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Not So Woke

Kwon: The only thing canceled by cancel culture is accountability

Where cancel culture exists and how it fails

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not so woke

Editor’s note: Not So Woke looks to debunk the ways pop culture disservices marginalized communities and continue to prop up the voices of the privileged, despite being seemingly “woke.”

Camila Cabello. Scarlett Johansson. James Charles. Debby Ryan. Louis C.K. Ariana Grande. Sarah Silverman. Lena Dunham.

Now we’re adding Lana Del Rey and Doja Cat to the list? This is the list of celebrities whom we largely love and whose careers are just fine, even if they’ve been “canceled” by the oh-so “toxic” cancel culture. I guess the quarantine state of mind has been making the subliminal bigotry pop out?

Because of these two, it looks like we’re back on the cancel culture talk, as we are on a weekly basis. And there’s always the inevitable #CelebrityIsOverParty trend on Twitter. On the other hand, there’s the people who rise up for their repeated “cancel culture is toxic” rhetoric.

The truth is, cancel culture is superficial and rarely has any actual consequences for the celebrities being canceled. 

Senior Rosemary Jones explained it best.

Cancel culture is dramatized as the modern witch burnings and symbolizes a tyranny of the masses,” Jones said in an email. “This is bullshit.”

People consistently conflate cancel culture with criticism, and when society views people emotionally lashing out at the problematic behavior of celebrities, the public assumes that it’s mob mentality, defamation, or overall irrational behavior.

Celebrities get canceled and criticized because they engage in problematic behavior that oftentimes is most harmful to marginalized communities. The backlash that celebrities face may often be sharp-mouthed and angry, but it’s just the result of an emotional reaction of something that might have been racist, misogynistic, homophobic, or otherwise offensive. At the core, it’s criticism and the desire for a genuine apology and change.

The first few days –– or even just the first day –– is usually the most vicious, before the public anger eventually dies down. The celebrity issues a scripted apology, the stans rush to their aid, and the world is all good again. For them.

Yeah, that’s right. The cancel culture that we think is so toxic actually doesn’t really make an impact.

“The people being ‘canceled’ can't be canceled in the long-run because too many people liked them to begin with … humans decide who they like and dislike on a whim, and often, reason won't be strong enough to persuade them,” senior January Okemgbo said in an email. “They would have to be directly impacted by this person, and then have to fight against the thousands of people who … would stand against this person who is placed on an imaginary pedestal.”

Much like the small list of celebrities at the top of this article, people who have been canceled are enjoying successful careers, even if their lives have supposedly been ruined by the scourge that is cancel culture. So, the recently canceled Lana Del Rey and Doja Cat are probably just in a minor slump and they still continue to keep their follows, views, and stanbase.

Yes, another type of culture that needs to be addressed is stan culture, which directly connects to the lack of efficacy of cancel culture.

Stans refer to the mega-active base of fans so devoted to a celebrity, ready to come to their aid at any moment. Among many, notorious stan bases include the Arianators, the Beyhive, and the Barbz. These refer to Ariana Grande, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj’s fanbases, respectively.

It’s one thing to enjoy someone’s music, art, or performance, but it’s another to be obsessive and cast blind devotion onto a celebrity. Blindly loving your fave leaves little room for criticism, and that’s largely why cancel culture just doesn’t work. 

Needing to stan someone means you aren’t receptive to the faults of a celebrity, and oftentimes, it leads to an unwavering defense of said celebrity, even if they’re clearly being problematic.

And let’s not forget that, much like us normal people, not all celebrities are made equal.

“[If] … all of your friends could cancel me ... I would still have the support of my friends and coworkers: the people you don't know,” Okemgbo said. “If I were also white and rich, I'd have thousands of simps at my disposal to negate the impact your group of friends has.”

In general, if you’re white, cisgender, and rich, you’re probably not going to face as much scrutiny compared to someone who might be trans, a person of color, and/or not wealthy. You might not just get canceled, but you might also face stereotyped attacks. This is a case where cancel culture can sometimes work, for better or for worse. 

Jones referenced a specific instance of this with former queer punk duo PWR BTTM, made up of two transfemmes. They are a former duo because they were essentially canceled out of popularity in 2017, after one was privately accused of rape on Facebook, just a couple of days before they were going to release a second album.

“This spread like wildfire, and … in less than a week, they were dropped by every label, venue, and platform they had been associated with,” Jones said. “Every fan dropped them and went out of their way to make statements about their disgust … every attempt the band made to issue statements was dismissed as gaslighting –– despite not being gaslighting in any way.”

This is what cancel culture looks like when it is especially nasty and is what everyone envisions when they imagine the cancel culture they think their millionaire faves are experiencing.

“This is an excellent example of cancel culture at its worst, when it's used to target underprivileged creators who aren't allowed to defend themselves,” Jones said. “Even worse, exploiting horrible tropes and stereotypes to do so –– everyone expects a trans woman to be a predator, [and] they're just waiting for the slightest opportunity to legitimize it.”

Cancel culture can be bad, and not all canceling is equal. Largely, that celebrity you’re stanning won’t actually be canceled and won’t face the accountability that they deserve. What we call cancel culture is really just accountability culture and wanting celebrities to understand why they’ve done harm is valid and necessary.

Reach columnist Deborah Kwon at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @debskwo

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