Two years ago, the Oscars lost their host, the showman, and comedian Kevin Hart, because of his homophobic remarks on Twitter a decade ago. One year ago, massive harassment forced YouTube star Jenna Marbles to announce that she would stop hosting the channel because of old parody videos of people of African American and Asian descent.  Over half a year ago, Joanne Rowling was “canceled” on social media because she made careless remarks about transgender people. And when we say “canceled,” we mean something like Ctrl + Z on the computer keyboard that helps erase the last typed and unnecessary text – media and public figures are easily removed from different social media platforms like Twitter or
It is easy to get caught up in the cancel culture: a sloppy word, comment, or social media post from even years ago can cause a boycott and a wave of criticism, and sometimes even the end of a career. The clearest example of the latter is the story of Harvey Weinstein, against whom dozens of actresses have spoken out as part of the #MeToo campaign. He lost not only his job, money, and health but also his freedom. The Hollywood producer was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual harassment.
Another striking and relatively recent case is the scandal with Armie Hammer, which has not subsided for several months. It all started with women who accused the actor of violence and then appeared in the tabloids correspondence in which he talks about his cannibalistic tendencies. Direct evidence of his guilt was absent, but the movie studios closed projects with the actor.
The culture of repeal is a pervasive phenomenon, making no exception for anyone. Even Donald Trump’s legal team described his impeachment process as a “constitutional culture of exception,” and Twitter executive director Jack Dorsey called the move “the right thing to do” after blocking the former US president’s account.
The “repeal” process itself, though, is still more complex and does not always mean universal hatred and perpetual disregard. The situation with Joanne Rowling shows that she has not lost income and contracts because of the scandal, she has hardly lost love for her works, but she has gained respect and hope for collaboration with famous stars. And this is taking into account her repeated apologies and a whole essay devoted to the problem. Some of her colleagues supported her: Eddie Redmayne, for example, called the aggressive criticism on Twitter “absolutely disgusting” and said that it is no better than what J. Rowling did herself.
And public pressure is hardly a hundred percent synonymous with “cancellation” – it is not just public criticism, but a responsibility that stars pay for with their reputations and further professional opportunities. Website, for example, defines the term as “the cessation of support (‘cancellation’) of public figures and companies after they have done or said something deemed outrageous or offensive.”
It is true that “withdrawal” is not always fair or objective, and members of this movement often violate the boundaries, moving from routine criticism to threats and harassment. An open letter published in Harper’s Bazaar in the summer of 2020 wrote about this. At the time, 140 writers, activists, and academics, including Joan Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, and Salman Rushdie, signed the statement: “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers, we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk-taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”
Vice editor Connor Garel disagrees with these assertions, noting that in reality “abolition” hardly affects the well-being and lives of their victims. Sooner or later, the condemnation comes to an end, and everything goes back to normal. Especially if there is at least some public repentance: the director James Gunn, for example, who was fired because of the archive posts about pedophilia and violence, returned to work after the apology, and the scandal with Taylor Swift and Kanye West (she accused him of not warning her about the reference inFamous, but later it turned out that the singer was aware of it and, in fact, approved the text) after several years is forgotten and allowed both artists to continue existing peacefully in the InfoSpace.
The New York Times journalist Jonah Angel Bromwich believes that the culture of abolition cannot be assessed as something exceptionally good or bad. He suggests talking about it as a new tool of power distribution, which has appeared in social networks, helps to find allies, and gives the possibility to choose sides. The culture of cancellation (though some of its participants do not realize it) exists not to retaliate or punish for a mistake, but rather to point to that mistake and let the rest of the public community know that such words or actions may be fraught for them. And in this case, a scandal usually works better than any quiet advice or enlightening Instagram post.