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Cancel Culture affects Everyone - the Cancelled, the Canceller & Bystanders!

Cancel Culture which also has been named “boycott culture” is a modern movement which involves “cancelling” or removing someone from social and professional circles either through social media platforms or in person. One thing which needs to be looked at when it comes to cancel culture is that it has several impacts on Mental Health and wellbeing of all individuals affected, be it the one being cancelled, the canceller or the bystanders who notice the cancelling.

A simple way to explain what cancel culture feels like would be saying something, regretting it and all of a sudden no one, not even some of your friends will talk to you. A feeling that no one cares about you and that one comment has completely defined you as a person. It would be like all of your friends just moving on without you and you are left there sitting in guilt and regret, feeling incredibly alone, with no one to talk to.

In the past couple of years or so the term “cancelled” has taken off on social media and has been coined as a term of power. Cancel culture has been considered acceptable by some people in some cases because it seemed to provide a way for marginalized individuals and groups to silence someone they deemed hurtful. As a result, powerful individuals or groups that would otherwise evade responsibility for their destructive behaviours would be exposed to the facts and face the consequences. A community that unites against someone who has done something unforgivable can be empowering. While it can also make people think twice before behaving inappropriately or posting offensive comments, there are also negative effects resulting from cancel culture where cancelled has become another word for boycott and has become a toxic action that is affecting our mental health. This piece will look at how cancel culture plays out as well as the impact that Cancel Culture has on everyone involved - the cancelled, the canceller and the bystanders.

When someone gets cancelled for whatever reason they are essentially boycotted by a large group of people, be it online or in person by people who may or may not be their fan base. This not only leads to massive declines in the person’ reputation and fanbase but also their career progression. Once someone has been cancelled it can be quite difficult for them to redeem themselves. The reason cancel culture is so toxic is because it represents something akin to mob rule and a form of vigilantism for the digital age. There is only deletion, no chance for revision or redaction; no amendments or second chances. It’s very much a case of the loud minority taking over the casting vote and deciding what the public opinion on a given person, event or idea should be. Even if what the person did or said was wrong, we all make mistakes. The issue with cancel culture is there doesn’t seem to be much of a threshold for error, any single off comment or even statements that are dug up from the past can result in someone getting cancelled without a chance to improve, apologise or learn from their mistakes. If cancel culture continues to cultivate punishments on those hoping to redeem themselves – this leaves no room for resolution, all of which makes cancel culture part of the original problem.

First let us look at Cancel Culture from the perspective of the individual who has been cancelled. Unfortunately, cancelling more often than not turns into bullying and can lead to an individual feeling socially isolated and lonely which in turn is linked to anxiety, trauma, fear and depression. An individual being cancelled might feel as if everyone is giving up on them even before they have a chance to apologises. Cancel Culture works in a way where instead of creating a communication to help someone understand how their actions have been hurtful, the cancelers shut off all communication and essentially robbing a person of the opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes. The bullying, hate and often toxic comments which come up as part of the cancelling can be traumatic for many individuals and can hurt their self-esteem. It can also induce fear and anxiety and make them second doubt everything they want to do or say owing to the fear of being cancelled again.

Moving forward, let us look at the canceller, the individual(s) engaging in the Cancel Culture. While every individual has the right to set their own boundaries to decide what boosts them and what them you; they also have the right to decide who and what gets their attention, money, and support to. But it is helpful to realise that by cancelling the offending person (or brand) doesn't make them go away and publicly shaming someone is unlikely to change their beliefs. Instead, it might end up pushing them to defend their egos and reputation. Learning the whole story or doing background research is crucial when thinking about contributing to the cancellation of someone. It is imperative to know all the information of a certain situation, all the facts and the point of view from the person or brand being targeted. In the end, everyone has their own opinions and way of life, that overall, that is something which needs to be respected.

Cancel culture doesn’t just affect the cancelled and the cancelers, It can also affect the bystanders’ mental health. By witnessing so many people being cancelled, some bystanders can get troubled with fear, worry and anxiety. They may become overwhelmed with anxiety that people will turn on them one day and that others will find something in their pasts to use against them. Owing to this, instead of saying something and drawing attention to themselves, they remain silent and thus long after the incident is over, some bystanders can be weighed down with guilt for not standing up for someone when they had the chance.

Essentially, we all make mistakes throughout life. One of the problems with cancelling culture is that it runs along a perfection paradigm. This era of Cancel Culture dehumanizes others for making mistake. It is worthwhile to reflect that would it not make sense for society to, perhaps, invoke a grace period before casting the first stone? Think about it, do we really believe someone is expendable, worthy of disregard, simply because of something they may have said that may have been taken out of context or may have merely been made during a lapse in judgment? Know that people are more than just a tweet, a Facebook post or a 15 second Instagram video - sometimes we need to give them the benefit of doubt. If someone makes a whopping mistake – people often stop supporting them, there is also a lack of forgiveness among communities and friends. This lack of forgiveness is terrible for everyone as it leads to this notion that we should behave and be perfect all of the time; cancellation also offers little hope for those seeking redemption.

It is time to turn our attention to something progressive instead. While it is important to speak up and point out what is wrong with something that has been said, it is important to be empathetic and reflect on how we want to go about that. When you hear someone saying something that could be hurtful for another member of society, speak up on it but don’t cancel the person. The goal here is to educate the person who made the remark on why it was wrong and educate others to not repeat similar things. Simply cancelling someone because we disagree with their position does nothing constructive. Engaging in a respectful exchange of opinions while working toward the same goals is how we will thrive and grow as a society. This how we all learn and can do better, cancelling someone is not the solution.


Written by: Yash Mehrotra

June, 2022


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