Cancel Culture: Regressive Or Progressive? Exclusive Know It All Here

Recently, I had been listening to a Clubhouse (a social media platform) discussion on “political and social injustice among low-class communities in Indian society”. This was a contested topic among participants, who had different ideas and perspectives on the root causes of societal inequality. During the discussion, some participants deliberately used derogatory words against the oppressed and the downtrodden. The sudden reaction came from one of the admin panellists, who rebuked and condemned the person’s remarks by saying that we are “cancelling” and “calling out” the views expressed here as absolutely abusive in opinion-making. Then I realised that provocative and aggressive language can be expressed anywhere by a celebrity or non-celebrity against any oppressed community. Language or expression might have been not just abusive and out of context but also politically inappropriate. In this case, cancel culture rejects the authoritarian voice, which may be destructive to society or specific groups. Besides, many consider that the dominant engagement of cancel culture in society is a containment vessel designed to spoil free speech and freedom of expression. When considering this dichotomy in cancel culture, it stresses two kinds of people: those who vehemently oppose its views and ideological underpinnings and those who advocate cancelling as a need of the hour. Here, I would say that the cancel culture will repost or reshare its ideological parameters as either positive or negative in the social spheres of public life.

Cancel Culture in the Context

Cancel, cancelling, and cancellation are buzzwords used in the new age of the digital world. With no more masquerading, the word cancel is outpouring and flooded with many meanings and expressions in today’s life. Everyone in the world, one way or another, has ever passed through such an experience of cancellation or cancelling. Some types of cancellations, such as buying a ticket for a journey, a theatre performance, a movie, or a trip, have been made on different occasions. On the other hand, broadly speaking, cancellation is not something new in the history of its widespread use but is mainly categorised as boycott, ban, exclusion, blacklist, and withhold. Once these fastidious terms related to cancellations have been propagated among individuals, companies, organisations, governments, or communities, make them accountable in civil society. In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States experienced the transformative impacts of civil rights movements and boycotts for social and racial justice for Afro-Americans. These civil rights movements were more plausible in bringing the oppressed communities and their civil rights back to the limelight by stopping the oppressor’s voice. In addition, the phrase “cancellation” has appeared in novels, films, and TV shows in the 1980s and 1990s; for instance, “Your Love is Cancelled” and “You Are Cancelled”. However, as a socio-cultural and political rhetoric, cancel culture is surprisingly and convincingly a recent invention and a new norm. It mostly refers to people being cancelled because of their exasperated position of uttering sexist, racist, and misogynist pronouncements while remaining in their personal comfort zones. Sigal Ben-Porath, Professor of Education, Political Science, and Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, observes that cancel culture reveals not only the cancellations of individuals’ ideologies and views but also the toppling of racist statues, de-platforming individuals, removal of confederate flags, etc. In particular, people engaged in #LGBTQ, #BlackLivesMatter, and #Metoo are the best examples of how they are involved in achieving social and human justice for survival. This shows that collective voices and actions are considered a massive strength for rejecting authoritarian elements. In this situation, I would say that the action of cancellation may be instigated within the premises of a social issue in a particular context.

Cancel Culture Without a Trademark

While some have praised cancellation culture as a means to hold people accountable for their behaviour, others have criticised it for a number of reasons. The cancel culture has been regarded as negatively deteriorating the fairness of human justice in particular. In another way, the involvement of the cancel culture can solely lead to a mob mentality, in which individuals are condemned without a fair trial or opportunity to defend themselves. This can result in the loss of jobs or reputation, which can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. Cancel culture can also create an environment of uncertainty and self-censorship where individuals are cautious about speaking out or expressing themselves for fear of being cancelled. This can have a chilling effect on free speech or the free exchange of ideas, which is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. In some cases, for instance, students in some universities bring into play a style of cancelling against their professors because of these professors’ contrary speeches or voices that they once used on the campuses and colleges. It can lead to a stifling of free speech and open debate by creating a culture of fear and intimidation, and it can even cause legal action. As a result, cancel culture might discourage people from expressing their thoughts or participating in sincere debates because they are afraid of being disgraced or shunned in society. While it is important to hold individuals accountable for their actions and words, some argue that a cancel culture often goes too far, resulting in harsh consequences that are inconsistent with the offence committed. In this situation, one cannot simply exclude an individual or institution based on the offence they have committed. Who will punish them for their offence? What kind of exclusion is justified, and how long will this punishment last? However, many questions remain unanswered.

Towards Mutual Inclusion

As we have discussed, cancel culture is seemingly two modes of engagement, one of which drives individuals to take effective responsibility for their actions, and the other is the censorship of one’s own freedom. Sometimes it can slowly corrode a person’s sense of self and human dignity. In this situation, mutual inclusion is the most successful way to confront the binaries of cancel culture. When someone or a group of people makes use of cancel culture as a sensitive tool for restricting individuals’ words and actions, mutual inclusion can be a potential prospect for the exchange of respect with everyone in society. This mutual inclusion can also create a space for everyone, including marginalised and oppressed communities, to have their voices heard and demand change in social justice and human rights affairs. This does not imply that cancel culture is no longer recommended in society but rather that it should be implemented while maintaining human self-respect and each individual’s rights with mutual inclusion. This demonstrates that mutual inclusion is essential when considering the constructive and harmful aspects of the cancel culture in which the issue is involved, and it fosters a harmonious response. It is important to hold individuals accountable while also ensuring that due process and fairness are upheld and that cancel culture is not used as a means of harassing or silencing dissenting voices.

Jijoy Mathew

Jijoy Mathew, presently a PhD Research scholar at VU University in Amsterdam, holds an impressive profile. He has successfully authored two books in Malayalam, showcasing his literary prowess. Additionally, Jijoy is known for his insightful writings on recent developments in religion, culture, politics, and theology. His broad engagement in the realms of human rights action and social justice has earned him invaluable experience, having collaborated with esteemed international and national organizations.

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