Featured image by Sarah Kauffman
By T’naya Anderson, JRN 111 Student
The world of social media can certainly be dark with its looming threats of social unacceptance, cyber bullying and false realities. Just when you think that’s all, startling whispers of a cancel culture float to the surface, and now you wonder, “Can I too get canceled?”
Cancel culture is society’s way of holding businesses, brands, media outlets or individuals accountable for their offensive actions and remarks by refusing to consume their work. In other words, it’s a moral compass.
Some worry cancel culture could infringe on our freedom of speech—or at least put a damper on our willingness to share ideas and beliefs. And that could pose a problem on college campuses, where the open exchange of ideas is essential to learning.
While the phenomenon of ‘cancel culture’ is new in its title, the act has always been around, though with significantly less press surrounding it. Over the past three years, at least 10 celebrities have been canceled per year, and the number is rising.
“It’s almost like it’s entertainment in a sick way,” said sociology professor Ricky Cobb. “When things start to go [bad], people get their popcorn, and they just want to watch.”
Things starting to go bad is an understatement. Recent cancel culture cases have involved everything from racist comments to allegations of sexual misconduct with minors.
Even cartoon characters like the Looney Tunes skunk Pepe Le Pew are being canceled. As The Guardian reports, the character will not appear in the new “Space Jam” sequel: “Pepe is no longer invited to the party on account of his defining characteristic being ‘sexual predator who never takes “no” for an answer.’”
Like a wave, tweets containing hashtags such as “#TaylorSwiftIsOver” and accounts dedicated to financially muting R. Kelly begin to surface, unanimously deciding to end careers. But, the decision is not unanimous; in fact, it is not discussed, leaving many to feel like villains if they choose not to participate. These are effects of a spectacle experts refer to as “groupthink.”
Groupthink, as explained by Cobb, is the perception that everyone shares the same opinion, thus eliminating individual thinking and creativity. Groupthink comes from the relationship between in-groups and out-groups; you are expected to be fully committed to your side and opposed to the other.
“It’s become so tribal, where if I don’t validate the canceling of somebody, then the assumption is that I must be supportive of that idea that the person being canceled shared or expressed,” said Kevin Navratil, associate professor of political science and Democracy Commitment coordinator.
“It’s a way of signaling to your in-group that ‘I’m one with the team. I’m a tribal member.’”
The truth of the matter is that the world simply is not that black and white.
The 2020 presidential election added to the already heated debate of cancel culture after former President Donald Trump’s social media platforms were permanently “canceled.” Some argued this act was a direct attack on our First Amendment right of free speech.
People often see freedom of speech as the right to say anything without consequences. But Navratil clarifies that while our speech is protected to a certain extent from government punishment, those often-neglected Terms and Conditions we sign for private businesses give them the right to inflict consequences.
So how is cancel culture handled at Moraine Valley?
At Moraine’s Fine and Performing Arts Center, the goal is to keep the drama on the stage. Thomas Hensel, the FPAC’s managing director, says the focus is on being responsive rather than reactive.
“A reaction is an instant thing, an emotional thing,” Hensel said. “A response means that you’ve stopped and thought about it before you make a decision.”
Those words were put into action when a controversial artist was booked for the Center.
“We did have an artist accused of sexual misconduct by someone…and it turned out that it was not true,” said Hensel. “A lot of people would have reacted and would have added to the drama.”
In the classroom, Moraine encourages its professors to have those tough conversations as another avenue of learning for students.
For some students, however, there is a certain discomfort about voicing their true opinions in class settings. Navratil said he noticed his students have been more willing to contribute via online discussion boards than in person.
But he continues to strive to foster open-minded civil discourse.
“The college classroom is a great space for us to explore ideas and various perspectives and to make sure it’s a welcoming environment,” said Navratil. “I’ve always really tried to promote a culture of stability, of openness, of mutual respect.”