What is cancel culture?

The past and present of the internet phenomena


Jonas Corliss

Cancel culture has also been used to wrongfully attack people who have done nothing wrong

Jonas Corliss, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Cancel culture has become an ever-present part of American social life, especially on social media platforms like Twitter. The intended purpose is to deplatform people as retribution for their wrongdoings. While this culture was created with good intentions, has it truly done what it was intended to do?

The beginnings of cancel culture go back decades before the internet even existed. A good example of this is what happened with the Beatles in 1966. In an interview, John Lenon stated that the band was bigger than Jesus. This caused major backlash and led people to burn the Beatles’ records.

The effect of Lenon’s statement is a clear representation of what cancel culture is in the modern age: a group of people getting angry over what a public figure said and taking action to voice their disdain. Even before the term “cancel” was a mainstay in American culture, the meaning was well-known to most people.

The tweet that started the #CancelColbert campaign, one of the first major cancellations

If the concept of canceling has been around for decades, where did the actual term come from? The first major instance of the term “cancel” comes from Twitter in 2014. An official account for Stephan Colbert’s show, not Colbert himself, tweeted a racist joke without context that stirred up controversy.

“The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it,” activist Suey Park responded. This gained major traction on Twitter, leading to major publications covering the topic and major publications and news networks interviewing Park.

The next big cancellation event was the 2015 Oscar scandal. In this award season, no black people were nominated for acting awards even though there were excellent films led by black people. This led to major backlash on Twitter from prominent figures like Spike Lee. While this wasn’t the first time the Oscars excluded black people, it was the first time Twitter was widely available. This gave people the ability to see that there were many others upset just like them, which bolstered people’s confidence and made the movement bigger than it had ever been.

The biggest event that turned cancel culture into the major social issue that it is today was the #MeToo movement. The movement caused cancel culture to become a major political issue. During this time, powerful men, like Harvey Weinstein, were facing the consequences of their horrible actions. This created fear in some people that they could be canceled at any time. Right-wing political commentators and politicians, like Donald Trump, began using cancel culture as a way to attack the left for being over-sensitive and trying to destroy the lives of men.

Tweet from former President Donald Trump referencing and mocking cancel culture

Through these efforts, many people have been removed from prominence, namely in Hollywood, which has created a safer environment for people of many different identities and professions.

With all of these examples and mainstream concerns, cancel culture must be an unstoppable force, right? However, the truth is far from what mainstream media claims.

Even with the events already described, cancel culture rarely has the desired effects. Colbert’s show faced little consequences from the #CancelColbert campaign, the Oscars continue to get millions of viewers, and many men targeted during #MeToo continue to thrive in their fields.

There are plenty of other examples of cancel culture not achieving its desired goals. One of these examples happened with Bryant Moreland, or EDP445. Moreland was caught in 2021 texting sexual content to and attempting to meet someone who he believed to be 13 years old. Moreland’s actions were revealed on the internet, causing him to lose his YouTube channel. However, Moreland continues to have a presence on the internet and on other social media sites even though he continues to be exposed for being attracted to younger girls, the latest revelation being in December 2022.

Cancel culture has also been used to wrongfully attack people who have done nothing wrong. This usually happens to online content creators. A prime example of this is Hasan Piker. Piker is a leftist political commentator on Twitch and has faced many cancellations, a lot of which were for things that are normal for many people. Two of the most notable were his purchases of a nice house and a new Porsche. The reason people claimed to be angry is Piker’s socialist views, insinuating that he shouldn’t have nice things if he is a socialist. Piker is not the only person to be canceled due to their prominence online.

While it may seem that cancellation only hurts the person being canceled, many people, usually women, who share their thoughts often face scrutiny from the public. The woman who started the Colbert campaign faced death threats and doxxing, having her personal information and location leaked, which forced her to move away from her hometown. Many women during the #MeToo movement also faced harassment and skepticism. Even the latest person to come out against Moreland faced heavy scrutiny and was forced to delete her social media.

Cancel culture has good intentions. Calling out prominent figures for their wrongdoings is something that should be done. However, cancel culture has become a weapon that people use against anyone that they don’t like, no matter the reason. This exploitation has made it so that whenever somebody actually comes out with their story, they immediately get faced with disbelievers and harassment.

Whether or not it is a good thing, cancel culture is here to stay for the foreseeable future. One can only hope that it’s intended comes to fruition and that people will be able to safely and comfortably talk about their experiences.