Cancel Culture


“The practice of no longer supporting people, especially celebrities, or products that are regarded as unacceptable or problematic,” the repercussions of Cancel Culture in India.

Macquarie Dictionary Named ‘Cancel Culture’ as the Word of the Year 2019. “A term that captures an important aspect of the past year’s Zeitgeist…an attitude which is so pervasive that it now has a name, society’s cancel culture has become, for better or worse, a powerful force,” wrote the Macquarie Dictionary committee in a blog post.

What is ‘cancel culture’ and what does ‘getting cancelled’ really mean? It’s a form of social boycott of someone, most often a celebrity, who would have shared a questionable opinion or has had problematic behaviour that is called out on social media. The idea is to deprive a celebrity of attention or in extreme cases, your money. There’s a hierarchy to transgressions that could get one cancelled. At the bottom of the totem pole is saying something that offends a section of the society to more serious wrongdoings like sexual assault. This, in turn, seems to determine the degrees of being cancelled. However, more often than not, though this fevered dream of cancellation is just that — a dream. In the real world, it rarely has any tangible or long-term effects on the lives of the cancelled.

“They said they would boycott her film. They said they would cut off her head. They said she couldn’t act. Deepika Padukone has spent her career putting ‘them’ in their place”, Raja Sen, a critic and author wrote. Padukone was a victim of name-calling and vile attacks after she visited the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University to express her solidarity with students who had been grievously injured in violent attacks. Hashtag Boycott Chhapaak trended, and there was social media outrage to boycott the products she endorses. This is a reflection of the erstwhile not talked about side of Cancel Culture, a phenomenon which is not only the copyright of liberal, progressive ‘woke’ people; but a weapon which is wielded by right-wing, fascist trolls alike.

In a post-MeToo India, it’s becoming increasingly challenging as survivors to see predators flourishing in various industries. The term cancel culture is a mere question mark in the face of industries like Bollywood, built on the foundation of predatory behaviour where sexual harassers are more likely to find work than survivors. Such is the case of Utsav Chakraborty, who came back a year after he was cancelled to nullify the accusations targeted at him and proceeded to dox various women under the garb of ‘uncancelling’ himself.

However, all hope is not lost. Female filmmakers such as Zoya Akhtar, Meghna Gulzar, Konkona Sen Sharma and Gauri Shinde, among others, have expressed their solidarity with the movement. In a combined statement shared by Gulzar on Instagram, the filmmakers announced their decision to not work with people guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct. The statement read: “We are here to spread awareness to help create a safe and equal atmosphere for all in the workplace. We have also taken a stand to not work with proven offenders. We urge all our peers in the industry to do the same.”

Personally, Cancel Culture will continue to not work, giving a platform to problematic people if we, as a public that consumes art don’t hold ourselves accountable. It should be a conscious choice of each one of us, to not invest in the art of a person who has previously done something harmful to a particular person or group and has shown no signs of repentance and growth. Because, in the words of comedian Hannah Gadsby, “Pushing for a culture of respect is not the same as cancelling culture.”

Featured Image Credits: Well and Good

Paridhi Puri

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Cancel Culture has gained both critiques and praise, its approach has helped many, but also often remained short-lived. This tool has emerged as a voice for the marginalised, but how effective is it?

Cancel Culture refers to the phenomenon of “cancelling” or boycotting a celebrity’s work, products, art and position, and as a practice has gained momentum in the past year. This process involves people expressing their anger towards the celebrity by collectivising in order to counter the social influence he or she has. This tool has been proven effective in providing marginalised groups with a voice and facilitating in the “takedowns” of people. Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey’s careers were cancelled after several women, and men came out against them in cases of harassment.

Cancel Culture comes with its supporters and opponents. Its advocates talk about how in an attention-based economy, this is a medium to gauge the attention of millions of people towards problematic behaviours. It can help educate and enlighten. We can call out big companies or brands for their acts of fright. The notion of individuals with social capital getting away with their wrongdoings is now challenged. Furthermore, we can now raise awareness about issues which were never openly discussed before, such as sexual harassment, racist comments, and queerbaiting.

This practice goes on from a celebrity-fan equation, to also a person-to-person equation. A very recent example becomes the number of people who were called out as a part of the #MeToo movement. We have all heard these stories, read these posts on Facebook or Instagram or known someone who has experienced this. From offices to colleges, and mostly the circuits of different societies. After the incident is painfully reported, the retelling of the story begins. But even at this level, there exists this social hierarchy, with some people whose reputation will be unaffected and those with much to lose.

The accused tend to remain involved, while the accuser is forced to leave this situation.

Recently, several cases of this have come to light. From Logan Paul, Aziz Ansari, James Charles to Indian comedians like AIB’s Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat have been boycotted. But the question remains, is this an effective solution? We cannot guarantee its impact, and how long the impact lasts. Only so few people have had to face long-lasting repercussions of being cancelled. Aziz Ansari made a comeback on Netflix, and incorporated this period in his piece, James Charles made an apology video and regained his lost position, Kanye West also successfully returned with his reputation untouched.

It is believed that with every controversy that comes and goes, people tend to forget the past. So, most celebrities suffer a brief period of losing deals and fans. Their return involves three steps; they make a seemingly “raw” and honest apology, lay low for a few months and return with the persona of a “changed” person. The authenticity of these apologies and transformations seem questionable. Going back to how it pans out in college circuits, a similar trend follows.

With cancel culture, “cancelling cancel culture” has also gained some attention. It has risen as a messiah of the ‘cancelled’ and propagates that these individuals be made aware of their problematic behaviours. Some people even bring in the idea of cyberbullying in speaking out against cancel culture.

Short or long, the impact this new culture brings is a ray of hope in a world where even ‘Instagram famous’ people gain social capital which can be hard to fight. The idea is not to takedown celebrities or to oppress them, but it is to revoke the privilege that has been placed. This fights against people in positions of privilege who have gotten away with racist and homophobic jokes or demanding sexual favours. The exploitation has now collectivised many to rage against, not a few select individuals, but centuries of oppression.


Feature Image Credits: Lamar University


Shivani Dadhwal

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