HEAD TO HEAD: Cancel Culture

Two Golden Arrow Journalists debate the ramifications or benefits of partaking in cancel culture
Cancel culture takes place as two teenagers flip through the Burn Book from Mean Girls.
Cancel culture takes place as two teenagers flip through the Burn Book from Mean Girls.
Lucy Liu
Pro: Cancel culture may be met with unwelcome ears, but it is necessary to drive social change

For many years, cancel culture—the practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting or ending support for particular people or groups because of their socially unacceptable views or actions—has been portrayed as an attack on free speech. It is assumed that anything we say or do will be used against us in the court of public opinion, with an angry mob prepared to judge us for the rest of our lives and end our futures before they can even start. However, the hard truth is that we are the people who make up this so-called mob and are in full control of what we say and do.

While cancel culture remains hotly contested, holding individuals accountable is a central tenet of American democracy and is essential to regulating uncouth rhetoric in the modern town square—from Instagram feeds to Reddit forums, X (formerly Twitter) spaces and beyond. Insufficient, faulty speech guidelines and lax enforcement by the leading social media companies can otherwise allow such rhetoric to go unchecked. 

“Cancel culture serves as a checks and balances to ensure that celebrities won’t get away with things that regular people would otherwise be criticized for,” senior and pop culture club president Yaelle Schouteeten said.

Celebrities, brands, groups and moguls across all areas of pop culture have been affected by the post-2020 wave of cancel culture—from Ellen DeGeneres, better known as the “be kind lady” facing allegations for being “unkind” to Elon Musk coming under fire for relaxing Twitter’s hate speech policies and even the “spokescandies” of M&Ms for their controversial attempt in adopting “inclusive” wardrobe and personality changes.

The recent spike in these “cancellations” can largely be attributed to the accessibility of social media, and more specifically, how quickly it can propagate information. This has placed every comment and allegation in the hot seat for millions of people to judge.

Critics point out how these online forums were intended to be safe places for free speech and expression, not hotbeds of cancellation and fear of speaking out. American writer and psychotherapist Dr. Steven Hassan said in a March 2021 Psychology Today article that cancel culture had become “toxic and harmful behavior.”

However, the 1st Amendment as guaranteed by the United States Constitution allows for public discourse to flow in both ways: for people to freely speak their thoughts and for the public to freely respond, with both criticism and praise.

“Cancel culture allows societies to acknowledge that everyone has different opinions,” junior Aarushi Mehta said. “I believe the only way we can grow as a society is if we learn to acknowledge and accept the fact that everyone has diverse points of view.”

These diverse points of view are at the heart of the cancel culture debate: should people be called out in such a public way?

51% of U.S. adults say calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center conducted in June 2022.

While the Pew poll suggests that a majority of Americans agree with the mission of cancel culture through the use of social media, 49% do not. This historic division over cancel culture is not unexpected; cancel culture is in and of itself controversial and polarizing, albeit it does not have to be. If approached more civilly and respectfully to encourage debate and discussion rather than close the door on opposition, perhaps the core mission of cancel culture could be better accomplished and draw more support along the way.

“I think that because [cancel culture] has become [synonymous with] hating on someone or sending death threats…it has ruined its original purpose of giving people a second chance to understand and grow,” Schouteeten said. “If cancel culture focused more on hopefully encouraging them to change their behavior…it could be really, really beneficial.”

Actor, director and former host of PBS’ “Reading Rainbow” LeVar Burton suggests renaming the term “cancel culture” altogether. 

“In terms of cancel culture, I think it’s misnamed, that’s a misnomer,” Burton said in an interview with American Broadcasting Company (ABC) News in April 2021. “I think we have a consequence culture and those consequences are finally encompassing everybody in the society.”

Throughout our history, people have challenged each other’s views and the status quo to invoke change and move society forward. Now with social media becoming firmly ingrained in the lives of many Americans, these debates have become amplified and this time, their consequences carry greater weight than ever before.

Words have tremendous power in today’s digital age—a single post can spawn a cascade of mixed reactions—so it is important to use them wisely.

Con: The 21st century can no longer be a home for cancel culture and all its liabilities

Many trends have come and gone in the modern age, but none have stuck more than cancel culture. The phenomenon is known all too well within young student communities like Woodbridge High, not only due to its prevalence on social media, but also because of the controversial debate it sparks in the United States. Cancel culture promotes polarization, fear of voicing unorthodox opinions and has resulted in disproportionate outcomes that weigh much heavier than the offense.

According to research from the University of Central Florida (UCF), cancel culture is a form of public engagement against an individual, institution or company that acts considerably or objectionably offensive.

Cancel culture can result in public shaming on social media platforms, boycotts and more. Because cancellation of individuals or groups often occurs online in comment sections, some social media users even go the extra mile to harass users and let their hatred take free reign. 

“We have a tendency sometimes to say things via social media or other platforms that maybe we wouldn’t say if we were face to face with someone,” UCF philosophy professor Stacey (Barreto) DiLiberto said.

Even the origins of cancel culture are heavily debated today. However, cancel culture has evolved in many forms, taking on many shapes and names. But even still, it continues to be a troubling social dilemma of culturally shaming individuals for their actions. Cancel culture is not holding individuals accountable for their actions. 

There is a clear distinction between the two. While some may see cancel culture as a platform for amplifying marginalized voices against systemic injustices and bringing social change to a tarnished society, in truth, cancel culture is disguised in a widely accepted, but frankly damaging form. 

“Holding someone accountable recognizes that they did something wrong, [and] you expect them to change. Canceling is more like they don’t get another chance [at growth], and their whole career is over,” junior Megan Payyapilly said. 

The aims of cancel culture are unrealistic and a simplistic black-and-white approach to complex human nature. In reality, cancel culture does not represent what anyone would want for themselves, their children and future generations. 

“Simply canceling someone because we disagree with their position does nothing constructive. Engaging in a respectful exchange of opinions while working toward the same goals is how we will thrive and grow as a society,” Steven A. Hassan at Psychology Today said. 

Ultimately, societal growth thrives from challenging discussions that must be listened to, not shut down. 

According to a study from Americans for Prosperity, “about 40 percent of Americans today report keeping quiet — holding back from expressing their true beliefs for fear of reprisal. One in four Americans fear cancel culture could risk their job or education.” 

One factor that adds to cancel culture’s controversy is that individuals hold back their opinions out of fear of backlash. The study further explores the impacts of cancel culture made by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) Vice President of Communications Nico Perrino.

“Cancel culture isn’t just about what gets said and then punished,” Perrino said. “It’s also about what never gets said for fear of punishment. The chilling effect of self-censorship is real—and can have an alarming effect on how Americans communicate.”

Oftentimes, this effect causes individuals to mold their opposing beliefs into mainstream views that may not always be beneficial. 

Countless times, cancel culture has tarnished the reputations of celebrities, political figures and ordinary Americans while putting an end to careers.  

“[Cancel culture] can ruin people’s lives,” sophomore Michaela Sein said. “It is used for bullying and does not do much or change anything in society.” 

In former President Barack Obama’s Summit, he criticized cancel culture, emphasizing how it is in our nature that people who do really good stuff [still] have flaws. 

“I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgemental as possible about other people,” Obama said. 

The fascination behind cancel culture is not one to support, it is one to put behind. Moving forward, we must discuss the harms of cancel culture, eliminate cancel culture and find alternatives. Cancel culture should be removed, and it is our job to create a morally right, just and positive system of honoring accountability on all levels.

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About the Contributors
Brandon Liu
Brandon Liu, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Hi Warriors! I'm Brandon and this will be my fourth and final year in journalism. I am so honored to lead our magazine this year and carry out our vision of a publication that breaks down the latest on-campus news to you, in a way that feels fresh, relevant, and engaging. Our goal is to share the stories that make us who we are—the Warrior family—and to value your input as readers. Journalism is so important in our everyday lives, so I hope the Golden Arrow stories can give you some insight into our lives within and also beyond school walls. Outside of journalism, you can find me watching the latest episode of Survivor, listening to Coldplay on loop, or hanging out with friends at the local boba tea shop. I know this year will be a good one, so I'm so excited to be a part of it!
Annabelle Ko
Annabelle Ko, In-Depth Editor
Hey Warriors! I am very honored to be your In-Depth Editor for the Golden Arrow this year. My name is Annabelle Ko and this is my second year in journalism. I am looking forward to producing print issues and website stories that tell the story of all students and staff at our school! I hope to grow as a journalist and highlight the people and activities that make Woodbridge unique. Happy reading everyone!
Donya Yazdihan
Donya Yazdihan, Opinion Editor
Hey Warriors! My name is Donya Yazdihan and I'm thrilled to serve as your Opinion Editor this school year. This will be my third and final year in the journalism program, and I'm looking forward to maintaining the credibility of our publication. As the Opinion Editor, I hope to provide a platform for diverse voices within the school community. Through my role, I aspire to challenge conventional perspectives and contribute to a more open-minded student body. Happy Reading, Warriors!
Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu, Features B Editor
Hey Warriors! My name is Lucy Liu and I'm really excited to serve as the Features B editor and staff illustrator. This is my third and last year in Golden Arrow, and I hope to wrap it up with more professional stories and creative illustrations. In my free time, I also love painting, video production, running, and competing in MUN. I hope you can enjoy our stories and find your voices represented in our issues.