You’ve probably heard numerous stories containing the infamous buzz phrase “cancel culture” over family dinners and gossip sessions. Repetitive jargon like this often undergoes what some scholars refer to as semantic bleaching, which means the original definition of the word is misconstrued and adopts several other meanings or connotations.
Semantic bleaching causes terms such as cancel culture to either lose momentum in debates or simply fill in empty spaces of conversation without consideration for the actual meaning behind the term.
Let’s put aside the loaded term and focus rather on what it is the masses hope to benefit from cancel culture — holding people accountable.
Accountability is the foundation for any good democracy. Hence the clause on checks and balances in the constitution and the media releasing lucrative documents for public knowledge. But how do we hold people accountable?
The internet has taken charge in the last few years, attempting to discipline celebrities, figureheads, politicians and anyone else in the public’s eye. People are often perceived in two extremes: great or terrible.
Ellen DeGeneres, Will Smith, JoJo Siwa, Olivia Rodrigo and so many more have gone from an era of overwhelming public love to intense public hatred. Shane Dawson’s time in the public eye best shows this.
The widely-known internet creator gained popularity over several decades, but his career came to a head in 2017. At the time, he was becoming known as a relatable comedian, revolutionizing the way YouTube videos were made. He’d go on to win Creator of the Year at the Streamy Awards, one of the biggest award ceremonies for internet creators. His downfall happened swiftly and was well deserved. But how the public handled the situation was another story.
Fans of the creator were enraged and disappointed by his behavior, as they previously idolized him. Dawson was someone everyone could relate to and empathize with. Losing a role model like that was devastating for many, and it showed when the creator was pushed off the internet. It set a dangerous precedent for others and instilled fear in those with public careers.
The problem with this black-and-white thinking is that people are really complicated. Negative actions don’t always correlate to bad character. If a child cheats on a math test, or a mother shouts at her kids, does that mean they deserve to be condemned? What if they didn’t know any better?
To fight against cancel culture, maintain accountability and protect impressionable viewers, we must begin to look at well-known people as just that: people. Not as something to idolize.
Let’s start idolizing actions rather than people. We can appreciate Bob Ross’s gentle aura, Kanye West’s music or Benjamin Franklin’s inventions without putting the people themselves on a pedestal. Otherwise, we are just setting ourselves up for disappointment.