycott JK Rowling after his transphobic comments on Twitter, for example, is called cancel culture. At the heart of many debates, many consider that it does not necessarily solve all the scourges of our contemporary society.

In 2019, for example, at the Obama Foundation summit in Chicago, Barack Obama explained: "There are people who believe that to change things, it is enough to constantly judge and criticize others. But it is not activism. " So, is cancel culture deemed a method of activism to provide a better society overall, or does it damage individual causes? This phenomenon is expressed in many ways but is manifested particularly en masse on social networks.

A phenomenon that goes way back

If the cancel culture seems more and more common lately, it goes back a long way. More precisely, it comes from the United States where it is integrated into a religious tradition, but also a political one. This is not a new phenomenon. I have several examples in mind... 

For example, throughout history, it was common for certain places of worship to be replaced during the phases of Christianity, sometimes at the request of the people.

I am thinking in particular of the cathedral of Cordoba, first a temple Roman, then a mosque then a cathedral. For a long time, and long before social networks, there were many cases similar to this movement, often social, trying to erase the terrible memories of the past. A practice that borders on the culture of denouncing, thus recalling those "WANTED" posters that we see in westerns.

A democratized phenomenon on social networks

The cancel culture seems to have developed mainly on social networks with the #Metoo movement. Indeed, if it has enabled many women victims of sexual violence to break the silence around this subject, it is especially through social networks. And this is undoubtedly one of the positive points of this movement: it makes it possible to lift the veil on subjects until now taboo and to open a debate around systemic discriminations which, previously, were overlooked. But many wonder about the methods of those who use it. Twitter seems to be, today, a major witness of cancel culture.

An artist is accused of sexual assault? It is "canceled". A personality made racist remarks several years ago and his outrageous tweets are resurfacing: he is also "canceled". This is also called being "call out". This practice is spread en masse by so-called “woke” populations, that is to say, “awake” and militant for a more inclusive world and in the hope that justice will be done. Because, if the cancel culture is not unanimous, it exists above all to make the greatest number aware of social justice: sexism, racism, and all forms of discrimination are denounced through this prism. This would, therefore, enable people to face up to their responsibilities.

Should we take part in this?

If cancel culture is a term that is gaining in importance, it spares no one. We saw it with several personalities recently. JK Rowling was set on fire by the Twittosphere after making comments deemed transphobic. Many are those who have decided to no longer support the British writer, to the point of clearing the Harry Potter saga. Also among the personalities who have been through this is Lea Michele who, after tweeting about the Black Lives Matter movement, was accused of racism by a former Glee colleague while they were filming together on the show. The consequences of this cancel culture were such that, in addition to the flood of negative comments about her, Lea Michele would have lost sponsors and other contracts.

Apart from the personalities who have had to face the cancel culture, there are also works, series, and films for example, which are no longer unanimous at all. The cult series Friends, for example, is today accused of glossophobia, transphobia, and lack of inclusiveness, according to public opinion.

And it is not at all. With the Black Lives Matter movement, which has resurfaced since racist police violence has once again been at the heart of the debate, some broadcasters are questioning the legitimacy of their works on their streaming platforms. In the face of the popularization of whistleblowing on the Internet, the film Gone with the Wind, for example, was temporarily removed from HBO Max. The leaders of the platform considered that this film, now considered racist and reductive, should be viewed with a mention of the social and political context in which it was produced. So, how to react to these problematic works which, today, are considered discriminatory or reductive? Taking a step back, putting them in their context, and looking at them with didactic prevention would seem to be a solution for many.

A movement that contributes to online harassment?

But what happens to a "canceled" personality? Besides the broken contracts, there is also the psychological pressure that is exerted. If the cancel culture is most visible on social networks, it often generates a form of nameless cyberstalking. And the important thing to remember is that online harassment is rooted in the real world. It creates isolation for those who experience it, the loss of social media followers can be significant, and the backlash is considerable. Worse yet, it can impact loved ones and family and create real psychological consequences.

This phenomenon recalls the responsibility of people accused of problematic comments, but also those of people who are anchored in this cancel culture and propagate it. The idea of ​​this movement starts from a principle of denunciation to advance social struggles and give them more visibility. Indeed, it lifts the veil on real discrimination and that's good. But it generates such hatred that we may forget the spirit of benevolence that the fight against injustice should be.

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