Friday, March 1, 2024

Can You Still Be Woke and Hate Cancel Culture? The Battle Between Accountability and Justice


Jesus, there are falls from grace and then there are falls from grace.

My heart broke a little when Queen of the Tweet Chrissy Teigen’s horrific past comments were unearthed once again last week.

Let me be clear – there are no excuses for telling a 16-year-old to ‘take a dirt nap’, as Chrissy tweeted to personality Courtney Stodden in 2011. It’s just icky, and Chrissy has monumentally fucked up.

Doesn’t it suck when your idols let you down?

God, I used to admire Chrissy Teigen – her humour is on point, she wasn’t afraid to take the piss, and she didn’t use her Instagram account as a one-sided highlight reel of her very privileged life. Well, she didn’t just use it as a one-sided highlight reel of her very privileged life. 

I actually understand those who are taking a bit of glee in Chrissy’s public takedown – after all, she has ruled as Canceller-in-Chief for many years on social media and a ‘live by the keyboard, die by the keyboard’ approach to justice is kind of fair. No one likes a hypocrite.

“Not a lot of people are lucky enough to be held accountable for all their past bullshit in front of the entire world,” she began her apology. “I’m mortified and sad at who I used to be. I was an insecure, attention-seeking troll. I am ashamed and completely embarrassed… but that is… nothing compared to how I made Courtney feel. I have worked so hard to give you guys joy and be beloved and the feeling of letting you down is nearly unbearable, truly.”

So, we’ve somehow collectively decided to ‘cancel’ her. I must have missed the meeting where we all took a vote.

I have issues with so-called cancel culture. When someone is ‘cancelled’, so to speak, there is no road to redemption. There’s no path to enlightenment, no opportunity for growth. Instead, we try to banish them to a corner of the zeitgeist where no one dare utter their name in glee once more and all of their achievements and works are rendered tarnished, tainted and trashed.

The term cancel culture has been weaponised by that said zeitgeist into the form that’s dangerous to everyone. Now, we’ve moved beyond accountability – what the term was actually supposed to achieve – into a weird mob mentality that’s been hijacked by both the left and the right to further political and social causes.

Cancelled GIF by MOODMAN

Propaganda, in other words.

Now, one ill-timed Tweet can destroy a career. A careless joke can ruin a life. A valid point of view, that perhaps differs from the majority, can mean disaster.

Here’s the thing. We’re all human. People make mistakes. Some are worse than others. And when I’m speaking about this, I’m not talking about the world’s truly trash people – the Weinsteins, the Cosbys, the Epsteins. My feelings about them are too strong to publish without getting a Press Council complaint, so I’ll leave those to your imagination.

But what I do want you to do is cast your mind back to your childhood, when you can remember your first big screw up. What did your parents tell you? That we all make mistakes, and what’s actually important is that you learn from them?

Yeah. That.

So why doesn’t that apply in 2021?

Leaving someone – famous or not – no space to grow, learn and change after making a mistake is not what we teach our kids, and it’s certainly not how we’d hope to be treated when the inevitable fuck-ups in our lives happen.

tv show dancing GIF

It’s not fair to judge people’s past actions to a 2021 standard, as much as we’d like to think we’ve all been as accepting and empathetic as we are today. Take, for example, pretty much every episode of Friends. Looking through the woke lens of the present, there’s so much wrong with so much of the show – fat Monica, the constant homophobia, Joey’s treatment of women – but should the show be ‘cancelled’ now? Standards are different – and rightly so – today. Think about your ‘90s self. Any regrets there?

Last week, a furore erupted when it was suggested that we cancel Snow White and the Seven Dwarves because of issues with consent.

And closer to home, I shudder at what could have come out of my 15-year-old mouth that, if social media had been just year or two earlier, could have come back to haunt me out of sheer lack of knowledge or idiocy (thank God all I had to contend with is making sure I had enough Bebo hearts to show my face at school).

Now, what anyone puts into the digital abyss can end up in a trial by trolls just as easily as it can be held up to fair scrutiny and potential accountability. Pile-on is swift and harsh and sometimes premature, where all the facts haven’t been given or only one side has presented an argument. 

The star of celebrity has long been waning. As a former magazine editor, I can say with confidence that we give far less of a shit about famous folk than we used to and I am HERE FOR THAT. But as the allure of the star fades, the motivation to take down sharpens.

In 2020 we cancelled Chris Pratt due to claims he’s homophobic, because of his particular brand of faith – something he strongly denies. We cancelled Lizzo for pretending to grab Harry Styles’ butt. We cancelled Ellen because of her out-of-touch comments during the pandemic and allegations of bullying. We cancelled JK Rowling because of comments she made that were perceived to be transphobic.

Yet Mark Wahlberg was once convicted of a HATE CRIME and remains uncancelled. Go figure.

I don’t agree with any of those things – they range from silly to deeply problematic. But do all of these people deserve to be ostracised and never allowed to apologise, grow or admit shortcomings? No.

Does Chrissy Teigen deserve to face the consequences of her past action? A huge yes.

Of course you can choose not to support a person, an organisation, a place. 

You can not like someone and not cancel them. You can disagree with someone and not cancel them. You can think someone’s an idiot and not cancel them.

Because in my opinion, people need the opportunity to own their mistakes and fix them. Shaming people only pushes them further into their overly opinionated, un-informed dark corner and fixes absolutely nothing. 

It’s a time of sharp edges and uncomfortable conversations as we navigate a new, better and more equal world, and it’s totally acceptable to hold people to account fairly and strongly.

But it’s not ok to bully them back.

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