The official avatar of this one has crept up on us almost without warning. I’m talking about cancel culture. For those who have come in late, cancel culture refers to the practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.
But it’s always been around, you protest. True. For a while now, we have been divided into two groups, and no, I’m not talking about the political divide. These two groups comprise those forever outraging over something new, and those who are avid if non-participating consumers of that outrage.
The moment a new outrage is unearthed, the invective flows, the rape and death threats begin to bloat with venom, and the stated resolve to boycott the artwork/ films/ books/ toothpaste/ detergent and whatnot made by the offender, float about.
I say ‘float about’ because it’s mostly temporary, this outrage, with no real ballast to it. The moment the next wrongthink is spot-lit, the hordes swarm there, sometimes absentmindedly consuming the very product they had earlier sworn to boycott for the rest of their lives.
Which is a pity, because some of the issues that are dredged up are substantial ones, and deserving of serious attention/discussion/action. However, the very nature of social media is that it functions in transitory mode, at least most of the time, leaving the task of initiating reform and following it up to other agencies.
It’s a scary thing, this social media (Socmed) monster with gaping maw, forever lurching this way and that, in search of new things to devour and spit out half-chewed. This monster rather resembles the Cerberus-like Fluffy to be found in the first Harry Potter book. And that’s ironical, because as the world knows by now, cancel culture has found a famous victim/denouncer in the creator of Potter & Co, JK Rowling. After her perceived-to-be-transphobic and decidedly tone-deaf tweets, Socmed turned on her savagely, promising to ‘cancel’ her work, past, present and future.
Many followed through on the cancelling, too. Rowling was alarmed and dismayed enough to first explain herself, then join other literary eminences like Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, Noam Chomsky, Atul Gawande and John Banville, in writing a letter stating, ‘The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted...censoriousness is spreading more widely in our culture: 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.’
The trenchantly worded letter notwithstanding, don’t expect this or other cancel culture outrages to vanish into the ether... not till the next deemed offence takes place, anyway. The Socmed world is having too much fun hating, abusing, demeaning, reviling, and nuance was the first thing that gets cancelled in the process. The world has found something new to outrage over… till the next trigger comes along
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