Cancel Culture: Do you know what it actually means?

It is often used as a catchphrase by politicians and by some in conservative media. It is often misused and misunderstood.


Definition of cancel culture

the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling (see CANCEL entry 1 sense 1e) as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure

For those of you who aren’t aware, cancel culture refers to the mass withdrawal of support from public figures or celebrities who have done things that aren’t socially accepted today.

This practice of “canceling” or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.— Demetria Slya

At a Republican National Convention where speakers’ rage about cancel culture has been clear, former Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann used his speaking slot to introduce himself as “the teenager who was defamed by the media.”— Hunter Woodall

The relative difficulty of doing something good and the prolonged waiting period to receive credit for it is why cancel culture has flourished. It offers quicker social rewards.— Rob Henderson

Cancel culture is supported as a tool to stop offensive and harmful behavior, while others find it problematic and toxic.— Elise Krumholz

The first known use of cancel culture was in 2016

What is cancel culture – and who has been cancelled in 2021?
You’ve probably heard the term cancel culture or maybe heard about someone being “cancelled” before.

These are not rare incidents, however, but rather just some examples of what many people refer to as part of “cancel culture”.

Simply put, cancel culture is the idea of taking away support for an individual, their career, popularity and/or fame because of something they’ve said or done that’s considered unacceptable.

For example, many of those who have been “cancelled” have received this public backlash following accusations of violent, sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic activities or comments.

Some see participating in cancel culture as the most effective way to hold public figures to account, especially if no other lawful way appears to be working. By bringing the grievance public, it forces the accused’s employers and others to confront the situation and distance themselves from the perpetrator. In other words, it re-balances the power gap between those with huge audiences and the people or communities who could be negatively affected.

Most of the time, people are “cancelled” because they are a public figure with influence over a huge audience and what they’ve done or said is alleged to have caused harm to a particular person, group of people or community.

However, others believe cancel culture is more of a “mob mentality” that’s gone out of control.

The idea of cancel culture or “cancelling” someone hasn’t been around forever, though. It first appeared in a breakup song written by Nile Rogers in 1981 called “Your Love is Cancelled”, before being used in the dialogue of 1991 film New Jack City. Following this and throughout the 90s and early 2000s, artists continued to use the phrase in music and YouTube videos. It became more mainstream when a comment was made about “cancelling” someone in a 2014 episode of popular reality show Love and Hip Hop. The term was frequently then used on social media – particularly on Black Twitter – either seriously or as a joke.

The term once again became more popular with the #MeToo movement, as public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K and R. Kelly were all “cancelled” due to allegations of sexual abuse.

Since then, cancel culture and “cancelling” have made their way into mainstream vocabulary. But while the idea has been around for some years now, the new use of the verb ‘to cancel’ only entered the official Merriam-Webster dictionary earlier this year.

What does it mean to be “cancelled”?
To be “cancelled” is effectively to be boycotted, with the intent that the person will be ostracised and no longer benefit financially, personally or professionally from their elevated position.

Some people who have been “cancelled” have gone onto be held accountable for serious crimes, relating to what they were called out for. For example, Harvey Weinstein was first “cancelled” following allegations by multiple women published in The New York Times

After three years and several further allegations of serious sexual violence, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault.

While many people see “cancelling” someone today to be trial by social media, conducted largely by anonymous accounts, it has been publicly used a force for justice in the past. In the case of Weinstein, many women felt that their accusations had not been taken seriously by the entertainment industry, in which the disgraced film producer was seen to be at the helm of, or by the authorities. By coming together in numbers and “cancelling” Weinstein through the power of media, it allowed the women to finally be heard.

However as an uncompromising form of public backlash, It doesn’talways work this way – or have social justice as its primary motivator.

“Some have mixed emotions about cancel culture and the way that people on social media hold influencers and celebrities accountable,” explains leading psychiatrist Dr Tiago Reis Marques. “It can be seen as helpful particularly around large social issues but also damaging to someone’s career and reputation.”

Dr Marques, who is also the chief executive officer of Pasithea Therapeutics

Says that for the “cancelled” person, the mental impact can be huge. “It can essentially feel like they are being attacked by the whole world. This is particularly harmful to a person’s psychological state as we have seen in previous cases and often leads to chronic depression and anxiety.”

This is why many people refer to cancel culture and the idea of “cancelling” someone as a public pile-on. While the most famous examples are A-listers, people have called for reality stars, who have less media support or PR understanding, to be “cancelled” for innocuous comments and actions distorted in production, leading to damaging consequences.

“As cancel culture often leads to an individual being ostracised for something they have done or said, it can cause the person in question to feel rejected,” our expert says, especially if it turns out the “cancelled” person in question has actually done nothing wrong.

“Rejection can have a negative impact on self-esteem and self-worthiness which are known risk factors for depression and anxiety, potentially leading to a worsening of the patient mental health. Cancel culture is public shaming and social media has given rise to a particularly virulent form of mob justice that is negatively impacting our mental health.”

It seems like a new celebrity falls out of favour every day. But these are the celebrities who have supposedly been “cancelled” over the last two years alone, with some experiencing serious consequences for their actions and others…not so much.

Jimmy Carr

The most recent addition to the list, British comedian, Jimmy Carr’s. His Netflix special His Dark Materials, has caused outrage. In a clip from the show, which originally aired on Christmas Day, the comedian makes a ‘joke’ about how “no one wants to talk about the positives” of the fact that “thousands” of people in the travelling community were “killed by the Nazis”.

Referencing the Holocaust, in which an estimated half a million Roma and Sinti people in Europe were murdered by the Nazis, the comments have been slammed by various charities along with PM Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and MP Nadia Whittome.

While CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE shared a statement online which read, “We are absolutely appalled at Jimmy Carr’s comment about persecution…and horrified that gales of laughter followed his remarks.

“Hundreds of thousand of Roma and Sinti people suffered prejudice, slave labour, sterilisation and mass murder simply because of their identity – these are not experiences for mockery.”

Phillip Pullman is the author of His Dark Materials series, which have nothing to do with Carr’s special but the two are linked by the same name. On learning about what was included in the “abominable, sickening” set, he said he had “no idea what Jimmy Carr would be talking about in his show” but would be “very glad if he called his show something else from now on”.

Almost 15,000 people and counting have also signed a petition to have the special removed from Netflix. Created by The Traveller Movement, it calls the comments “nothing short of a celebration of genocide” and warns that joking about such atrocities “normalises further discrimination, and even violence, against already marginalised communities.”

Jimmy Carr responded to the controversy himself by telling attendees at a gig recently that he was “going down swinging”. According to The Mirror, the comedian said, “We are speaking, my friends, in the last chance saloon. What I am saying on stage this evening is barely acceptable now. In ten years, f forget about it.

“I am going to get cancelled, that’s the bad news. The good news is I am going down swinging.

“The joke that ends my career is already out there. It’s on YouTube, Netflix or whatever, and it’s fine until one day it f isn’t.”

Chris Noth

Following the reemergence of actor Chris Noth as “Mr Big” in Sex And The City reboot And Just Like That.

Two women approached The Hollywood Reporter with their stories of incidents involving the star.

The women, who did not know each other and remain anonymous in the piece, allege that Noth raped them. The first woman, known as Zoe in the piece, said that she was living in Los Angeles and 22 years old in 2004 when she met Noth, who would regularly visit the place she worked for business. While Lily told the publication that she was working in the VIP section of New York nightclub as a waitress in 2015 when she met the actor.

Chris Noth denies all claims made against him, telling the paper that the accusations were “categorically false” and the encounters were consensual. It could be difficult not to question the timing of these stories coming out. I don’t known for certain why they are surfacing now, but I do know this: I did not assault these women,” he said.

Even though (spoiler alert) Mr Big dies in the premiere of the series, Noth was apparently due to come back in the finale for a dreamlike scene where his wife Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica-Parker, scatters his ashes.

Following the publication of the piece shortly after the first episode aired in December last year, it was revealed that he would be cut the scene as it played fine without him. And shortly after the allegations were made public, co-stars Parker along with Cythia Nixon and Kristin Davis issued a statement in support of the women. “We are deeply saddened to hear the allegations against Chris Noth. We support the women who have come forward and shared their painful experiences. We know it must be a very difficult thing to do and we commend them for it.”

The actor’s agents dropped him and he lost his role as a regular on CBS series The Equalizer. Peloton, who released an advert featuring the star after Mr Big dies following a ride on one of their bikes

The Traveller Movement’s official Twitter account posted in response to the comments, “This is truly disturbing and goes way beyond humour. We need all your support in calling this out.” the first episode, also pulled their feature.

A spokesperson for the brand said, “Every single sexual assault accusation must be taken seriously. We were unaware of these allegations when we featured Chris Noth in our response to HBO’s reboot. As we seek to learn more, we have stopped promoting this video and archived related social posts.”

There is currently no criminal cases against Noth, The Independent confirms, as reports of the incidents have not been filed.

Ellen Degeneres

One of the most famous cancellations to happen in 2020 was that of American television show host Ellen Degeneres.

She came under fire after Buzzfeed News published an article where former members of her staff claimed the star created a “toxic work culture”. The former employees claimed that DeGeneres is not the same person she appears to be on the show when the cameras stop rolling. Instead, one claimed she was “demeaning” and her senior exclusives failed to follow through with her famous tagline of “be kind”, firing people who took sick or bereavement leave. One former employee also claimed that her top senior producers made “racist comments” and contributed to micro-aggressions on set.

Enid Blyton

The “cancellation” of famed British author Enid Blyton came amid plans by British Heritage to review almost 1000 blue plaques following the Black Lives Matter protests across the world in 2020. The plaques adorn buildings around the UK that have been significant in the lives of prominent figures in history. For example, Princess Diana’s legacy was honoured with a plaque outside her former London flat last year.

In April 2021, British Heritage announced that they would be updating the website reference that links to the plaque outside the home where Blyton lived from 1920 to 1924. “Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit,” the website read, according The Washington Post

  • instead this part of Blyton’s history is simply referred to as “Criticism” and the charity say that some people “took exception to what they perceived as social snobbery, racism and sexism embedded in Blyton’s storylines”.

Naturally, as with any subject of supposed cancel culture, there were two sides to the debate when the Twitter sphere kicked off in June last year. Some consider Blyton’s work to be essential in the literary canon and not subject to the same standards as today, considering the books were written almost 100 years ago. To others, this has been a long-time coming. The Royal Mint were forced to put plans to honour the author with a commemorative coin on hold in 2019, following backlash that referred to the author.