While cancel culture has been discussed in a variety of different ways, the term has taken on a pejorative meaning that is, in many ways, unearned. Cancel culture is theoretically rooted in expecting people to pay consequences for bad behavior. Harvey Weinstein may have been one of the most notable celebrities to have been canceled, as his social status and influence waned dramatically after numerous allegations of sexual abuse against women in Hollywood. However, cancel culture came reflect anyone getting changed or discontinued because of reasons having to do with any type of changing cultural norm, not just because of outcry against them. As a result, while people are correctly labeling many celebrities are canceled, they are also falsely calling other things canceled because of changes. This essay explores cancel culture, its real casualties, and whether those casualties are deserved.
Cancel Culture Essay Titles
1. Cancel Culture: Why Is There a Negative Connotation to Accountability?
2. The Threat of Cancel Culture: Does It Stifle Free Speech?
3. Majority Ideals and Cancel Culture: Is the Threat Real?
4. The Politics of Cancel Culture
5. Cancelling a Celebrity: How People Without Power Can Impact Influencers
Cancel Culture Essay Topics
1. Why changing the name of Aunt Jemima is long overdue.
2. J.K. Rowling, transphobia, and cancel culture: how a once-revered liberal icon outed herself as transphobic and got canceled.
3. Can cancel culture go too far?
4. How the right uses the term cancel culture to denigrate movements to the left, leaving the United States far to the right, politically and socially, of most other industrialized nations.
5. A first look at cancel culture and celebrities; how the Me-Too Movement brought attention to sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and brought down the careers of several powerful men who were habitual sexual harassers.
Cancel Culture Essay Outline
A. Define cancel culture
B. Why the term is mis-used
C. Things that have been called canceled but are not really canceled
1. Aunt Jemima
2. Mr. Potato Head
3. Dr. Seuss
D. People who have been canceled
E. Thesis statement: While the term cancel culture has become increasingly popular in 2020 and 2021, many examples of things that have been canceled are actually simply things evolving with changing cultural norms. However, holding people accountable for their actions and giving them consequences, which may make them unemployable, is a valid example of cancel culture.
II. Defining cancel culture
III. Aunt Jemima
IV. Mr. Potato Head
V. Dr. Seuss
A. J.K. Rowling
B. Ellen Degeneres
C. Anna Wintour
D. Hilaria Baldwin
F. Kirstie Alley
G. Bryan Adams
A. Restate thesis
B. Define cancel culture
D. Toys and games
E. Call to action
Title: Casualties of Cancel Culture
Hook Sentence: Much has been made of cancel culture, with many people decrying it as a toxic new trend, but cancel culture is neither toxic nor new, it is simply a new name for accountability.
For a term whose definition is highly-debated, the basics of cancel culture are relatively straightforward. Once the public, usually the internet, discovers something potentially offensive that a person has done, they use available resources, again usually the internet, to bring attention to the action and try to get consequences or redress for the behavior. However, the simplicity of the term takes away some of the nuance involved in its application. As a result, some of the things that are frequently discussed as canceled have not been canceled at all. Aunt Jemima, Mr. Potato Head, Monopoly, and Dr. Seuss have all undergone some significant changes in recent history, which many people have decried as them being canceled. However, they have not been canceled; not only are they still available, albeit with some changes for most of them, but their changes were also the result of internal decision making. Better examples of how cancel culture really works focuses on people. J.K. Rowling, Ellen DeGeneres, Anna Wintour, Hilaria Baldwin, Jeffree Star, Kirstie Alley, Bryan Adams, and Abby Lee Miller are all examples of celebrities who have been canceled because of bad behavior.
While the term cancel culture has become increasingly popular in 2020 and 2021, many examples of things that have been canceled are actually simply things evolving with changing cultural norms. However, holding people accountable for their actions and giving them consequences, which may make them unemployable, is a valid example of cancel culture.
According to Wikipedia, the term cancel culture refers to a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles- whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subjected to this ostracism are said to have been canceled (Wikipedia, 2021). While cancel culture seems like a modern phenomenon, it is actually an extension of the history of boycotting products, people, or services, which has been an effective way for consumers to exercise financial power throughout the history of capitalism. More recently, it is an extension of call-out culture, which refers to calling people out for negative behaviors and expecting them to be accountable. The responses to calling people out vary. Many times, people who have engaged in negative behaviors are simply able to apologize for those behaviors and, while they may suffer temporarily, they are able to recover. In other instances, people who have been canceled can suffer from such significant impact to their reputation, their income, and their ability to earn a living that it can be difficult to recover. Many of the problems with cancel culture really focus on whether it is appropriate to make people suffer long-term for transgressions that may have been isolated or transient. On the flip side, people argue that bad actions have long had no consequences and that people who are canceled are not victimized but are simply held accountable for their bad behaviors.
Whether a person believes that cancel culture is essentially a form of cultural boycott that puts pressure on people to behave in ways that comply with evolving social norms or a negative assault on people who openly embrace conservative social ideas, there are a few things about cancel culture that are indisputable. Cancel culture has developed a negative connotation, so that in some circles it is more socially objectionable to threaten to boycott a person, company, or product than it is to engage in objectionable behavior in the first place. Second, cancel culture has decidedly political overtones; while conservative groups regularly call for boycotts and have used this tactic for years, those boycotts are not treated as attempts to cancel the target of the boycotts. Cancel culture gives power to groups that are traditionally low power and low status, such as consumers, by allowing them to collectively achieve what they could not achieve as individuals. Finally, cancel culture leaves little room for growth, as it might actually disincentivize positive change.
Looking at societal perceptions of cancel culture, there were some early first examples that highlighted how cancelling someone was a way of lower-status people to collectively exercise power in scenarios where they previously would have been powerless. For example, James Damore lost his job at Google after writing an internal memo that suggested that gender disparities in the workplace might have a biological basis. His position was seen as being misogynistic and Google did not want to be associated with it. Misogyny was also at the heart of the next celebrities who were targeted for cancellation. Harvey Weinstein has been famously accused of sexual abuse and harassment by several women in Hollywood, prompting the Me-Too movement and allegations of abuse against several other prominent people in Hollywood. These are two examples of how powerful and wealthy people were held accountable for their behaviors by people who did not have any power over them.
There have been numerous other incidents of people acting poorly in public, being filmed, and facing real life consequences for their behavior. Influencer Melissa Rein Lively filmed herself having a fit in Target during which she destroyed a mask display. She put it on Instagram live and the response was an intense backlash against her that led to her being canceled. Lively has since then spent a significant amount of time trying to play the victim, but the mask temper tantrum was only one in a series of highly publicized negative behaviors, including repeatedly using racial slurs and racist language.
However, it is important to note that cancel culture is also used against lower-status individuals. For example, when Amy Cooper threatened to call the police on a black man in Central Park, she was called out on the internet. Her behavior resulted in real-life consequences for her, such as losing her job and even losing temporary custody of her job. Many of the participants in the January 6, 2021 violent insurrection and attempt to overthrow the lawfully elected government have been outed because of photos at the event and have found themselves jobless and facing other consequences because of their actions. The owner of an autobody shop who dumped oil-covered pennies on the driveway of an employee instead of providing the employee with his last paycheck was the everyday person dealing with being canceled at the time this essay was written.
When looking at whether cancelling a person is appropriate, it quickly becomes apparent that the answer is not a simple yes or no. Even critics of cancel culture are likely to agree that some behaviors are so egregious that they should be condemned. They may not agree with cancelling someone indefinitely. After all, if the punishment for a transgression is lifelong ostracization, what incentive does a person have for change? Obviously, this argument hits differently depending on who or what is being canceled. Harvey Weinstein being unable to work in Hollywood after serially sexually abusing women in Hollywood seems just to most people, but Donald McNeil Jr. losing his job at The New York Times for using a racial slur as part of a quotation in a story strikes many people as an overreaction.
Nowhere is the backlash against cancel culture more apparent than when the things being canceled are not people but fictional people or even toys. To understand this phenomenon, it is important to look at four cultural icons that some people claim have been canceled: Aunt Jemima, Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss, and Monopoly. What does being canceled mean for a fictional entity? Have they been canceled? What prompted the changes? Perhaps most importantly, if these things have not actually been canceled, why are they considered by so many to be the casualties of cancel culture?
Many people say that Aunt Jemima has been canceled. For those who are unfamiliar with Aunt Jemima, she was a fictional character who was used as a logo for pancakes and pancake syrup produced by the Pepsico company. The character of Aunt Jemima was initially based on a minstrel show character, and while some real-life African American women portrayed Aunt Jemima, both on product packaging and in in-person promotional events, there was never a real Aunt Jemima. Initially, her appearance coincided with mammy stereotypes, though the owner of the company attempted to update her and make her less stereotypical. In the wake of evolving social conversations about race that took place nationwide after the murder of George Floyd, Pepsico came to the conclusion that it could not successfully deal with the racist history behind the use of the Aunt Jemima logo and that it would stop using it and rename the brand The Pearl Milling Company, which was the name of the company that initially introduced the Aunt Jemima brand. While Aunt Jemima has been ended, she does not seem to have actually been canceled. The decision to end her was prompted by evolving understandings of race and stereotypes, not a focused campaign to end the brand. In addition, the decision was internal. Yet, because the companys decision was prompted by them feeling the product was too closely associated with a troubling history of racism, Aunt Jemima is often cited as a victim of cancel culture. The fact that she is named as an example highlights the biggest issue of cancel culture; it takes issue with personal growth.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Dr. Seuss. The estate of Theodor Seuss Geisel, most commonly known as Dr. Seuss, recently decided to stop publishing a handful of his books because of themes that the estate considered problematic because of their portrayals of race. The books in question had long been known as having problematic material in them in terms of race, which may have reflected Geisels personal beliefs as some of his material written for adults contained anti-Semitic content or portrayed African Americans as gorillas. However, Dr. Seuss was in no way canceled. First, the decision not to publish those works anymore was an internal decision made by his estate. Second, the works selected are not among the most popular works in his catalog. Third, they represent only a very small portion of his total works. Not only has the decision to stop printing these works come from Geisels own representatives but doing so will not have any noticeable impact on his status or reputation.
The situation seems much the same for Mr. Potato Head, the latest fictional character that has theoretically been the subject of cancel culture. Hasbro announced it would be rebranding Mr. Potato Heads brand and simply calling it Potato Head. Their stated goal was to be more gender inclusive in their brand name. However, the company planned to retain the Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head toys. While people decried that Mr. Potato Head had been canceled, the only change that was made was in the name of the toy brand.
It will take longer to determine whether cries about Monopoly being canceled are, like the cries about Mr. Potato Head, much ado about nothing. Monopoly announced that the game would be getting a major overhaul and refresh. This is not anything new; there are literally hundreds of variations on the game. However, the classic game has remained largely unchanged since shortly after it was released. According to Hasbro, this has resulted in a game that is outdated, specifically the community chest cards. Instead of referencing things like holiday funds, which many modern players may not even understand, the cards will focus on things like animal rescue or recycling. Some people believe that the antiquated nature of the game is part of its charm. However, cries that modernization equal cancellation seem somewhat extreme. For example, Hasbro also owns the boardgame Clue, which it recently updated to include additional characters and to reflect greater diversity among its characters. That update, which occurred before cancel culture became a popular conservative rallying cry, did not seem to prompt the same type of backlash as the proposed updates to Monopoly.
While including fictional characters and brands in a list of things that have been canceled because their parent companies have decided to try to modernize, it does not negate the fact that some real-life people have been targets of cancel culture. Kirstie Alley, Bryan Adams, Anna Wintour, and Abby Lee Miller are all celebrities who said bigoted things and faced backlash because of it. The impact on them has been sufficient enough that it would be fair to consider them canceled. However, there are three celebrities who have been caught up in cancel culture that have had particularly interesting stories.
The author J.K. Rowling, once considered an icon for progressive anti-fascist thought, has been the subject of boycotts after engaging in a series of public statements, mostly via Twitter, which have been interpreted as being anti-trans. Initially, Rowlings statements were defended by some as simply being pro-woman, but the author quickly made it clear that the anti-trans overtones in the statements were not accidental. While boycotting Rowling will probably not have much of a financial impact on the billionaire, the fact that many of the young stars who helped propel her Harry Potter franchise to its current status have publicly spoken out in support of the trans community helps highlight the divide between the authors generation and the generation that includes most of her fans.
Ellen DeGeneres is another celebrity who is considered canceled by some. She built her reputation in Hollywood on being a nice person, but this reputation took a big hit after reports surfaced of her staff being mistreated. However, Ellen has not actually been canceled. She still has a talk show with an extensive viewership. Her reputation has taken some damage, but it does not appear to have suffered in the same way as other celebrities on this list. The fact that Ellen has not seen the same type of backlash as some other celebrities who have engaged in similar behavior is interesting, with some people suggesting that the fact that Ellen is a member of a traditionally marginalized community has somehow helped protect her from this backlash.
The third celebrity that this essay will focus on specifically, Hilaria Baldwin, is probably the most interesting example of people getting caught up in the idea of cancel culture, when someone is not being canceled in any way, shape, or form. Hilaria Baldwin, wife to actor Alec Baldwin, was a well-known Instagram influencer, podcaster, and author. She built her public persona by claiming to have a Spanish heritage, even going so far as to speak with a noticeable Spanish accent. After making a postpartum post in which she was accused of body shaming, Hilaria posted a video in which she is defending herself and accusing her detractors of body shaming her. The most noticeable thing about this post was that Hilarias Spanish accent was noticeably missing. Relatively quickly, the internet did a little digging and revealed that Hilaria was actually Hillary, was American, and that, though she does have Spanish ancestry and did spend time in Spain during her childhood, the Spanish identity was something she adopted as an adult. She has faced tremendous backlash for cultural appropriation, leading some to conclude that she has been canceled. However, it begs the question of whether it is even possible to cancel a made-up identity?
It is very popular to say that someone has been canceled or even to call for people to be canceled. While there certainly have been, and will continue to be, efforts by the public to impact the reputation and livelihoods of people who have engaged in objectionable behavior, the overuse of the term has simultaneously made it seem like people are trying to cancel things that are not in danger of being canceled and deprived the term of its power. Certain celebrities have been canceled, and this has generally happened because they have revealed thoughts or beliefs that are seen as being harmful to certain segments of the community, and usually this is because they are seen as being too socially conservative. There are valid arguments over whether the threat of cancellation is socially positive or negative because the threat may prompt socially desirable behavior, but also notably stifles free speech. However, there is no question that adding things that have not been canceled to the cancel culture hit list only muddies the water when discussing this important social trend.
Cancel Culture Hit List
Mr. Potato Head
Abby Lee Miller
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Mishan, Ligaya. The Long and Tortured History of Cancel Culture. The New York Times Style Magazine. NYTimes.com. 3 December 2020. https://www.nytimes..html. Accessed 27 March 2021.
Porterfield, Carlie. Aunt Jemima Gets a New Name After Racism Backlash. Forbes.com. 9 February 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2021/02/09/aunt-jemima-gets-a-new-name-after-racism-backlash/?sh=71559bfcc82f. Accessed 27 March 2021.
Wikipedia. Cancel Culture. Wikipedia.org. 24 March 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancel_culture. Accessed 27 March 2021.