It’s been a while since I last wrote a drawn out article but this one has been long overdue. One of my New Years Resolutions for 2017 was to blog more and tweet less so here I am.
The topic I will be addressing today is one I’ve been mulling over for the past few months now. For the most part, I’ve flip flopped from one side of the argument to the other without hesitation, but now, in light of a recent TL event, have found myself squarely in the middle. Yes, I’m here to talk about what I see as one of social media’s greatest weapons of destruction: the cancel.
If you engage in regular Twitter use, you’ll know that there are many factions of Twitter. From ‘Black Twitter’ (which was trending at 500K odd tweets last night), ‘Stan Twitter,’ ‘London Twitter,’ ,’SJW Twitter,’ ‘Grad Twitter’ and many more. On the internet, many have found a lane in which they operate religiously and others dabble in different topics at different times. Either way, Twitter has become quite the online community for discussing ideas and critique – which brings me onto the topic of this article – the cancel.
Now the cancel is nothing complex and tends to come in a pretty standard form: an individual does something, later it is found that the person is problematic. Subsequent cancel. It’s as simple as that. The significance of said cancel comes from the fact that the individual being cancelled is said to be someone of status: a singer, actor, performer, YouTube star, TV guest, etc. Thus by cancelling them – a pledge is made to abstain from ‘buying’ into their product: almost like a modern-day boycott. Sounds churlish. But with the growing emergence of online-based brands and personalities – both new and established, it doesn’t take a genius to see how integral a role social media plays in the success of a brand. A good PR relationship with online users is essential.
My conflict used to lie with the fact that, to me, these people of status, were just that: people of status. They were not friends or acquaintances of mine, thus their views were irrelevant. Not to say that I was supporting white supremacists, but I merely focused on the craft.
I took the approach:
Oh it kinda sucks that you’re a misogynist but at least you can rap!
Pathetic I know. But I guess I’m not that greatly alienated by individual character. Celebrities are not my role models, much less my friends, so their opinions were void to me. It only occurred to me that I was perhaps ‘enabling’ when the Kid Cudi vs Drake drama became apparent. I don’t really like Kid Cudi or Drake’s music so I saw the issue from an objective standpoint. However from what I’d heard, Drake’s jab seemed to be a low-blow considering Kid Cudi has always been expressive about his mental health state in music and recently on social media. Now I’m not here for industry politics or celebrity feuds: but I do know mental health is very real and so I automatically didn’t appreciate Drake’s comments. But then I stepped back to re-evaluate.
What right did I have to be mad at a man I did not know?
I mean honestly. Let’s step back from the lens of idealism and really think about this. As mentioned before, these people of ‘status’ are not known to me. So what right do I have to expect anything from them? Unless their esteemed position came from a place of moral high-ground e.g. pastor, Imam, ambassador (these are all debatable positions but meh) etc. then technically, there was nothing to undermine. As far as I’m concerned, Drake’s platform was not founded on goodwill so his behaviour was nothing was just that… his behaviour. I can’t say if it was out of the ordinary because I don’t know what his ‘ordinary’ is. But then again, I’m not a fan.
This brings me back to the ‘cancel.’ A pre-disposed fan or supporter of a ‘celebrity’ may feel betrayed that their ‘fave’ has espoused such a view and neglect to support their career any further. That’s their business. But what does that say about us as a people that we’re so quick to cancel whenever we don’t agree with something? Some may say it makes us smart people. It’s survival. Self-care. Necessary. I agree somewhat. I don’t need to tolerate someone whose views are so incongruous with my own. Forget it. But then on the flip-side, the English Lit freak in me rears its ugly head and screams my favourite c-word: CONTEXT!
Now I know some statements don’t need context. If you say a phrase like: “black women ain’t sh*t,” needless to say, I don’t need an explanation as to what you meant. It’s pretty simple. But on many occasion, I’ve seen Twitter users jump the gun and pre-emptively shoot themselves in the foot. The Kanye West ‘multiracial’ debacle was a good example. Many assumed by the casting call descriptor that a certain phenotype was being sought for: “ethnically ambiguous,” “black features but not black” etc. Parallels were made to the casting call for Straight Outta Compton where three tiers of woman were described for different roles in the movie – ‘dark skinned women’ being the bottom. The whole thing reeked of colourism and I braced myself for the Yeezy fashion show, which went on to defy most preconceptions. It turned out ‘multiracial’ was just a PC version of saying: no ‘white’ models per se.
Ok whatever, let’s move on, Twitter said.
But that situation gave me pause. I recognised that the flippant, speedy structure of Twitter was becoming more an ailing feature than a pro. You can’t edit your tweets and screenshots are 4eva so there’s no escaping a misconception. Particularly when you have a large audience. For instance, that news story on Adam Saleh being kicked off the Delta Airlines incensed me: I’m not a fan but I remember I’d seen a few social experiments of him in which he challenged the perception of Muslims in the USA. I knew he was a popular YouTuber with millions of subscribers and had even heard Scotland Yard had paid to him lead an anti-terrorist campaign in the UK not too long ago. Basically I thought his platform was one of goodwill. But then I heard that the whole Delta scandal was potentially a hoax and he had made some anti-black comments on his channel regarding ‘abeeds’ and I was livid. Like I said, I don’t care about the personal views of people I don’t care for. But when you claim you don’t want to be profiled as a terrorist, but go on to call fellow members of your Ummah derogatory slurs, I must draw the line. To support you after that is incomprehensible, and thus, my tweets of support for Adam were swiftly deleted. A metaphorical cancel if you will.
That brings to me to my final point: the role of consciousness. When you make a social media account – either for yourself or for a brand (or both if you are your brand), you accept responsibility for what is said on said account. Also if your platform is large, people will hold you to a high regard. In my opinion, therein lies the problem: synonymy between wide outreach and goodness. Not all fame is good. Retweets and viral videos are all great fun when the content is light-hearted but when it is destructive or defamatory it can hurt emotionally and monetarily. Rather, we need to focus on the relationship between wide outreach and accountability.
Now in terms of you as a consumer, buying into a brand/product, you have every right to ‘cancel’ both literally and figuratively if the brand does not align with your moral compass. That’s the beauty of personal autonomy. But when it comes to dealing with people who are brands – I think there needs to be more nuance in the conversation.
First thing’s first: these people owe you nothing.
It’s quite a bitter pill to swallow but it’s a reality. Katie Hopkins. Piers Morgan. Milo. Perez Hilton. Heck, the whole Kardashian family. All of these people thrive more-so on what is viral than what is authentic. It is because of their aesthetic and loyal following that they have coins. Subsequently, ‘hating’ these people makes them money. Hence the increasingly controversial content.
How do we get rid of them you say?
*Ding ding ding*
If everyone who supported said person suddenly decided not do so, that person’s clout would be removed, rendering the cancel effective.
In conclusion, there is certainly power in the cancel when applied correctly. In many ways, it is the modern-day boycott. But I do think it’s misappropriation is watering down its effectiveness. Regarding individuals – brands and non-brands: whether you like it or not, a great marketing machine means that any publicity is good publicity. Fortunately, not everyone has a great marketing machine so virality doesn’t last forever. But either way, you shouldn’t expect much from personal brands. The fact that they are governed so greatly by a person means they factor into the subjectivity of our beings: upbringings, misinformation, ignorance and nonchalance. For many, a simple apology or counteraction is enough redemption because… human. And forgiveness is a human trait.
But in terms of non-personal brands i.e. products/service/crafts that people put money and time in to, there should be more expectation.
If a website that sells nude clothing claims to cater to all women but doesn’t accommodate darker shades, this should hold more weight than an ambassador for said clothing brand saying the brand caters to all women. The former is more objective and thus holds more weight. Understanding your role as a consumer is imperative in a capitalist society like the one in which we live. You do have a choice on whether to buy into a brand. It’s about tact. It is not every professional/business brand that you must afford a moral high ground. Popularity is not a measure of goodwill.
The key thing here is being held to account. For me personally, I’m hard to disappoint simply because I don’t expect much. I recognise however that not everyone is like that. This article is not a mandate on whether to cancel or not to cancel. It’s about understanding your power both on and offline and the potential of the ‘cancel’ in our internet generation.