Should We Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’?

The Internet has once again cultivated a burgeoning political movement that, at its core, aims to ensure accountability for people’s behaviours. The movement, which often takes place within the social media sphere, is colloquially known as cancel culture. It envisions a utopian future in which the justice system is perfect, where no one can escape taking responsibilities of their actions in fear of its consequences.

But how far do consequences go?

Recently, comedian Shane Gillis was stripped out of his new gig at Saturday Night Live following a resurfaced footage of racial slurs made on a podcast in September 2018, along with various other politically incorrect comments made over his career. The decision has since attracted mixed opinions from the public, with SNL alumni Rob Schneider expressing his sympathy for Gillis and comedian Jim Jefferies claimed that “this is just cancel culture”. On the same occasion, Bill Burr argued that the society has stooped so low to purposely nit-pick people’s past remarks “looking for the bad stuff”, often while disregarding good deeds the person have done.

On the other side of the spectrum, actor Daniel Dae Kim of Always Be My Maybe and The Divergent Series took upon his Twitter to express his contempt. “Gotta be a joke in there somewhere,” the Hawaii Five-0 star wrote. Similar sentiment was echoed by Kim’s Convenience actor Simu Liu. The lead of Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings wrote in a tweet, “It wasn’t funny then, and it sure as hell isn’t funny today.”

Gillis has offered to apologise “to anyone who’s actually offended” via Twitter. On the same tweet, he justified that his intention was never to hurt anyone, and that the offensive remarks were results of his failed attempts at being funny. Many think the apology – which has since been deleted – was done in poor taste, including host/comedian W. Kamau Bell, comedienne Atsuko Okatsuka, and US presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Personally, this is where I sit within the spectrum.

I tend to see the world in black and white. When I was little, I found it hard to comprehend that something can be both good and bad. That your classmate is not necessarily lazy when they often come late to school; they might live in an area where public transportation is unreliable. As I grew up, I started to realise that most things in life can’t be put in neat boxes of right or wrong. Often, what we can do is weighing whether one thing brings more harm or good, and make decisions upon that deliberation.

I, like many other people in this day and age, am strongly against any form of discrimination. I believe there is no good excuse in favour of discriminating certain groups based on superficial criteria such as race or gender and we need to strive to eliminate traces of discriminatory laws and institutional racism carried over from the olden days. One way of doing it is via activism and making sure that all offenders are fairly held accountable. The most accessible platform for such purpose, considering how widespread it is nowadays, is social media. As a result, cancel culture was born and has been gaining traction since.

My question is how much of it works to serve justice and teach lessons? Where to draw the line between calling out, playing judge, and just outright bullying? How do we fairly decide which celebrities deserve to be cancelled, and to what extent do we cancel them? As a comparison, Nicki Minaj just married a registered sex offender and we haven’t heard anything about her cancellation.

Moreover, what does cancelling someone achieve other than making a point that we do not tolerate discriminatory remarks and actions? Does it educate offenders on why is it offensive? Will it stop people from internally, but not outwardly, being racist? To stretch it a bit further, due to the “you versus us” nature of cancel culture, will it then unintentionally spread the message that it is impossible to stand with the affected communities, unless you are one of them?

On the other end, I wish Gillis had been more sincere about his apology. It did not exude remorse nor did it promise any sort of effort to learn from his mistakes. Not to add that it was not the first time of him expressing such views in public, meaning that it was not a one-off, unfortunate circumstance. However, do these views come from a place or hate or simply ignorance? Being a privileged white male, I can imagine Gillis has encountered very few occasions in which he is being discriminated against purely based on his skin colour. This lack of personal experience might have led him to have a less empathetic stance on this issue.

I believe what is more important than cancelling others is to work on eradicating ignorance and encourage a more cohesive society to minimise segregation and exclusivity. Start bridging interracial gaps and befriending others regardless of their racial profile. Many argue that it is easier to build a community of homogeneous race, but if we are not going to break the invisible barrier, the community will remain homogeneous for as long as we can foresee.

In the words of Connor Franta, I think we should aim to try coming from a place of kindness and compassion. By allowing people to move forward and apologise, we are giving them chances to prove that their racist remarks come from ignorance rather than deep-rooted belief. I believe most people simply lack education due to racially insular upbringing, which unfortunately is still prevalent even in today’s era of interconnected world.

I might be a naive young adult with stars in her eyes, but I firmly believe that an eye for an eye will only make the world goes blind. Hostility is never the answer to conflict resolution and I believe in promoting healthy conversations in times of dispute. Although things are definitely better these days, we still have a long battle to go to combat discriminations and be fully united as fellow human beings.