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Cancel culture? 抵制文化

中国日报网 2020-07-17 14:51

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Reader question:

Please explain "cancel culture", as in "This time, cancel culture doesn't seem to be working."


My comments:

In other words, this time, boycotting someone or something isn't working.

Cancel culture used to be known as the all powerful boycott. In plain English, it's called shunning, as in, "many Americans have been shunning facial masks for months."

The dictionary definition of "cancel," is, per Lexico.com, to "(of a factor or circumstance) neutralize or negate the force or effect of (another)". For example, your good work and bad work sometimes cancel each other out, meaning you don't get much done and even if you do, you don't achieve the result you have been looking for. In other words, it's been a waste of time.

In cancel culture, people usually try to put some celebrity or a politician on the spot by calling out their misdeed. And they do this through boycott - They'll no longer go to the live concert of a singer, for example, or they'll troll a politician online for something intolerable he's said or done.

This, from an actual story from CNN.com (Why 'cancel culture' doesn't always work, September 21, 2019 ):

When people say they're canceling a famous person, that's essentially what they're trying to do. They want to take away their power or their cultural capital. They want to diminish their significance, whether it's a personal boycott or a public shaming.

All clear?

All right, media examples:


1. In May of 2018, Roseanne Barr had returned to celebrity-dom. After a more-than-20-year hiatus, her hit TV show Roseanne was back on the air, with her once again in the starring — and eponymous — role. And then just as suddenly, she was canceled. Quite literally, her show was taken off the air.

Why? Barr posted a racist Tweet about Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to Barack Obama during his presidency. The public was outraged at her statements and was equally furious about her non-apology, in which she claimed that she had posted the Tweet because she was on Ambien at the time.

This incident, and many others of varying degrees of severity, underscores the need to explore and understand cancel culture. What exactly is it? Why does it happen? And is it justified?

What is cancel culture?

Cancel culture, also known as call-out culture, involves essentially boycotting a person because of his or her problematic behaviors or actions. When the larger public decides someone is “canceled,” it will avoid supporting or engaging with him or her, often resulting in a sharp decline in that person’s relevance and popularity. Sometimes, as with the Barr incident, there are other consequences, such as the loss of a job.

Origin and history

The precise origin of cancel culture is a bit hazy, but around 2015, #cancelled emerged as a hashtag on Black Twitter to expose people deemed problematic.

In a New York Times article from June 2018 entitled “Everyone Is Canceled,” Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan, opined that cancel culture came about because of a need for control. “Socially irredeemable things are said on platforms all the time,” she said, and canceling establishes “a culture of accountability which is not centralized and is haphazard, but needed to come into being.”

- We Need to Talk About the Impact of Cancel Culture, FairyGodBoss.com, July 9, 2019.


2. One of the odder ideas to snowball its way into the zeitgeist during the decade’s turbulent second half is the idea that a person can be “canceled” — in other words, culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career.

Within the past five years, the rise of “cancel culture” and the idea of canceling someone have become polarizing topics of debate as a familiar pattern has emerged: A celebrity or other public figure does or says something offensive. A public backlash, often fueled by politically progressive social media, ensues. Then come the calls to cancel the person — that is, to effectively end their career or revoke their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer.

In 2019 alone, the list of people who’ve faced being canceled included alleged sexual predators like R. Kelly; entertainers like Kanye West, Scarlett Johansson, and Gina Rodriguez, who all had offensive foot-in-mouth moments; and comedians like Kevin Hart and Shane Gillis, who each faced public backlash after social media users unearthed homophobic and racist jokes they’d made in the past.

But actually ending someone’s career through the power of public backlash is easier said than done. Few entertainers have truly been canceled — that is, they haven’t had their careers totally shut down by negative criticism on the internet. For example, in 2019, Hart withdrew himself from hosting the Oscars, but his movies and stand-up specials were still successful after the backlash against him died down. Gillis was swiftly dropped from the cast of Saturday Night Live over his offensive humor, but he’s since been greeted warmly by crowds at comedy shows, defended by fellow comedians like Ricky Gervais and David Spade, and invited for a heart to heart with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang — turning his use of racial slurs into a teachable moment.

- Why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture, Vox.com, December 30, 2019.


3. At the height of the original wave of the #MeToo movement, around the time when the Harvey Weinsteins and Charlie Roses and Matt Lauers of the corporate and media and Hollywood worlds were toppled, their ugly behaviors exposed, Ivanka Trump would tell people that she was grateful for the reckoning. But as usual with Ivanka, there was a quiet part. There was no acknowledgement in these moments that the movement was catalyzed in part by her father’s election, despite the many credible sexual assault and harassment allegations against him throughout the presidential campaign, and his subsequent policies once he took office. She simply expressed that it was about time. There was usually a coda to these remarks, however. Would male CEOs, worried about H.R. complaints, keep women, say, from business trips? She feared an overcorrection.

It was, to my mind, the beginning of the backlash to #MeToo. Ivanka was not the only one saying these sorts of things in private. Far from it. Many people of privilege were repeating similar things within the quiet comforts of their offices and lunches and dinner parties. The progress was great! It was about time! But! It could backfire! Women will end up paying the price!

That, mercifully, did not pan out. But the stance has evolved, as what has become known as “cancel culture” has come into focus, and Ivanka’s Team Trump position appears to have hardened. On Tuesday night, the White House senior adviser tweeted a photo of herself displaying a can of Goya black beans in her manicured hands, against an all-beige backdrop. “If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” she captioned the photo, adding the translation, “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.” Bean brand ambassador didn’t seem to be part of Ivanka’s reel, but politics is a strange business.

The posts come as Goya faces backlash and public consumer revolts after its CEO, Robert Unanue, visited the White House last week and explained that “we’re all truly blessed...to have a leader like President Trump.” People started dumping out the company’s products and urging others to steer clear, with hashtags like #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya trending. Unanue doubled down in a Fox News interview on Friday, saying that he was “not apologizing” and calling the boycott a “suppression of speech.” It is unclear if the campaign has impacted the privately-held business, but Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning that Goya is “doing GREAT,” adding, “the Radical Left smear machine backfired, people are buying like crazy.”

When criticism became deafening, Team Trump circled the wagons. A White House spokesperson for Ivanka responded that the first daughter had not, in fact, violated federal ethics standards for White House employees, which say that they may not use their government positions to endorse products, saying that “only the media and the cancel culture movement would criticize Ivanka for showing her personal support for a company that has been unfairly mocked, boycotted and ridiculed for supporting this administration.” The statement went on to detail Ivanka’s right to express her personal support for a company and tout what she says is the administration’s commitment to the Hispanic community. Poor bean lover, unjustly maligned.

- IVANKA STEPS TO THE CANCEL-CULTURE BARRICADES, HOLDING A CAN OF BEANS, VanityFair.com, July 15, 2019.

本文仅代表作者本人观点,与本网立场无关。欢迎大家讨论学术问题,尊重他人,禁止人身攻击和发布一切违反国家现行法律法规的内容。

About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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