Ditulis Oleh: Zefanya Aprillia
Disunting Oleh: Alice Pricillya & Zania Putri
Ilustrasi Oleh: Bima Oktavian
Around the end of May, #DojaCatIsOverParty became a trending topic on Twitter after videos showing pop star icon Doja Cat in racist chat rooms laughing at racist jokes were posted online. Later in June, #CucoIsOverParty followed closely behind when a screenshot exposed an allegedly inappropriate conversation between Cuco – an 18-year-old Chicano indie singer – and a 15-year-old girl. Netizens were outraged at their behavior and tried hard to boycott them both through an act that goes by the name ‘cancel culture’.
Though the term is relatively new, the concept behind cancel culture is not. Dr. Jill McCorkel, a professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University, explained that as far as human history goes, societies have always had the inclination to punish those who hold unpopular views and acted outside the social norms (Kato, 2020). Cancel culture is simply a new variation. It is an act of publicly boycotting anyone who says or does something offensive either by not watching their movies, not purchasing their arts, firing them, or even closing down their business. We often see celebrities and public figures getting cancelled, but it can happen to anyone, including you.
Cancel culture came into prominence during the #MeToo era in 2017 when many big names like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Bill Cosby were discovered to have committed sexual crimes and assaults in the past but have managed to evade the consequences of their actions for years. Now that their cases were blown out into the public, many of them faced cancellations which resulted in a hit to their reputation, and in some cases, ended their careers.
Some might argue that cancelling someone’s career and reputation – especially if it is a public figure – is an appropriate punishment, one that they deserve. An example of this would be the two times Academy Awards winner, Kevin Spacey. It is fair to say that his career was truly cancelled or ended after 15 sexual misconduct allegations (Puente, 2017) against him came to light in October 2017, some of which span decades before the #MeToo era. As a consequence, his already-shot footage in ‘All the Money in The World’ was omitted and replaced by Christopher Plummer. Furthermore, he was removed from his roles as lead cast and executive producer of Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’. Netflix went a step further by cutting all ties with him, and he has not shown his face in any other movies ever since. Although this was an unimaginable nightmare for a once-beloved actor like him, it was also the long-overdue punishment he deserved.
Like everything else, however, cancel culture has its bright and dark sides. Spacey’s and other cases that pushed the #MeToo movement forward showed that cancel culture can be an effective way to remind offenders that everything has its consequences, but it can also turn into a merciless tool in judging and condemning people. When not used properly, cancel culture can have adverse impacts on people’s lives, their mental health included.
What Makes Cancel Culture Dangerous?
Cancel culture becomes problematic when it follows the fast pace of mainstream media. Surveys showed that people spend an average of 15 seconds or less reading an article on their social media and 10 seconds or less to watch a news video (Martin, 2018). The lack of effort to fact-check sources and read more than headlines prompted some to immediately take rumours as facts and misinterpret words and actions out of context. On top of that, people’s tendency to judge at first instance without taking into account the other side of the story or even consider the possibility of it being a false accusation made it easier for lies to spread faster than the truth. By the time we realized we’d pointed the wrong finger, the damage had been done, sometimes irreversible.
Another problem with cancel culture occurs when people focus too much on the past and doubt that change is possible. The hashtag #JimmyFallonIsOverParty came up when Netizens noticed a video of him in blackface imitating Chris Rock. Many were quick to express their disappointment, but one user reminded everyone that the video was made 20 years ago when Fallon was young and had to listen to his employer to keep his job. What Fallon did may have been wrong, for whatever reasons, but he hasn’t done anything similar since and has apologized for it. McCorkel agreed that we can be quick to cancel but not so eager to forgive or believe that people can learn from mistakes. Her extensive knowledge and experience in the field of criminal justice systems have proven to her that people are capable of rehabilitation (Kato, 2020). Take Malcolm X, who went to jail as a criminal but later came out transformed into a civil-rights movement leader, showing that when guided, people can change.
Should Offenders’ Misconduct Be Kept Separated from Their Work?
After Cuco’s controversy, my friends and I discussed the question through social media. One friend argued that what artists do outside of their creative process should not tarnish the art, because their misconduct is a different subject, or in Daniel Swift’s words, “Great poetry was when the poet managed to eradicate all traces of the individual self from the poem he was writing — not by looking for traces of the author’s life, and not looking for what the author might have intended, but instead seeing it as self-contained and self-referential and separate from the world,” (Grady, 2019).
Hearing this argument, another friend countered it by saying that if we separate the art from the artist, we’re condoning their actions. She argued that art is a form of self-expression, thus it tends to reflect who the creator is as a person and what he/she believes in.
Consequently, in regards to Doja Cat and Cuco’s case, I personally have not lost my respect for them because I think it is still too early to judge them based on the biased media reporting without understanding both sides’ perspectives. Both of them have provided the public with clarifications about the matter, which is the right first step. If their accusers were right, I would opt to show less support by not streaming or buying their arts, not by chiming in on the hate comments.
Then again, it all comes back to our personal values and beliefs, whether or not we can still love the art despite knowing the troubling past of its creator, or if we can recreate our love towards that art after seeing it in a different light.
Cancel Culture Need Not Be Cancelled, but Used Wisely!
When used correctly, cancel culture can be a very powerful tool that all of us can use to help victims get the justice they deserve and held offenders accountable for their actions, as is the case in Spacey and the #MeToo movement. With cases of misconduct publicly reported, it forces the authority to investigate further into the matter and offenders can no longer hide behind their wealth and connections. However, the act of cancelling people is and must not be the end-mean punishment. It may be a nightmare for artists to end their careers after being cancelled, but a legal proceeding to ensure that these offenders are legally held accountable must be the ultimate punishment that they have to bear, and they shouldn’t be treated indifferently just because they were powerful and wealthy.
In cases where the offenses were less grave, committed because of misunderstandings and not deliberate ignorance, simply ending someone’s career would not bring anyone any good. Mistakes cannot be undone, and taking away their second chances to repent won’t help them learn. What we can do is to be upfront about what people have done wrong instead of completely cancelling them. This way, it gives offenders a chance to understand, learn, and grow from their mistakes. Nevertheless, this does not mean that legal punishment is unnecessary. If harm has been done based on the law, it is also our responsibility to make sure they are punished proportionately to their actions. But we should believe that with some help and guidance, as well as appropriate punishments, everyone can change for the better. It may be hard and slow, but not altogether impossible.
Most important of all, we must be careful and wise in separating baseless accusations from the truth and refrain from making any rash judgments before understanding the whole story.
Grady, C. (2019), Michael Jackson’s music and Louis CK’s comedy after #MeToo, Vox [online]. Available at: https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/10/11/17933686/me-too-separating-artist-art-johnny-depp-woody-allen-michael-jackson-louis-ck [Accessed 25 October 2020]
Kato, B. (2020), What is cancel culture? Everything to know about the toxic online trend, New York Post [online]. Available at: https://nypost.com/article/what-is-cancel-culture-breaking-down-the-toxic-online-trend/ [Accessed 25 October 2020]
Martin, N. (2018), How Social Media Has Changed How We Consume News, Forbes [online]. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolemartin1/2018/11/30/how-social-media-has-changed-how-we-consume-news/#42c8b9c93c3c [Accessed 25 October 2020]
Puente, M. (2017), Kevin Spacey scandal: A complete list of the 15 accusers, USA Today [online]. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2017/11/07/kevin-spacey-scandal-complete-list-13-accusers/835739001/ [Accessed 25 October 2020]