What is cancel culture? Everything to know about the toxic online trend

Is it time to throw the #CancelCultureIsOverParty yet? J.K. Rowling and Ellen DeGeneres are among the latest famous faces to find themselves trending and declared “over,” joining the hordes of celebrity “casualties” of cancel culture 2020. Twitter users took to the digital platform last month to condemn Harry Potter author Rowling for making anti-trans comments …

Is it time to throw the #CancelCultureIsOverParty yet?

J.K. Rowling and Ellen DeGeneres are among the latest famous faces to find themselves trending and declared “over,” joining the hordes of celebrity “casualties” of cancel culture 2020.

Twitter users took to the digital platform last month to condemn Harry Potter author Rowling for making anti-trans comments along with denouncing singer-rapper Doja Cat’s racist chatroom past and former “Glee” star Lea Michele’s alleged mistreatment of co-stars. By July, the focus had lasered in on talk show host DeGeneres (complete with a death hoax) and “Killing Eve” star Jodie Comer’s rumored conservative boyfriend.

But what does it really mean to get the #RIP treatment — and will society ever declare it to be over, too?

Cancel culture — the phenomenon of promoting the “canceling” of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies — isn’t all that new.

Dr. Jill McCorkel, a professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University, told The Post that the roots of cancel culture have been present throughout human history. Societies have punished people for behaving outside of perceived social norms for centuries, she said, and this is just another variation.

“Cancel culture is an extension of or a contemporary evolution of a much bolder set of social processes that we can see in the form of banishment,” she said. “[They] are designed to reinforce the set of norms.”

Over the last few years, the social-media trend has gained momentum under the trendy new name — placing celebrities, companies and media alike under a microscope of political correctness.

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Here’s a brief rundown of who, what and why this online mob mentality rules and why bullheadedness can be “problematic” for open discourse, according to McCorkel.

“Twitter, do your thing”

This popular request amongst the platform’s users actively encourages a person to be put under the microscope. Twitter’s users are often known for their FBI-like investigative skills — digging up past dirt, old secrets and discovering people’s identities — and are now being utilized in the resurgence of cancel culture.

Users are uncovering the identities of people expressing racist comments in viral videos, their most recent victim being Amy Cooper, 41, otherwise known as “Central Park Karen.” The video featured the white woman calling the police on a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), 57, who requested her dog be put on a leash.

“Karen” promptly told authorities an “African-American man is threatening my life,” all whilst seemingly strangling her dog. After the video racked up millions of views, she was fired from her investment firm job, temporarily forced to surrender her dog and charged with one count of falsely reporting an incident in the third degree. The viral clip also spawned new hate crimes legislation.

Celebrities are joining the cancel-culture call to action, too.

Actress-writer Skai Jackson, 18, took to Twitter last month to expose a high-school student featured in a viral video screaming racial slurs. She identified his name, prospective college and Instagram handle.

In the thread, her followers used it as an opportunity to expose other people’s offensive posts, starting a chain of ultimate Twitter investigative work in the name of canceling racists. Pop singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, 35, experienced similar backlash after making comments about fellow female recording artists — many of them women of color.

The collective canceling of someone, even on the internet, creates a sense of solidarity, McCorkel explained, and reinforces the feeling of togetherness, that “we are a group…and we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior.”

“It reinforces, at a time of political division, a sense of shared solidarity, at least among the people who are doing the canceling,” she said. “It’s psychologically intoxicating to feel part of a group and to feel a part of something larger than yourself.”

Popular Twitter accounts like @YesYoureRacist and @RacistOTW have become the pop-culture racism watchdogs. They’ve made it their civic duty to scrutinize the actions of average people and public figures alike, shedding light on previously overlooked or unknown incidents.

Rebranding after backlash

Cancel culture, though, isn’t exclusive to celebrities. Companies and brands are under fire for racist imagery.

After facing backlash for perpetuating racist stereotypes, the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima breakfast brand is getting a makeover. Similarly, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s brands might be next.

Popular vegan recipe creator, formerly named “Thug Kitchen,” also underwent a rebrand, revealing its new name as “Bad Manners” last month. Eskimo Pies, owned by Dreyer’s, and Cream of Wheat also followed suit.

Sports teams began to jump on board, too. After years of criticism, the Washington Redskins are finally brainstorming a new team name, inspiring the Cleveland Indians to consider doing the same.

#IsOverParty members apologize

With cancel culture comes apologies for the actions that caused the cancellation in the first place.

The #IsOverParty is an ode to cancel culture, most recently used to cancel Jimmy Fallon after a video resurfaced of him in blackface imitating Chris Rock. While #JimmyFallonIsOverParty was quick to trend on Twitter, some users were quick to condemn his cancellation.

“The culture of canceling people is ridiculous. Jimmy Fallon did this 20 years ago when he was young and had to listen to his boss in order to put food on his table,” wrote one user in the thread.

The 45-year-old talk show host has since apologized, writing on Twitter that it was a “terrible decision” to wear blackface, that he is “very sorry” and thanked his fans for holding him accountable for his actions, despite how long ago it was.

McCorkel acknowledged that we are quick to cancel and not so quick to forgive or believe that people can learn from mistakes, but as someone who has extensive knowledge of the criminal justice system, she has been witness to people changing.

“I know that people are capable of rehabilitation,” she said, adding that she’s seen it happen and that people can grow if given the chance.

Twitter’s ability to dredge up old, problematic content is creating new problems for other celebrities, too. YouTubers Jenna Marbles, whose real name is Jenna Mourey, and Shane Dawson recently faced criticism for donning blackface on their channels years ago. Mourey even decided to call it quits over the incident.

Canceling “cancel culture”

This week, Harper’s Magazine published an open letter calling to do away with cancel culture altogether, denouncing the movement as “censorious” and “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

Many Twitter users responded to the open letter — which was signed by more than 150 public figures, including Margaret Atwood, 80, and Rowling, 54 — in disgust, arguing that bigotry, like they believe many of the signers are guilty of, is not free speech.

Eugene Gu, the CEO of CoolQuit.com with almost 500,000 followers on Twitter, responded to the letter in a tweet, saying, that while he believes in free speech, “Many of the signatories on this letter…believe in free speech for themselves and horrible consequences for those who disagree with them.” In a subsequent tweet, the 34-year-old added that racism, sexism and homophobia are not free speech, because it is discriminatory to others.

“This rigidity right now in American political discourse is problematic because you really can’t have a high-functioning democracy without people being willing to engage one another in meaningful ways to hash out their political disagreements,” she said.

She acknowledged that while it depends greatly on the issue at hand, there’s a difference between canceling a type of behavior that is collectively agreed on as “bad” — using #MeToo and condemning workplace sexual harassment, for example — and canceling one particular person without discourse.

“We have to be able to come together across those political differences and sort out what are the optimal solutions,” she said. “We can’t do that if we are dug into our respective trenches and unwilling to engage across those political divides.”

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