Lori Loughlin, Kanye West, Rosanne Barr, Jussie Smollett, Kevin Hart—what do these people have in common…they’ve been effectively canceled. “Canceled” is the modern turn of phrase meaning they’ve been exiled in the court of public opinion. When a public figure is connected to a major controversy, the public reacts and ultimately determine said individual’s social fate.
Social politics have amplified its reach with the rise and influence of the internet and in particular social media. Especially in today’s challenging political climate—the polarization of society has further compounded the nature of cancel culture.
The controversies in question are not egregious criminal acts around sexual assault, violence, etc. These controversies often include cases that cannot be handled in the court of law. Most typically language that reveals a point of view that the public deems offensive.
What the justice system cannot approach or has failed to convict— the public have the power to hold people of influence accountable. Given the massive reach of public figures, it seems reasonable they hold weighted responsibility to model honor and respect to society. Although some will argue the nation has gone too far.
We are living in an age of heightened consciousness. And while some argue we’ve steered society into oversensitivity, I argue our attempt to be more thoughtful and considerate of marginalized people nets out positive for culture. The intention behind this mission is a noble one. How can we protect the livelihood of people in our country? However, it’s when we dive into the reality of this system where things become imperfectly gray.
When we look at various cases throughout the years, we can witness the evolution of the public’s sentiment. Take Paula Deen. The once-beloved southern chef and TV personality took a public nose dive in the summer of 2013 when evidence was released that she used the N-word in conversation. Days later Deen admitted to sharing a desire to dress black employees as slaves for a wedding she planned in conversation. Before any legal action was even taken her long-standing contract with Food Network was discontinued. Piles of more racist commentary and footage poured in as the downward spiral continued, and for the most part, the nation was more than OK with it.
It’s impossible to argue with the offense here. Radically offensive language paired with an archaic, enduring perspective on race should not be tolerated in the public space, effectively hate speech. However, fast-forward to today, and we open a much more complex dialogue around who’s in and who’s out.
Director James Gunn became the center of media buzz when several tweets touching on the subjects of pedophilia and rape were unearthed by Fox News. Days later he was fired by Disney and Marvel and pulled off the third installment of Guardians of the Galaxy. Disney released the statement: “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” said Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman according to Deadline.
Gunn took to Twitter to respond that his personal views did not reflect these thoughtless and clearly offensive tweets of his past. “Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger.”
What was most surprising about this case was the cast and crew of Guardians coming to Gunn’s defense, vouching for his character.
The cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Michael Rooker signed and shared an open letter of full support for Tim in response to his firing. Part of the letter boldly states: “We fully support James Gunn. We were all shocked by his abrupt firing and have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen and discuss…..There is little due process in the court of public opinion…Given the growing political divide in this country, it’s safe to say instances like this will continue, although we hope Americans from across the political spectrum can ease up on the character assassinations and stop weaponizing mob mentality.”
Chris Pratt, in addition, tweeted this Bible verse in support of the defense of Gunn, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters, let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
“The Guardians” unexpectedly opened up a legitimate dialogue it’s unclear the country is open for. Is there room for redemption in today’s cancel culture?
It’s clear from this side of the explosion there was certainly far more to the Gunn story than meets the eye. The issue with the public court of opinion is it’s well-intended but alarmingly blind to compassion and intolerant of redemption. There is no room for dialogue. It’s why seemingly knee-jerk responses are continually praised rather than thoughtfully investigated.
Justin McClure, comedian and father of the wildly popular and adorable bi-racial McClure twins made headlines after videos of racist jokes about African American women surfaced. McClure, the father of two biracial girls and married to an African woman was the last name one would expect to be in the line of fire. A lengthy and somber interview was posted where McClure carefully explained and apologized to his wife and daughters for his racist jokes, citing his growth and heart change. He now had to face the ugly truth of his past and the pain it inflicts on his family, but in order for redemption to take place we have to first make room for it. The interview is heartbreaking, but so needed.
This isn’t to be confused for figures who have revealed the insidious nature of their perspective a la Deen, such as comments shared by Rosanne Barr. This is for the public to take pause, listen and comprehend the complexity of the human condition and the mistakes laid behind us. To thoughtfully investigate the character and truth of the individuals in question. If we can’t confront our societal mistakes with empathy, cancel culture will accomplish nothing more than witch-hunting.