One action can cost you a career, social ties, and even your freedom. We can thank cancel culture for that. Instead of conversation surrounding rehabilitation, societal flaws, and other things that were topical about 30 years ago, a convenient and quick means of social annihilation has appeared. There is no doubt that people do horrible things — it would be difficult to ignore as much. But the real question is, does cancel culture solve the problem, or do we simply overlook the symptoms, turning a blind eye to the reasons for societal infection?
People get canceled not because they are assholes (even if they maybe, in fact, assholes) but because they have crossed the line. This catapults them from the category of simply unpleasant people to the category of socially unacceptable ones. Cancel culture fits in the already existing justice system, drawing on and contributing to it.
Let's say a person commits a crime — for example, steals something from a store. Society doesn't encourage such actions (but if you're rolling in money at the top of the food chain, you're off the hook), so when the justice system proves the criminal is guilty, he goes to jail, which was created for the purpose of reform. In reality, the one and only function of the prison is isolation. Re-education would have demanded real efforts in a person's integration into and analysis of the existing social structure. Firstly, it's evident that it is a great deal of work; secondly, it brings discomfort. Any systemic issue (like criminal activity, for example) needs (surprise, surprise) change for its true resolution. It's much easier to ignore the things you're involved in and pretend that you can solve the problem by turning away from it until the next time. Since justice has grown into a vast bureaucratic mechanism, it is possible to put off the search for a solution indefinitely, carrying on its legacy. Cancel culture is a part of this system; no wonder that it keeps bringing the same results, because the issue isn't being solved. Rather, individual people are sacrificed as scapegoats for the sins of the whole society.
In the controversial case of Harvey Weinstein
, it is significant that people in the industry had known or had imagined what was going on. We can say the same about the relationship between famous Russian musician Petar Martic and his girlfriend, model Anna Zosimova (in Russian
); their friend circle has been aware of the situation but preferred not to talk about it. But, when one person makes the first move and speaks publicly about the whole affair, it begins a snowball effect of social ostracization, and everyone considers it their duty to comment on the situation and to renounce any communication — including business communications — with the accused.
Instead of reaching a verdict about the hypocrisy of people, we could take another look at these stories. Collective silence as the collective discussion is based on the idea of saving your own (in this case, societal) skin. Institutional developments happen not because of cancel culture, but in spite of them. To solve the problem of widespread harassment in the film industry, it is not exclusively the cancellation of Harvey, but the use of this example to indicate that he is one of many; this is not out of the ordinary, but rather a common incident. Practical change can come only after admitting the concept of the banality of evil
, not dramatization around one single case.
That is precisely why cancel culture is such an interesting phenomenon; it is positioned as a solution while the full potential is exhausted on ridiculous smearing of individuals' names. Cancel culture allows society to abdicate its responsibility for the things that don't abide its purported moral code. In the end, we are left with the fact that by canceling others, we are postponing our own vilification that will inevitably come. After all, the hot potato
always comes full circle.
Text: Daria Manzhura
Translation: Marina Kochedyshkina