We now live in a time when your past mistakes can really come back and bite you on the ass. If you wrote something offensive on Twitter ten years ago, chances are someone is going to find a screenshot of it to share on the day your new job is announced. If you say something rude to someone on the train, you might get filmed and then fired when that video goes viral. You’re cancelled.
Cancel culture is not actually that revolutionary. Human beings have long used shame as a form of social control. It’s really that the Internet is so wide reaching. You’re not just shamed in your village or community.
People on the other side of the globe will know your name and its shame. That’s a pretty scary concept for a lot of people, which means there’s often more of a backlash to the shaming than to the original offense.
A Twitch user with the Twitter handle @AshleyRoboto made a little video on their perspective of cancel culture and it’s gone super viral, probably because a lot of people agree with her:
Cancel Culture is BAD. 😤 pic.twitter.com/SPkbxxxhf5— [🔴LIVE] Ashley ☀️✧・ (@AshleyRoboto) July 23, 2019
It’s not entirely clear if she is referring to a specific incident or person, but she basically asserts that people should be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow.
This sounds very good in theory. But what qualifies as a mistake?
Her followers mention beauty YouTuber James Charles several times in the replies, implying this whole video is sort of a subtweet about his situation. Charles might be a good case study of cancel culture, whether he is who @AshleyRoboto is talking about or not. In May, the New York Times ran a story about Charles called, “James Charles, From ‘CoverBoy’ to Canceled.”
In it, all of Charles (many) offenses are detailed, including allegations of racism and transphobia. The most damning item on the list was a very popular video created by YouTube beauty vlogger Tati Westbrook, in which she accused Charles of manipulating people sexually with his fame and power.
The whole thing is kind of a mess and pretty controversial.
Now, does Charles deserve to be cancelled? As the Times notes, he really hasn’t been. his popularity took a dip, but since then, views and followers have grown. It remains a bit of a sore point online, however, amongst the sorts of teenagers deeply invested in that world, like @AshleyRoboto.
While she is certainly right that people can learn from their mistakes, a lot of the replies were saying there’s a certain point where things no longer qualify as “mistakes.”
What are mistakes to y’all? Calling some n*gger isn’t a mistake. Homophobia isn’t a mistake. Transphobic comments aren’t mistakes. A mistake is stepping on someone damn shoe.— One Punch PUSSY (@KatHeartwell) July 24, 2019
Growth: learning about systemic racism, applying it, taking initiative and unpacking your own biases (even as a minority!)— Amara the Ace 🏳️🌈 🔜 GenCon (@MsTwstd) July 24, 2019
Deflection: deciding that because you have a platform, you default to right and can't be held accountable ever, removing yourself to avoid criticism.
Also note the people who are defending it and the people who aren’t. White people fast as hell to accept apologies that aren’t meant for them— Aaron Page (@deepbluescene) July 24, 2019
Also, the framing of the aforementioned vitriol as simply "dumb" choices or "mistakes" is tired af. Y'all are so intellluctally lazy and dishonest. Just admit you don't know what accountability is, or looks like, because none of this is it. pic.twitter.com/c4CPW6JG7h— Flame-Broiled Bitch (@_thepowerwithin) July 24, 2019
It’s great to say that we should all be more tolerant, open, and accepting of each other. It’s great to believe in second chances. But that’s a lot easier to say when you’re not the person who was hurt by a “mistake.”