I don’t think I’ll ever get to say this again; Obama took the words right out of my mouth, and yes, I’m referring to that Obama.
I started putting down my thoughts on this topic about a week ago, but before that, I found myself talking about it to anyone that would care to listen. That’s how I know I’m passionate about something: I get an itch to talk about it over and over again until I’m over and done with it or until it becomes boring or a non-issue. It’s the thing that comes up in every conversation on the bus, the train, the tram or even with the Uber driver on a ten-minute ride. It’s the two-hour phone call with my cousin or the extra-long WhatsApp audio to a friend ranting about the same damn thing. It’s cancel culture.
At one point all I could talk about was a referendum that made heads worldwide turn and not too long after, an American election that left many wondering if reality had shifted overnight into an overly sensationalized tv drama.
I talked about these crazy things that went down over the past few years with anyone that would lend an ear to the point where now looking back, I would totally reprimand the younger version of myself who was not socially aware enough and preferred to live in her rose-coloured wrapped up bubble (although, sometimes, I do think she was on to something too).
So, back to Obama. As he was speaking last week at his foundation summit he spoke about cancel culture and the narrative it creates in our society, but most importantly why it in itself should be cancelled.
#Cancelled has become a part of our online daily lives and as much as we might not like to admit it our online lives have become a big part of our ‘real’ lives, therefore, what happens online for sure doesn’t stay there at all. This has been proven time and time again by a number of things, starting with who we deem to be ‘cool’ as a society and tragic deaths over the years that could be linked back to our entangled web lives and how it weighs on the real.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece titled ‘Outrage Culture: Do We Get High Off the Madness?’ where I called the internet a virtual court and questioned our motives behind the real reasons why we put people on trial. Is it to create change? Is it to make ourselves feel better? Hence, do we get high off the madness?
I feel like in so many ways that post is still so relevant today and now, maybe even more so.
As people, we all have the right to get mad, shout out or call out when we think something is outrageous or unjust and you would never find me arguing the opposite, however, my question becomes; what do we do with that rage and what comes after we make our voices heard? This is where cancel culture comes into play and we start to draw X shaped marks over everything a person has ever done.
In the summit, Barack Obama points out that there’s a lot more to the people that we call out on social media, whether it be for their choices or believes that we deem unacceptable, which would be useless if that’s all we’re doing, and in most cases, that is all we are doing. The world is messy; there are ambiguities, he said as he called out what seems to have become our modern form of activism.
I’ve heard the phrase ‘with freedom of speech comes responsibility’ countless times now and while for the most part, I agree, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if as a result, some stopped using their freedom of speech out of fear of not being ‘woke’ enough. Isn’t this a giant leap, you might wonder? Well, I think it’s more of a slippery slope if you ask me, and let me tell you why.
The internet had brought us many things, good and bad. From the many conversations we are able to start on Twitter to the public feuds we can engage in online with a stranger we’ve never met. We are able to talk to celebrities under the illusion that we know them real well and every breaking news hits our phones first before any other medium. Because of this, we believe we are more connected than ever through likes, Instagram stories, filters, comments and hashtags, but are we really?
We may believe that the internet broadens our horizons, and in some ways it does, but why do I feel like we are stuck living in our bubbles even more than before. Think about it; we like the same type of pictures on a daily basis, chat to the same set of people we did the day before, and if we talk to someone new, it’s usually someone similar to us anyways. All the algorithms already pretty much know every damn thing about us allowing them to keep feeding us the same things over and over again, and we eat it all up instantly because it is exactly what we craved anyways.
As long as things keep going this way, our online experience goes smooth sailing, rapidly and unchallenged. Once a needle in the form of a cancellable offence bursts the fragile bubble we created around us, we start to get riled up, angry and frustrated.
Now, I’m not saying some things people say online aren’t ridiculous, appalling and slightly psychotic, but frankly, I’d rather hear them, unless they’re inciting violence then that’s completely different in my book.
I feel like cancel culture is bound to create a space where people no longer feel free to voice controversial opinions and we’ll end up with a society where everyone is nodding to the same beat without expressing their own thoughts or individuality.
I also don’t feel like it actually changes the rooted reasons behind the way people think. Yes, they might feel pressured into an apology or they might release a statement repenting of their actions, but does that really mean anything changed? At this point, we expect an apology more that we expect an individual to stand behind the things they say and even the numerous sorrys have a routine of their own now. It starts with the keyboard uprising that has become a weapon not many saw coming then the hashtags trending and the name-calling follow. Sometimes, it happens in less than a few hours and BANG – a screenshot of the notes app posing as a sincere apology hits the web. Most times, we analyse its deduced sincerity and if it meets the agreed standards on the sincere apology meter, we take it, accept it and then we move on to the next target.
Here’s the truth: once someone knows the lines not to be crossed, all they have to do is pretend not to cross them; just like the jerk reaction we all have when we see a cop car next to us on the road, our best behaviour immediately turns on and we try to look as polished, awake and focused as possible. We become the best driver in a split second, the kind that is so good they could park a car with their eyes closed, but once the cops are out of sight, we become our truest selves; road rage, middle-fingers and unfiltered words rolling out the windows and speeding like one chasing the light.
I feel like the internet is fast becoming exactly like that; we are policing how people think, how they talk, what they do and in many cases what they should think. The main problem is we aren’t doing any of it with the intent to try to understand why someone may think in a certain way, but we do it because we have convinced ourselves that we know better and therefore, any idea that doesn’t align with ours gets instantly shunned and cast to the side.
I honestly want to hear every opinion because at least then I know exactly what I’m getting with people. It’s their right to say it just like it’s my right to get offended, but rather than dismissing it as ignorant or just plain stupid, I think there should be space for debate and eventually, space to agree to disagree and keep it pushing.
Of course, I’m aware that cancel culture has had its positives too, as it has pushed change forward especially when it comes to certain industries and forcing brands to become more inclusive, but to me, that is where that sort of activism starts and ends.
We should be able to sit next to someone on the bus, whose views on things drives you mad without feeling the need to rip them apart. We should be able to hear ‘controversial’ opinions without feeling the need to call for someone’s firing. We should be able to take offence without wanting the thing that offended us to be banned or removed from our eye line because, the truth is, although we may not see it, there is no guarantee that it’s not hiding in plain sight.
It’s almost as if we can no longer shake our head in disagreement, but we now have to take it a step further and tear up everything that has the potential to be polarising or affronting.
Our actions and words often are a result of the life we’ve been dealt and likewise the things we deem to be outrageous. No one is one dimensional, and as Obama stated, even people who do good things have flaws.
The question we need to ask ourselves is do we really want to live in a society void of confrontation? Do we want to live amongst people we really do not know because they are too afraid of the judgement that would come from speaking their truth?
I think cancel culture makes us intolerant to the things that are everything we aren’t causing us to forget that in the end we all look alike and sometimes you see more clearly when you let the rose-coloured bubble pop.
Your restless romantic roamer