Cancel culture

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Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles - either online on social media, in the real world, or both. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be "canceled."[1] Merriam-Webster, discussing the term's history, notes that cancel, as used in the term means "to stop giving support to that person,"[2] while, in its pop-culture dictionary, defines cancel culture as "withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive."[3] The expression "cancel culture" has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.

The notion of cancel culture is a variant on the term call-out culture and constitutes a form of boycott involving an individual (usually a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner.[2][4][5][6][7]

For those at the receiving end of cancel culture, the consequence can lead to loss of reputation and income that can be hard to recover from.[8]

Academic analysis[edit]

According to the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, call-out culture arises from what he calls safetyism on college campuses.[9] According to Keith Hampton, professor of media studies at Michigan State University, the practice contributes to the polarization of American society, but it does not lead to changes in opinion.[10] Some students are afraid to express unpopular ideas for fear of being called out on social media[11] and may avoid asking questions as a result.[12] Call-out culture's prevalence makes marginalized groups feel "even more hesitant to speak out for what they feel is right."[13] Cultural studies scholar Frances Lee states that call-out culture leads to self-policing of "wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate" opinions.[14][15] According to Lisa Nakamura, University of Michigan professor of media studies, cancelling someone is a form of "cultural boycott" and that cancel culture is the “ultimate expression of agency” which is "born of a desire for control [as] people have limited power over what is presented to them on social media" and a need for ‘accountability which is not centralized’.[7][16][17]

Some academics proposed alternatives and improvements to cancel culture. Critical multiculturalism[18] professor Anita Bright proposed "calling in" rather than "calling out" in order to bring forward the former's idea of accountability but in a more "humane, humble, and bridge-building" light.[19] Clinical Counsellor Anna Richards, who specializes in conflict mediation, says that "learning to analyze our own motivations when offering criticism" helps call-out culture work productively.[20]


The expression "cancel culture" has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.[21][22]

Former US President Barack Obama warned against social media call-out culture saying "People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you."[23] Former US President Donald Trump criticized cancel culture in a speech in July 2020, comparing it to totalitarianism and claiming that it is a political weapon used to punish and shame dissenters by driving them from their jobs and demanding submission.[24]

Open letter[edit]

Dalvin Brown, writing in USA Today, has described an open letter signed by 153 public figures and published in Harper's Magazine as marking a "high point" in the debate on the topic.[21] The letter set out arguments against "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."[25][26][27]

A response letter organized by lecturer Arionne Nettles, "A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate," was signed by over 160 people in academia and media and criticized the Harper's letter as a plea to end cancel culture by successful professionals with large platforms but to exclude others who have been "cancelled for generations."[28][29]

American public opinion[edit]

A poll of American registered voters conducted by Morning Consult in July 2020 showed that cancel culture, defined as "the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive," was common: 40% of respondents said they had withdrawn support from public figures and companies, including on social media, because they had done or said something considered objectionable or offensive, 8% having engaged in this often. Behavior differed according to age, with a majority (55%) of voters 18 to 34 years old saying they have taken part in cancel culture, while only about a third (32%) of voters over 65 said they had joined a social media pile-on.[30] Attitude towards the practice was mixed, with 44% of respondents saying they disapproved of cancel culture, 32% who approved, and 24% who did not know or had no opinion. Furthermore, 46% believed cancel culture had gone too far, with only 10% thinking it had not gone far enough. However, a majority (53%) believed that people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, especially those that may be construed as deeply offensive to other people.[31]


Some journalists question the validity of cancel culture as an actual phenomenon.[32][33] Connor Garel, writing for Vice, states that cancel culture "rarely has any tangible or meaningful effect on the lives and comfortability of the cancelled."[34]

Historian C. J. Coventry argues that the term has been incorrectly applied, and that it more accurately reflects the propensity of people to hide historical instances of injustice:

While I agree that the line between debate and suppression is one that occasionally gets crossed by the so-called left wing, it is almost invariably true that the real cancel culture is perpetrated by those who have embraced the term. If you look through Australian history, as well as European and American history, you will find countless examples of people speaking out against injustice and being persecuted in return. I can think of a number of people in our own time who are being persecuted by supposedly democratic governments for revealing uncomfortable information.[35]

Another historian, David Olusoga, similarly argued:

The great myth about cancel culture, however, is that it exists only on the left. For the past 40 years, rightwing newspapers have ceaselessly fought to delegitimise and ultimately cancel our national broadcaster [the BBC], motivated by financial as well as political ambitions.[36]

Pam Palmater writes in Maclean's magazine that cancel culture differs from accountability in her article about the public backlash surrounding Canadian politicians who vacationed during COVID-19, despite pandemic rules not to.[37]


Nick Buckley, founder and CEO of the charity Mancunian Way, was petitioned against and ultimately fired for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, before being reinstated five weeks later.[38][better source needed]

Olivia Pierson, a right wing New Zealand blogger and author, claimed that she was the victim of "cancel culture" after the retailer Mighty Ape delisted her book Western Values Defended: A Primer in response to her tweet mocking the newly appointed Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta's facial tattoos. Fellow blogger Cameron Slater claimed that Mighty Ape was being hypocritical for stocking books published by Oswald Mosley and Joseph Goebbels.[39]

In popular culture[edit]

The American animated television series South Park mocked cancel culture with its own "#CancelSouthPark" campaign in promotion of the show's twenty-second season.[40][41][42][43] In the season's third episode, "The Problem with a Poo", there are references to the documentary The Problem with Apu, the cancellation of Roseanne after controversial tweets by the show's eponymous actress, and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.[44][45] Both the Dixie Chicks and Bill Maher have said they are victims of cancel culture.[46][47]

In 2019, cancel culture featured as a primary theme in the stand-up comedy shows Sticks & Stones by Dave Chappelle[48] and Paper Tiger by Bill Burr.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McDermott, John (November 2, 2019). "Those People We Tried to Cancel? They're All Hanging Out Together". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "What It Means to Get 'Canceled'". Archived from the original on June 18, 2020. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  3. ^ "What Does Cancel Culture Mean?". Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  4. ^ Sills, Sophie; Pickens, Chelsea; Beach, Karishma; Jones, Lloyd; Calder-Dawe, Octavia; Benton-Greig, Paulette; Gavey, Nicola (March 23, 2016). "Rape culture and social media: young critics and a feminist counterpublic". Feminist Media Studies. 16 (6): 935–951. doi:10.1080/14680777.2015.1137962. S2CID 147023782.
  5. ^ Munro, Ealasaid (August 23, 2013). "Feminism: A Fourth Wave?". Political Insight. 4 (2): 22–25. doi:10.1111/2041-9066.12021. S2CID 142990260. Archived from the original on December 10, 2019. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  6. ^ Yar, Sanam; Bromwich, Jonah Engel (October 31, 2019). "Tales From the Teenage Cancel Culture". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on June 1, 2020. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Bromwich, Jonah Engel (June 28, 2018). "Everyone Is Canceled". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on August 13, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  8. ^ "What is the cost of 'cancel culture'?". BBC News. 2020-10-08. Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  9. ^ Haidt, Jonathan, and Greg Lukianoff. 2018. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-0-73522489-6. OCLC 1007552624. (For safetyism, see pp. 30, 158, 235, 268, 329)
  10. ^ Agence France Presse (July 22, 2020). "La "cancel culture", nouvelle arme des anonymes et facteur de polarisation". Le Journal de Montréal (in French). Archived from the original on July 27, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  11. ^ Merrill, Jacqueline Pfeffer (January 2, 2020). "An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture". Perspectives on Political Science. 49 (1): 48–50. doi:10.1080/10457097.2019.1673600. ISSN 1045-7097. S2CID 210559427.
  12. ^ Harrison, Reviewed by Laura M. (July 3, 2019). "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure". Journal of College and Character. 20 (3): 276–278. doi:10.1080/2194587X.2019.1631190. ISSN 2194-587X. S2CID 202274670.
  13. ^ Cunningham, David S. (January 4, 2019). Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-088867-1.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Why I've Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists". Yes! Magazine. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Wei, M. L.; Bunjun, Benita (2020-10-21). "'We are not the shoes of white supremacists': a critical race perspective of consumer responses to brand attempts at countering racist associations". Journal of Marketing Management. 0 (0): 1–28. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2020.1806907. ISSN 0267-257X.
  18. ^ "Anita Bright - Google Scholar". Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  19. ^ Bright, Anita; Gambrell, James (2017). "Calling In, Not Calling Out: A Critical Race Framework for Nurturing Cross-Cultural Alliances in Teacher Candidates". Handbook of Research on Promoting Cross-Cultural Competence and Social Justice in Teacher Education. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  20. ^ Matei, Adrienne (November 1, 2019). "Call-out culture: how to get it right (and wrong)". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Brown, Dalvin. "Twitter's cancel culture: A force for good or a digital witchhunt? The answer is complicated". USA TODAY. Archived from the original on July 24, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  22. ^ "Where Did Cancel Culture Come From?". Archived from the original on June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "Obama laid into young people being 'politically woke' and 'as judgmental as possible' in a speech about call-out culture". Business Insider. October 30, 2019. Archived from the original on July 23, 2020. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  24. ^ Daniel Dale. "A list of people and things Donald Trump tried to get canceled before he railed against 'cancel culture'". CNN. Archived from the original on July 28, 2020. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  25. ^ "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate". Harper's Magazine. July 7, 2020. Archived from the original on July 23, 2020. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 18, 2020. Retrieved July 23, 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ Chiu, Allyson (July 8, 2020). "Letter signed by J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky warning of stifled free speech draws mixed reviews". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on July 24, 2020. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  28. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (July 10, 2020). "An Open Letter on Free Expression Draws a Counterblast". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  29. ^ Roberts, Mikenzie (July 13, 2020). "Harper's letter and response signed by Northwestern academics". The Daily Northwestern. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  30. ^ Lizza, Ryan (July 22, 2020). "Americans tune in to 'cancel culture' — and don't like what they see". POLITICO. Archived from the original on July 23, 2020. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  31. ^ Morning Consult; Politico (July 2020). "National tracking poll, July 17-19, 2020". Archived from the original on July 22, 2020.
  32. ^ 2020 Jul. 15. “Letters to the Editor: It’s not ‘cancel culture.’ It’s finally holding privileged people accountable.” LA Times.
  33. ^ 2020 Jul. 15. “No, cancel culture isn’t a threat to civilization.” ThePrint. India.
  34. ^ "Logan Paul Is Proof That Problematic People Are Never Truly Cancelled". Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  35. ^ C. J. Coventry, "A New Birth of Freedom: South Australia, slavery and exceptionalism," Speech to History Council of South Australia (HCSA) (2020),
  36. ^
  37. ^ "The entitlement of Canadian politicians -". Retrieved 2021-01-06.
  38. ^ 2020 Sept. 25. Interview: “‘Cancellers are cowards – their beliefs are built on sand’.” Spiked.
  39. ^ Brookes, Emily (4 November 2020). "New Zealand author dropped by online retailer Mighty Ape after she made derisive comments about Nanaia Mahuta's moko". Stuff. Archived from the original on 4 November 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  40. ^ Andrews, Travis M. (17 October 2018). "How 'South Park' became the ultimate #bothsides show". The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  41. ^ Edwards, Chris (20 November 2018). "Post-outrage TV: how South Park is surviving the era of controversy". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  42. ^ Mathews, Liam (11 October 2018). "South Park Just Trolled The Simpsons Really Hard, but Why?". TV Guide. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  43. ^ Joho, Jess (12 October 2018). "Why the latest season of 'South Park' feels like a total game-changer". Mashable. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  44. ^ Parker, Ryan (10 October 2018). "'South Park' Goes After Roseanne Barr, 'Simpsons' Apu Character". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  45. ^ Barsanti, Sam (9 October 2018). "South Park will somehow tackle both Brett Kavanaugh and The Problem With Apu simultaneously". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  46. ^ "Dixie Chicks talk cancel culture 17 years after being blacklisted". Good Morning America (ABC). March 16, 2020.
  47. ^ Ali, Rasha (August 1, 2020). "Bill Maher talks cancel culture and John Lewis with authors of Harper's open 'letter on justice'". USA Today.
  48. ^ "Concerning Consent, Chappelle, and Canceling Cancel Culture". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2020-10-19.
  49. ^ Placido, Dani Di. "Bill Burr's 'Paper Tiger' Exposes The Myth Of Outrage Culture". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-10-19.