“Cancel culture” refers to the internet sensation of withdrawing one’s support from celebrities on the grounds of personal ethicals after their mistakes (a term used loosely as they can be accidental or not) have been publicized. Think Taylor Swift, XXXTentacion, Morrissey, Cardi B, Kanye West. While it is disputable whether or not this form of boycott always proves effective (such as in comedian Kevin Hart’s case), musicians, actors, and other performers/artists alike rely on streams, views, and other forms of public support to fuel their careers.
Playing a song puts money—albeit a miniscule amount—into the pockets of content creators. It makes sense not to financially support someone you disagree with on an ethical basis if only this actually happened. In reality, it is easy to “cancel” someone in an effort to appear “woke” when it benefits us or play naive when it does not. After all, Chris Brown’s music seems to still be played and danced to at school dances.
I will readily admit that I have “cancelled” many artists as I continue to grow in my awareness of the implications of what I consume and the kinds of people I support by doing so. Money talks, and I would rather not line the pockets of those who unflinchingly and unapologetically engage in behavior and/or speech I do not condone. Does that make me sanctimonious? Then again, I will (reluctantly) admit that I have also given in to the pressure of watching a film made by someone I would prefer not to support. Does that make me apathetic?
I fear this trend has been taken too far by many—myself included. Let me be clear. Obviously no one should support a known abuser or bigot (although it is definitely often overlooked), but not allowing people in high visibility to learn and grow from their past mistakes sets a dangerous precedent for everyone else. Perhaps the most fruitful way to learn is by making a mistake, facing the consequences, owning up to it, and growing from it.
In an increasingly documented age, where everything is made both public and eternal digitally, there is little room to mess up. Without such mess ups, however, growth—in addition to upholding the standard of perfection—is impossible. It may be easy to value didactic, yet kind, criticism in our personal lives; after all, we seem to expect others to treat us in the same way as per the golden rule.
Whether that courtesy should be extended to celebrities of any caliber and how exactly we can teach people we will never know personally are questions with nuanced answers. Smart consumerism reaches far beyond cost.