From those colorful camouflage pants that quickly made headlines before falling off the face of social media, to the obsession with Kylie Jenner's "Rise and Shine" jingle that lasted just long enough for her to create subpar merch, the "younger generation"-as my baby boomer parents like to call us-has an unparalleled ability to catapult the things we love to universal popularity, even if only for a moment. Now, how does this talent treat the things we don't like, you ask? Two words: cancel culture.
According to dictionary.com, cancel culture is defined as "the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive." Intense, I know. On one hand, this entire concept can cause a lot of problems. Not only is the word "cancel" in and of itself quite toxic, as it suggests that those who make mistakes should be completely erased, but the practice of non-forgiving "cancellation" also devalues the necessary experiences of learning and growing from life's missteps.
When it comes to more serious offenses, however, our generation's attention to political correctness can make canceling a pretty position action. For example, YouTube giant Shane Dawson's recent cancel scandal revealed several accounts of racism and pedophilic tendencies throughout his expansive library of content. In one particularly damning video, he can be seen in blatant blackface in an attempt to "impersonate" Nicki Minaj for a YouTube skit. In another, he's shown pretending to perform sexual acts on a poster of a then-11-year-old Willow Smith.
In addition to facing several consequences following social media's uproar over his problematic history, including having all of his channels demonetized by Youtube and losing over 1 million subscribers, Shane Dawson's cancellation not only brought several kids, parents, and other viewers out of the blissful world of ignorance, but it also reinforced the idea that-as actor-turned-rapper Jaden Smith so eloquently said-creators who don't respect or support the morals of their viewers probably shouldn't be supported themselves.
Now, here's where things get tricky. As I mentioned above, canceling can be beneficial when the circumstances are dire. From Harvey Weinstein to Bryan Singer, cancel culture has helped us successfully blackball huge Hollywood figures with disgusting, hidden histories of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. Nonetheless, there are many different ways in which cancel culture can go from necessary and informative to ugly and harmful real quick.
The first way, and probably the most dangerous, is bullying. This occurs when social media users veer from the productive conversation surrounding a public person's mistake(s) and begin to dish out cruel attacks, sometimes even threats, to the figure at fault. For instance, YouTuber Colleen Ballinger, who doubles as the popular character Miranda Sings, fell victim to such bullying earlier this year, after 17-year-old Adam McIntyre revealed accounts of Ballinger's exploitation, inappropriate behavior, and online harassment. In a 14-minute video addressing both McIntyre's claims and the slew of resulting social media backlash, Ballinger took the time to apologize for her errors while making a poignant statement about the difference between constructive criticism that aids her in the process of growing from her wrongdoings, and hateful comments calling her a "monster," a "groomer," and even encouraging her to commit suicide.
This bullying phenomenon is not only extremely harmful to the mental health of those on the receiving end, but it also takes credibility away from the reason why they're being canceled at all. While Ballinger was able to weed through the bullying and acknowledge the root of the criticism against her, figures such as Trisha Paytas, who has been canceled numerous times for offenses like mocking dissociative identity disorder (DID) and the transgender community, have begun to dismiss all of the commentary on their mistakes as "hate," leading to no public accountability for their actions and no very necessary growth.
This brings us to the second flaw of cancel culture: false accusations. Whereas internet bullies take advantage of legitimate canceling moments to be cruel, others spread falsities about celebs in hot water in an effort to curate additional hatred. Then, regardless of whether or not social media users are able to validate their information, the reputation of a completely innocent person could end at the hands of Twitter's trending page.
Take 5 Seconds of Summer member Michael Clifford, for example. This past June, chaos ensued on social media after a Twitter user accused the guitarist of sexually assaulting her at a One Direction concert back in 2014. First and foremost, it is so important to remember that we should always listen to sexual assault allegations with utmost care and urgency. As a result, the world almost instantaneously canceled Clifford as 5SOS fans shared statements of shock, anger, and sorrow.
After catching wind of the allegations made against him, Clifford posted multiple tweets in his defense and asserted that the alleged victim's recounts were "beyond untrue." Still, in rightful solidarity with Clifford's accuser, the hate persisted, some people insisting that the guitarist should be removed from 5SOS immediately. However, later, the aforementioned Twitter account returned to the platform to announce that she was withdrawing all accusations against Clifford. She apologized for any damage she may have caused and admitted that she'd accused the wrong person.
While it's great that this false accuser issued a formal statement to retract her claims, her accusations made enough of an impact to reach publications like Rolling Stone and Variety. Clifford is nowhere near perfect, as he's repeatedly come under fire for offensive tweets posted throughout the height of 5SOS's popularity. However, the blatant disregard for factual evidence when it comes to canceling has left him and several other celebrities, from Johnny Depp to Justin Bieber, scarred by some extremely serious allegations. Whether it's the fast-paced nature of social media that allows us to see information and run with it, or the shock that comes with seeing negative claims about our faves, cancel culture will be much better off when we learn to wait to speak until we know the truth.
The last important issue I've noticed with cancel culture is the picking and choosing, otherwise known as the art of "problematic faves." As I mentioned earlier, social media users can be extremely unforgiving when it comes to canceling. However, instead of erasing certain adored figures for their offenses, many fans easily forgive them because they're either too attractive, too talented, or too entertaining to let go.
While the infamy of these figures is addressed- hence the term "problematic fave"-it's often referred to in an endearing manner and excused as a lovable personality trait. This is not only extremely confusing, as there's never quite a consistent formula for who gets away with the same mistakes that others get in trouble for, but it also creates a toxic environment in which accountability is only demanded from those who aren't universally loved.
One of the most controversial "problematic faves" is musician Chris Brown, whose most notable offense was physically abusing his then-girlfriend and current global superstar Rihanna in 2009.
Since then, he's continued to make trending pages time and time again for violent and sexually abusive behavior. However, instead of being canceled and facing the same repercussions as several other abusive musicians have, he continues to be respected in the hip-hop and R&B communities, collaborate with other artists (remember Lil Dicky's Freaky Friday?), receive ample radio play, and acquire adoration from millions of defensive fans around the world. Other "problematic faces" include Jeffree Star, Trisha Paytas, Tana Mongeau, Kanye West, Azealia Banks, and the Kardashians, although this list is by no means exhaustive.
So, where does this leave us? On one hand, cancel culture reflects the "younger generation's" unprecedented social awareness and admirable dedication to making the world a less ignorant place. However, the toxicity that seeps through these good intentions has left us with a trend that endorses bullying, harassment, defamation, and double standards. Unfortunately, I don't think cancel culture is going anywhere any time soon.
However, to help cancel culture reach its full potential, we all need to take a trip back to the basics: constructive criticism, consistency, and consulting facts, while leaving room for growth and improvement. Until then, as we continue to maneuver through the worlds of pop culture, politics, activism, and everything in-between, we must take some time to understand the impact of the choices we make on social media. Our generation's power is inspiring, overwhelming, and just a little bit dangerous. Here's to using it wisely.