In internet-speak, cancel culture is the practice of withdrawing support for public figures, organizations, or churches after they did, said, or posted something considered objectionable or offensive.
So if internet people catch you doing something deemed unacceptable, you get “cancelledt.” That last word is not a misspelling. One doesn’t properly cancel someone without using that particular spelling. And if you do agree to cancel someone, you are obliged to comment, “samedt” in the comments section. Again, that’s not a misspelling. It’s the word “same” stylized with the additional D and T. Don’t ask me how that mongrel of a word came to be; I didn’t make the rules. I suspect it’s the same grammar rules that gave us the word “shookt.” These days you are no longer shocked, horrified, appalled, or mortified. You are “shookt.”
Anyway, back to my topic—cancel culture.
The problem with cancel culture is that if you are caught with your pants down (hopefully figuratively), you don’t get to explain why. You are cancelled right away. Twitter will explode, you land on the top trend, and your career or social life is practically over. For a few days or weeks, social media will vilify you as if you are the vilest person on the planet.
That’s what happened to Justine Sacco. In 2013, this senior director of corporate communications of a NY firm made the mistake of joking about not catching AIDS because she was white. She posted the joke to her 170 Twitter followers before boarding a plane to South Africa. Sam Biddle of Gawker Media saw the tweet, retweeted it to his 15,000 followers, and before Sacco landed in Cape Town, her career was over. She was fired, vilified, and cancelled by the internet people.
This was seven years ago in the United States. Today, we are also seeing the local horrors of cancel culture and internet outrage in our society. In the last six months of the lockdowns, Philippine social media people have cancelled or tried to cancel companies, celebrities, and influencers. The reasons are varied: real issues of injustice, political affiliations, issues of privilege, and something as minor as improper unboxing of a brand new PSP. Just today, the hashtag #CancelKorea trended on Philippine Twittersphere because a presumably Korean TikToker called Filipinos “poor, non-educated, short” people. How Filipinos managed to see that one comment among the 154,000+ comments on Bella Poarch’s post is beyond me. But the outrage that followed is unbelievable. Imagine calling for the cancellation of an entire sovereign nation just because somebody called you short!
Why is cancel culture so wildly satisfying? Because we finally realized that we can now strike back at those who offend us from behind our avatars. And while this can be beneficial to a certain extent (think of how the #MeToo movement landed Harvey Weinstein in jail), we need to admit that the social and relational toll of cancel culture is far more devastating than we care to admit.
Seven reasons why I would admonish Christians not to join in the fray of cancel culture.
- Cancel culture is so fast and short-lived. The issue dies with the next news cycle.
- People settle with shaming as if it solves the problem. Once the offender is shamed, we stop. But shaming is not the end goal. Justice is.
- It fosters mob mentality. So many people simply join the bandwagon without taking the time to understand the issue at hand. They fire shots from their Facebook walls and Twitter streams before they ask what is going on. Some don’t even bother knowing what really happened.
- Cancel culture refuses nuance. In our eagerness to serve hot takes and quick reactions, we reduce the issues as two-dimensional problems. But humans are more complex than that. There’s always another side to every story. Even the loathsome Professor Snape had a redemptive arc.
- Cancel culture functions like a demolition machine. It is programmed to destroy and rip things apart. If all we do is rip things apart, soon we will wake up to a world of rubbles.
- Cancel culture has no place for social healing and reconciliation, just outrage and shame. When the offender is beaten down and defeated, people don’t stop to commiserate. They just walk away and move to the next target.
- Cancel culture doesn’t look for repentance. It doesn’t offer forgiveness either. And even when the offender shows remorse and apologizes, it is never enough.
These are just some of the limitations of cancel culture. It doesn’t accomplish the justice of God. It doesn’t make us all better people. It doesn’t build a more compassionate society. Aside from beating someone to a pulp, it doesn’t really accomplish much. It just leaves us all broken, divided, and bitter. Is there a better way?
I believe there is. Do not be so hasty in posting your raw reactions. Wait for details to come out then sleep on it. Postpone your reaction for the next day. If, after you’ve had a good night sleep and fresh morning devotions, you still feel like the issue is worth pursuing, then maybe you should get into the fray. Your post may not get many likes because other people’s hot takes are already out there, but at least you’ve done your homework of engaging in social issues thoughtfully and prayerfully.
There is wisdom in not giving in to our basic impulse to lash out right away. When news is fresh and we only saw the (click-bait) headline, we need to resist the urge to offer hot takes and quick opinions. Why? Because we are a people of the truth. When we add fuel to an online firestorm based on hearsay, half-truths, insinuations, and unconfirmed reports, we are living in contradiction to the gospel truth that we profess.