It seems like everyday, something that was once trendy is now cancelled. As the use of social media grows, so does the occurrence of cancel culture. Whether it's a celebrity or a multinational company, no one can fully escape the scrutiny of the internet. While it's keeping companies and their employees on their toes, has cancel culture gone too far?
What does it mean to be cancelled today? “Cancelling” no longer only means simply calling off plans or postponing something. Cancelling now applies to people, entities, brands, you name it--it’s even a culture in itself now.
Cancel culture, as it is seen in society today, has been popularized because of the #MeToo movement. A movement that began with women in Hollywood coming forward and sharing their stories of experiencing sexual assault harassment through the #MeToo hashtag on social media. The hashtag quickly went viral. It easily prompted public backlash towards the personalities exposed. It also stirred up the discussion on how sexual misconduct is heavily prevalent in so many industries but goes unspoken.
Through the movement, numerous women were able to voice their struggles and experiences while helping open up the discourse on how gender disparities in power and representation are all rooted in gender stereotypes deeply entrenched in society. All it took was the virality of an online movement to shed light on topics that used to be very difficult to talk about in public spaces.
However, what are the implications of such a movement in connection with cancel culture? How can cancel culture, in the long run, bring forward conversations about abusive and exploitative practices we usually shy away from talking about?
Beyond the #MeToo movement
Cancel culture begs the question: to cancel or to be cancelled? In a time where everything and everyone seems to be treading on a tightrope, how do we know what and who are worth cancelling and how do we cancel them? Does cancelling really help achieve social justice or does it only work like a mob rule, not really solving anything but just fueling misguided hate instead of meaningful discourse?
Expectedly, cancel culture has gone beyond the #MeToo movement. Since the culture of cancelling heavily relies and exists on social media, it goes beyond celebrities and key figures in society. Cancelling can happen to any individual or entity, as long as they take significant space in the public consciousness. It can happen to brands, it can happen within workplace settings, it can happen within different fields and industries.
On one hand, cancel culture can be seen as something effective in combating sexism, racism, and other wrongful practices and behaviors that bring harm to others. It also helps in opening up these issues to be talked about by a wider audience while pushing others to also share their experiences and holding those who wronged them accountable.
On the other hand, many argue that cancel culture can be minimized to the point that it’s perceived as people just being overly sensitive to things. While people who are cancelled get cancelled for various reasons, from the gravest of offenses to the lighter ones, how do we decide how to condemn them and is it still possible to give them a chance to grow and learn from their mistakes? Is revoking someone of their cultural cachet or public platform enough to bring forward genuine change that would do good for everyone?
Cancel culture in the workplace
One of cancel culture’s primary goals is to address the effects of power imbalances in different aspects of society. This is also why cancel culture can be seen almost everywhere. In the workplace, for instance, power dynamics deeply affect the way organizations function. Employees and employers can sometimes get caught in a power play that can cause misunderstandings and miscommunications that can disrupt an organization’s process flow.
Instances of cancel culture in the workplace can happen if there are no measures in place to address conflicts among and between employers and employees. If there is mismanagement within an organization that causes its members to suffer, employees may bring this issue up to top management. However, if this is not addressed, they can opt to take drastic measures beyond the workplace which may come in the form of denouncing the company on social media in order to bring to light the organization’s malpractices. Although this is a way of exposing the wrongdoings of the company, this does not guarantee that the company will put in place policies that would address employee complaints. People may call for the boycotting of the company but there is no way of knowing whether this would have long-lasting effects for the company, especially if it is one that is quite established in the public sphere.
Cancel culture can also backfire on employees who take onto social media their grievances in the workplace. Even though the intent is to address pressing concerns, especially because their employer does not seem to be listening to them, this can be a cause for further antagonism. A scenario could be that the company would simply ignore the employees and continue with their old ways, despite being “cancelled.”
Both employer and employee can be subject to cancelling. The workplace can let thrive the culture of cancelling in itself that may not be completely productive for the company. Instead of putting in place measures that would resolve disputes, cancel culture may be considered the replacement but this does not exactly address shortcomings of either employer or employee. It may raise issues for scrutiny but considering the dynamics of cancel culture, there is no way to know if these issues can be addressed beyond simply identifying them.
As cancel culture permeates the workplace, what’s important is to know how it can affect the way we work. While it is ideal to be aware of what goes on in an organization, particularly of practices that directly affect its members, cancel culture should be made to do more than call out possible malpractices. If cancel culture does not provide us with results that would benefit us, then maybe we should rethink its presence in the workplace.
Cancel culture: how can it be a force for good?
In order for cancelling to happen, collective effort must be in place. To cancel someone takes a collective voice and not a singular one. If the act of cancelling is seen coming from only a single person, it’s hard to say whether their clamour for something could actually achieve anything. This is why in order for cancel culture to amount to something, it should come from and go towards the interests of more than one individual.
In this current world of to cancel or be cancelled, how do we really position ourselves if we want to see a better society? Do we urge on a culture of cancelling or do we call for something that can give us a better chance at seeing change?
Cancel culture in different contexts, may it simply be on social media or in the workplace, can be a force for good if it can be led to something greater--something that can practically address and completely put an end to harmful acts and wrongdoings. If that will not be the case, then cancel culture will simply remain futile--an empty call for social justice.
If we want more to come out of cancelling and if we want the culture of cancelling to go beyond simply calling out personalities, brands, and organizations, it is up to us to lead it to produce genuine change, for each and everyone who keeps having their voice taken away from them.
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