Kevin Hart an Ellen DeGeneres. Picture: Supplied
Kevin Hart an Ellen DeGeneres. Picture: Supplied

We need to talk about cancel culture and what it means for pop culture figures

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Apr 2, 2021

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Cancel culture. The two words that, over the years, have elicited different reactions.

There are those who understand why it is necessary, and there are those who have turned it into something sinister, almost like the Salem Witch Hunts.

Cancel culture was initially all about calling out an influential person for their misdeeds in society.

Whether it was their utterances or behaviour, or their being a bigot, social media users rallied together to bring to light what the influential person has done wrong.

When the phrase was first birthed, it was all about the cultural boycott of certain celebrities, brands, companies, or even television and films for the wrongs that they have done.

While it reached the mainstream in 2016, cancel culture was a big trend in the early 2010s on Tumblr, where many Tumblr bloggers were writing about problematic faves.

Fans would write about why their favourite stars were imperfect and why they were not going to support them anymore.

Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Kevin Hart, Ellen DeGeneres and JK Rowling are just some of the celebrities who have been “cancelled” by social media users.

For many of the celebrities, it was about them knowing that they needed to be accountable and apologise for what they have done or said.

Hart was cancelled for the homophobic comments he made a few years ago.

Swift was cancelled for how she treated Katy Perry and Calvin Harris.

DeGeneres was cancelled for how she treated her staff and Rowling for her transphobic comments.

West and Kardashian were cancelled for how they lied about Swift's feelings about a line in West's song, Famous. Chris Pratt was cancelled over claims that he was homophobic.

The #MeToo movement was a huge part of cancel culture. Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and R Kelly were cancelled by the public before they even went on trial for sex crimes.

It allowed women and men, to come out and tell the world what powerful men and women had done to them.

This has led to the boycott of many in Hollywood, among them Woody Allen, Armie Hammer, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, Russell Simmons, James Franco and Matt Lauer, for their sex crimes against women and men in Hollywood.

Harvey Weinstein. Picture: Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP, Pool

It is through cancel culture that this was able to happen. Victims felt safe enough to come out with their stories, some even after decades, because cancel culture had allowed society to take a mirror to itself and question how it had allowed the atrocities to happen for such a long time.

But it has turned into something sinister, mainly because the world is not comfortable with people in power being held accountable for their actions and their utterances. Many believe that nobody deserves to be defined by the mistakes they made.

However, what many miss about cancel culture is that it goes beyond the silly mistakes people have made. Cancel culture exists to call out the wrongdoing of people in positions of power.

And yet, even though many fear cancel culture, it hasn’t succeeded in toppling any major politicians and institutions, no matter how much noise is made about their wrongdoing.

Dr Seuss. Picture: Supplied

The cancel culture has returned to the spotlight following the realisation that literature and comic figures like Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss and the Looney Tunes are problematic.

Dahl anti-Semitism has come back to light; Dr Seuss has been accused of racism and Looney Tunes's lovesick skunk, Pepe Le Pew, of rape culture. And it has elicited strong feelings from both sides, with some saying that those complaining about decades old comments and actions are being snowflakes and are the reasons why they don't take cancel culture serious.

Six Dr Seuss books will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery. Dr Seuss Enterprises released a statement last month, saying: “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr Seuss Enterprises’ catalogue represents and supports all communities and families."

The Dahl family also released a statement on its website, apologising for the author's anti-Semitic comments.

"The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologize for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements.

Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations."

Pepe Le Pew. Picture: Warner Bros.

Pepe Le Pew has since been removed from the upcoming “Space Jam 2” movie starring LeBron James.

In the film, Pepe was set to be playing a bartender who hits on a woman and begins kissing her arm, which she pulls back and then slams Pepe into the chair next to hers.

She then pours her drink on and slaps him hard, sending him spinning in a stool, which is then stopped by James’s hand.

While cancelling someone is catchy for social media, the fact that the term has been taken over and derided by those who do not want to held accountable for their actions, has led to it losing its meaning.

It has become a gimmick used by mainly the far-right, to somehow prove how silly people are for calling out problematic things, be it racism in beloved children’s stories or hate speech in popular fiction.

I have long been calling for us to rename the phrase. Maybe we need to call it what it really is – consequences culture. And maybe that will keep everyone quiet.

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