Cancel Culture: From Online to THHS

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By Carly Hu and Amrin Rahman, Staff Writers

In only a few days, social influencer and makeup artist James Charles lost 3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel after his former friend and fellow influencer Tati Westbrook exposed Charles’ betrayal of her. The drama between Charles and Westbrook began when Westbrook published a 43-minute long video on her channel, describing the numerous issues she had with Charles, ranging from his lack of support in her vitamin brand to allegations of sexual harassment.

Since its release on May 10, Westbrook’s video has garnered over 48 million views, while Charles’ apology video in response to Westbrook’s has amassed over 51 million views.

Almost instantly, Charles began to lose the support of his fans, and millions of disappointed viewers unsubscribed from his channel. While this was not the only scandal that Charles has been involved in, many viewers believed that this was the final straw, and declared him “canceled.”

This instance of “cancel culture,” the idea of no longer supporting someone after their actions are deemed unacceptable or problematic, is not the first. Several celebrities have been victim to this, including actress Lori Loughlin, who was recently involved in the college admissions scandal. Loughlin and her daughter, Olivia Jade, were both “canceled” and have not spoken on social media since the accusations made against them.

“I think celebrities are often canceled now because the general population doesn’t want to condone any negative behaviors and wants to make sure that celebrities are treated like everyone else,” junior Afrida Khalid said. “Cancel culture allows people to express their opinions and make sure that people don’t idolize people who do negative or harmful things.”

In some cases, “canceling” a celebrity seems like the righteous way to go about addressing the problem. Continuing to support a problematic influencer or artist can be seen as supporting the problem itself, and the obvious choice is to hinder their success, whether it be socially or financially.

Sometimes, cancel culture will go as far as major industries refusing to continue working with a canceled celebrity. “It only makes sense that companies would block out a celebrity who participates in a scandal,” said senior Tyler Tavares. “They simply wouldn’t want to make their product, or the entire company for that matter, look bad.”

This, however, raises the question of whether cancel culture can become too toxic. In fact, junior Lucas Ayala thinks that “cancel culture is too extreme, because celebrities, just like everyone else, deserve a chance to change. However, I know that James Charles is notorious for his ‘apology videos’ so I think Charles has been given those chances already.”

“These influencers, or celebrities, have been in the spotlight for a while and should know by now how careful they have to be, especially since social media platforms such as Twitter can be used to spread information really quickly,” says junior Annlin Su. “If they continue to act wrongly and think that they can get away with it because they’re famous, they need to be given a reality check.”

A week after his initial apology, James Charles published a video titled “No More Lies,” in which he spoke about his views on cancel culture and its impact. “Joining in on bandwagon hate and cancel culture is incredibly, incredibly toxic, and it’s very concerning to me that as a society we’re becoming okay with ‘guilty until proven innocent’ instead of the other way around,” Charles said. “I truly hope that everyone who participated in this, whether it be fans, influencers, drama channels, or ‘credible news sources,’ take[s] the time to think about [their] words and the impact that they may have on others because I assure you and I promise you, it’s a lot stronger than what you may think.”

Though not as dramatic as the world online, a microcosm of the “cancel culture world” may be seen in the halls of Townsend Harris. A more silent and subtle form of treatment than bullying, “canceling” someone can isolate them, or instead go unnoticed by the victim. Although most students do not directly “cancel” their peers, there have been times where students exhibited feelings of anger or frustration towards their classmates after incidents that occurred, similar to how many fans become outraged with a celebrity during a canceling fiasco.

One anonymous junior described an experience of being “canceled,” saying, “People are very quick to judge, which catalyzes every process and makes it very hard for the victim to redeem themselves, not only to their friends but to themselves. It makes the person reconsider everything they’ve done and makes them regret many of their actions.”

Another anonymous junior commented on how gossip among students can contribute to student “cancellation.” “Everyone talks about the same person, which makes it really easy to alter one’s view of that person. It’s the whole idea of group mentality,” they said. Just as rumors spread among a star’s followers, rumors that spread about one student can directly affect how they are treated by their peers.

Freshman Sophia Zion claimed that she has also “seen ‘cancel culture’ in Townsend before,” and explained that “it usually happens because that person does something wrong or goes behind other people’s backs.”

On the other hand, while freshman Audrey Chou hasn’t experienced “cancellation” herself, she thinks that “Townsend is honestly way too small of a school for anyone to be really cancelled,” as students seem to already know “the true character” of one another.

In an online community in which rumors and hate can spread rapidly, it is not surprising that cancel culture is as common as it is. “Cancel culture is common because of how our generation today works,” said senior Kaitlyn Wu. “Everyone communicates through social media and once word gets out, it spreads like wildfire and it is detrimental to not only the person targeted but for the ‘haters’ as well.”  

A commonality among some of these “cancellations” is that many of the situations tend to be sudden and fast-paced. Afrida explained, “When people can come together on one stance, the platform grows and allows people to feel welcome in a new community to some extent. This allows for canceling to happen and grow at faster rates than other internet trends.” At the same time, sometimes a celebrity may do something so drastic that they never return to the fame they once attained.

When this sense of community develops once media users decide to collectively “cancel” a prominent figure, some believe that social “bandwagoning” often fuels the hate. Sophomore Zoe Indarshan said that “Some of the people who now hate James Charles never used to stay up to date with what he was doing or never used to care [and only join in because] they want to feel included or they just want to be entertained.” For Zoe, jumping onto the bandwagon is “just another toxic aspect of social media.”

Nonetheless, cancel culture has undeniably become more frequent and controversial with the rise of social media. Both in school and in Hollywood, numerous people, guilty or not, have become victim to this modern form of ostracism. The continuation of this practice is ultimately up to the public, and how it chooses to handle these controversial situations.

Annlin does not feel that cancel culture is the ideal way to address such circumstances and said that while she is “all for putting power in the people to make decisions that affect them and the world they live in…the nature of [cancel culture] is rather frightening.” Lucas also believes that cancel culture should not continue, but he admitted that “people will continue to support it until they’re the ones being canceled.”