Table of Contents
- The Unjust Accusation of Okrent and Cancel Culture
- The Harm of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture defines the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. The benefits of social media are often extolled in popular culture, however, social media possesses a malignant side from the development of call-out culture. Call-out culture is characterized by large degrees of inaccuracy, illogical punishment, and toxic mindsets from extreme idealism. Cancel culture has been proven to be problematic by engaging in unfair treatment to the perpetrator, long-term harm to the perpetrator and victim, and its restriction to the autonomy of perpetrators through censorship. Cancel culture tends to not share the conclusive story, thereby failing to provide sufficient context to evaluate, resulting in a situation that is often misjudged and misled.
The Unjust Accusation of Okrent and Cancel Culture
An incident on December 11, 2017, caused the founder, Okrent, of the Punk Rock Flea Market to be widely accused on social media of being a Nazi sympathizer. Also, a conspiracy surfaced that the market was involved to be a front for white nationalists who were trying to recruit new members. This fiasco started from a brief confrontation with someone becoming upset with a vendor selling a t-shirt of the Pillsbury Doughboy in a “Heil Hitler” salute and the text underneath reading “White Flour”. The customer then proceeded to yell at the vendor and tearing goods from the booth. Okrent was in charge of diffusing the situation peacefully, but when that didn't work; one of his fellow organizers called security who escorted the customer out. The story spread and mutated online, aided in part by the tendency of individuals to perpetuate self-righteous outrage regardless of the true facts. Okrent, a Jewish father of two who has Holocaust survivors in his family history was being indicted as white Nazi scum who kicked a woman of color out of his flea market. In reality, the unhappy customer was caucasian, and Okrent main goal was to alleviate a tense situation. However, all people cared about online was punishing and exposing the “white nationalist organization”. Okrent was unjustly accused, judged, and condemned for an alleged transgression from anyone who has access to social media, and more importantly, did not know him or the situation. Online platforms impede us from the ability to use our conscious.
The Harm of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture is an extremely harmful punishment that can diminish future prospects and destroy the individual's reputation which may lead to an increase risk of suicide. Cancel culture is a version of bullying with the similar theme of dominance and punishment. The just goal of cancel culture should be for the perpetrator to recognize the harm in their actions; however our use of it is ironic because the unrestrained online users don't even recognize the harm they could create for the perpetrator with the damaging reputation and long-term psychological trauma. Online users turn into the perpetrator with the harsh language and actions they display through social media. Cancel culture is more interested with the thrill of social assassination, rather than changing undesirable behavior. Victims of micro-aggression, racial slurs, or discrimination have a right to be angry; however, it also harms the individual more by causing distress with the use of righteous anger view. If your only looking for the negative in life you can always find it. A 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry by researchers at Duke University found that both bullies and people who were bullied have an increased risk of depression, panic disorder, and behavioral, educational, and emotional problems.
Every individual has the freedom to speech, but cancel culture prevents people from speaking their minds because they are too scared of being unfriended, shunned, or dismissed. It is morally unacceptable to ostracize someone for their beliefs or ideas, just like with culture, race, or gender. This would make public speech become censored not from the government, but society. This would cause a negative feedback loop in which society cannot prosper to a concession with major issues. To grow and prosper, we need to be exposed to a variety of opinions, but still respect everybody's perspective. Society needs to learn to not have extremists views to compromise. The idea of freedom of speech is to ensure protection for individuals to participate freely in discussion without being attacked, but it is encouraged for individuals to question each other on their beliefs or reasons. However, free speech does not mean giving bigots a free pass. Harsh language, tone, or action in any situation is unwarranted.
Being called-out leads to public attention which will reprimand the individual or group; however, if who was being called-out was not in a position of power then this “negative” attention will give them a wider platform to spread their agenda. Even if the vast majority of the attention is negative, it could bring more followers. This scenario is proven with the YouTuber Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh whose videos are wildly misogynistic and homophobic; he even advocated for the legalization of rape.
Eventually, Daryush was canceled and faced media scrutiny and threats from women's groups to disrupt his events. The side effect from the mass media coverage is that it provided Roosh and his followers with more attention than ever before. So, protestors have inadvertently spread Roosh's messages of hate for him which is evident from his increase of subscriber count from 19,000 to 21,500, about a thirteen percent increase. Mass media coverage can accumulate like-minded individuals together to combat social excommunication. It would be more effective and better for humanity to show them the errors in their way than to divide them from the rest of society. Being called-out leads to decreased use of racial slurs or discrimination on social media; however, correction does not change individuals' normative behaviors. It only inserts fear to the individual of using tactics such as shaming, ostracizing, and punishing. These are the same tactics used for causing oppression, discrimination, and bullying.
Cancel culture is an endless vicious cycle. If call-out culture was inserted into society out of love to influence each other to be better as a community and a society then it would be more effective; however, we know this couldn't happen in today's polarized society. The main impact of calling someone out is that we get to feel like we punished them. People want to hold each other to a certain standard by policing their diction and tone which is a good goal; however, it is not realistic. People come from different backgrounds where they might not be politically conscious, so it takes time for them to learn the right non-offensive lingo. It is also unfair to call someone out who is simply misinformed because it undermines the purpose of social justice. Call-out culture effectively eliminates the basic tenet of America's legal system “innocent until proven guilty.”
Finally, bringing up old posts and quotes from years ago to decry someone as villain when they no longer speak or act that way undermines how people can grow and change. Addressing harmful behavior or language is important, but there is a more respectable way to do so by calling-in. A call-in is privately taking someone aside and explaining what they did wrong without attracting negative attention to the issue itself. Call-ins are more effective than call-outs when the person is genuinely clueless or confused, not malice, and is willing to improve themselves and their behavior.
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- Alexander, Roberta, and Brian Krans . “Anxiety, Depression & Suicide: The Lasting Effects of Bullying .” Healthline, 2016, www.healthline.com/health-news/bullying-affects-victims-and-bullies-into-adulthood-022013#5.
- Herzog, Katie. “Nazi Doughboy T-Shirt Leads to Punk Rock Flea Market Boycotts .”The Stranger, 15 Dec. 2017, www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/12/15/25630951/nazi-dough-boy-t-shirt-leads-to-punk-rock-flea-market-boycotts.
- Johnson, Maisha. “6 Signs Your Call-Out Is About Ego and Not Accountability .”The Body Is Not an Apology, 2019, thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/6-signs-your-call-out-isnt-actually-about-accountability/.
- O'Neill , Michael. “The Pitfalls of Call-Out Culture.” Brown Political Review, 2016, www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2016/05/26760/