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Exploring Cancel Culture

 “My yard sign finally arrived.” Wanda Gail Campbell

Since the mid-2010s, the term “cancel culture” has slipped into media prominence. Now many, including this author, seem to be pondering what, exactly, does use of the term even mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as the act of canceling or the removal “of support for public figures or organizations in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions.” CBS has a less than 30-minute piece, which looks strongly at a number of perspectives. The comments that follow in quotes are noteworthy from that airing unless otherwise credited. You can draw your conclusions by viewing the entire segment here:

Most often, Cancel Culture is implemented via social media, and I have observed that it usually involves vilifying an individual, a group, or an organization that has acted or spoken in a questionable, currently unacceptable, or controversial manner. Evidence also points to individuals who simply take a stand in opposition to authorities in power, money, and status. Frequently such vilifying impacts a well-known entity such as a person who has a celebrity status. Most recently, we have witnessed the demise of Harvey Weinstein, a former film producer and now a convicted sex offender whose justifiable vilification spawned the widespread “Me Too” movement. It certainly looks justifiable in his case. However, in many other cases, one must wonder if an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent” may have wrongly deprived an individual of his or her livelihood due to simply being caught in “bad moment” human error.

It is noteworthy that former President Barack Obama took issue with the “cancel culture” idea by arguing that “easy social media judgments don’t amount to true social activism.” However, in light of the Weinstein story and in looking through Lisa Nakamura Ph. D’s lens, I must respectfully question Mr. Obama’s assessment. describes the notable author, Dr. Nakamura Lisa Nakamura, as “a Professor of American Cultures/Asian and Pacific Islander Studies and Professor in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is interested in the role of women and racial minorities in the early digital industries, racial discrimination in virtual worlds, sex, race, and labor in social networks, and racial humor online.”

While conducting social research, Nakamura concluded that “cancel culture” is a “cultural boycott in which the act of depriving someone of attention deprives them of their livelihood.” While I acknowledge that social media vilifying brought Weinstein a lot more public attention, it extraordinarily fits the adverse results. It seems to me that the Me Too Movement’s massive impact totally fits the definition of social activism.

A poll of American registered voters conducted in July 2020 shows that… a majority (53%) believed that people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, including those deeply offensive to other people… In light of this account, it appears to me that some form of cancel culture is here to stay. Haven’t we, as U.S. citizens, often claimed our right to promote a grassroots movement? Is cancel culture really different from grassroots? Each may find his/her acceptable answers.

Just The News, a conservative publication, revealed the results of a recent Cancel Culture poll:

“Just the News Daily Poll respondents were asked “The phrase “cancel culture” refers to a form of public shaming used to silence people whose views are deemed unacceptable. Is cancel culture a good thing because it prevents inappropriate ideas from spreading? Or is it a bad thing because it bullies people and restricts the free exchange of information and ideas?” Their responses are noted below:

17% It is a good thing

-56% It is a bad thing

-27% Not Sure

Do I go with popular opinion or continue to examine the plethora of positions posted online? Great question, huh? Maybe just a little more data would be helpful.

An open letter signed by 153 public figures and published in Harper’s Magazine has been described “as marking a ‘high point’ in the debate on the topic.” The letter set out arguments against “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” So, do public figures get to decide for the rest of us? Not for me!

Former U.S. President Barack Obama warned against the social media call-out culture, saying that “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you.” Interestingly, on this specific point, Obama and Trump seem to agree. 

Personally, I see no current collective value in dragging up behaviors from, let’s say, college years when immaturity and lack of decorum seem to be the dominant mindset. That is to say unless the targeted person has made no progress toward behavioral changes or has failed to take responsibility for his/her immaturity and/or poor judgment, is it fair to focus on it now? It seems to me that people/organizations of integrity are willing to own the transgression, make an apology, and take action to make amends in any way possible to right a moral wrong. In such circumstances, can we be kind, compassionate, and forgiving? If we are in integrity, we must consider that everyone deserves the chance to change for the better.

 If I would participate in a Cancel Culture movement, I would first look closely at my internal agenda and make a sincere effort to ask the tough questions that require radical self-honesty. If by pointing the social media finger of blame, I am avoiding looking within, immediate personal corrections must be made before carefronting another. I use the word carefronting intentionally because it brings caring into the effort. I am convinced that effective change starts within the heart-whether one’s role is accuser or defendant. 

One of my spiritual teachers always encourages students to ask: “How am I contributing to this issue?” I take self-inquiry seriously by examining further: Is my clear intention to find a win-win resolution or stir up emotional turmoil with no awareness or effect of healing? What action can truly bring healing and peace to those who have experienced deep pain from others’ behaviors? When the answers to these questions are clear, authentic advocacy on behalf of those affected can result. At that point, I am ALL IN!


Wanda Gail Campbell

Wanda Gail is a retired healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace in her local community of Huntsville, Al. She enjoys international travel and learning about other cultures. Her special interest is focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. She draws spiritual nourishment from a variety of acclaimed spiritual teachers as well as contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.

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