What is cancellation culture? Meaning explained
Many celebrities have been ‘cancelled’ online, like comedian Dave Chappelle and Harry Potter author JK Rowling
Language is something that is constantly changing, and many words and expressions that have been around forever have taken on new meanings in the past couple of years – such as the term “cancelled”.
Once used to describe something like a show that doesn’t have another season or a concert that’s no longer taking place, “cancelled” and “cancelled” have taken on new meanings.
What does it mean to be “cancelled” – and what exactly is “cancel culture”? That’s all you need to know.
What does cancel culture mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines cancel culture as “the practice or tendency to engage in mass cancellation as a means of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure”.
It usually refers to when a person or company is called out publicly — often on Twitter or other social media platforms — for something they’ve said or done that manifests racism, sexism, or misogyny.
“Cancel” is a way for people – often marginalized groups – who have been historically silenced, to call celebrities, corporations and people in positions of power to account for their actions and words, whether whether recent or past.
Addressing the New York Times in 2018, Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies digital media’s links to race, gender, and sexuality, described canceling and canceling culture as a “cultural boycott” of a celebrity, a brand or a company.
Typically, undoing refers specifically to celebrities rather than everyday people, although online public shaming still happens to non-celebrities.
Those who align themselves with anti-cancel culture often argue that cancel culture undermines free speech.
However, critics of this position would argue that the right to free speech simply means that a person is protected from legal ramifications when expressing their opinions.
It has also been argued that the right to freedom of expression does not immunize a person from criticism or negative feedback, nor does it give anyone the right to access a platform to express opinions that might be considered offensive or oppressive to certain groups.
Critics of cancel culture also tend to blame cancellation, or perceived cancellation, on “woke” people, as these people are more aware of and actively attentive to important issues of social justice.
Where does the term “undo” come from?
The concept of “cancellation” dates back to the 1991 film Jack’s New Town in which a character called Nino Brown, played by Wesley Snipes, dumps his girlfriend, saying, “Cancel that female dog. I’ll buy another one.
Fast forward to 2010 and rapper Lil Wayne references the scene in his song I’m single, in which he raps; “Yeah, I’m single / N*** had to cancel that female dog like Nino.”
However, it was not until 2014 that the term caught on in mainstream discourse. In an episode of the VH1 reality show Love and hip-hop: New York which aired in December of that year, Cisco Rosado tells Diamond Strawberry “you’re canceled” during a fight.
Shortly after this episode aired, the idea of canceling started spreading on Twitter, and specifically on “Black Twitter” in 2015.
Black Twitter refers to the network of Black Twitter users who are responsible for many modern slang and social justice movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter.
Talk to AtlanticMeredith Clark, a professor at the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism who has conducted research on Black Twitter culture, said she defines it “as a group of time-bound connectors who share the culture, language and interest in specific subjects”. questions and talk about specific topics with a black frame of reference”.
Black Twitter first used the idea of canceling someone in a much lighter way than it does today. It was used in reaction to someone, usually a friend or acquaintance, doing something you didn’t approve of.
However, as language tends to do, it has evolved into a much more serious reaction to much more serious offenses.
Talk to VoiceAnne Charity Hudley, Chair of African American Linguistics for the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, “While the cancel culture terminology may be new and more applicable to social media via Black Twitter, in Particularly, the concept of being undone is not new to black culture.
Hudley described cancellation as “a survival skill as old as the use of boycott by southern black people”.
She explained that cancel culture promotes the idea that, especially black people, people can feel empowered to reject something or someone who communicates harmful ideas and messages.
Hudley said, “If you don’t have the capacity to stop something through political means, what you can do is refuse to participate.”
For example, she said, “When you see people canceling Kanye, canceling other people, it’s a collective way of saying, ‘We’ve elevated your social status, your economic prowess, [and] we’re not going to pay attention to you like we used to. I may have no power, but the power I have is [ignore] you”.”
Who has been canceled in the past?
Despite claims by those who are anti-cancellation culture that people risk losing their jobs or reputations because of cancel culture, very few celebrities or public figures have actually suffered repercussions on the end of their career due to their cancellation.
Chappelle was then nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and a Grammy Award for another special of his called 8:46.
His former school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, also decided to name its theater after him.
The school said in a statement that it would “celebrate one of our most distinguished alumni, Dave Chappelle, by naming our theater in his honor.”
Harry Potter Author JK Rowling has come under fire for controversial tweets she posted about transgender people in 2020. Her comments sparked outrage from fans and even prompted Harry Potter stars like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint to speak out against her.
Since 2020, Rowling has been adding fuel to the fire, but book sales for her Harry Potter series actually increased, and a book she published after the controversy, troubled blood (published under his pseudonym Robert Galbraith) spent weeks at number one on the official UK Top 50 chart.
Her Christmas Book 2021, The Christmas Pigalso earned the coveted top spot on the Official UK Top 50, selling 60,010 copies in its first week alone.
Louis CK, whose cancellation was in response to a much more criminal nature, saw his career suffer setbacks after admitting years of sexual misconduct in 2017 – however, 10 months later he returned to stand-up comedy -up and was able to play a number of sold-out shows.
Earlier this year, CK was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for his 2020 special Sincerely, Louis CK
YouTube stars like Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, Jacques-Charles, David Dobrik, Logan Paul and others have all experienced public cancellations, some multiple times, and they all continue to find success on the platform.