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To Cancel, or Not to Cancel?

There is a huge debate going around the topic of cancel culture and whether we should separate the art from the artist or not? Sidhant Koshi tries to answer these questions by looking at famous examples and events happening around us today.

Sidhant Koshi

“Should I stop watching Woody Allen movies? But I love Annie Hall”, says Angela Duckworth on the Freakonomics Radio podcast, an extremely pertinent question for our time. The podcast is hosted by Duckworth, a psychologist and popular science author, along with Stephen J. Dubner, an American author and journalist.

In today’s age, people have begun to act more responsible for their choice of words as well as the actions that they take. They have begun cancelling or boycotting those who choose to continue to behave irresponsibly. When it comes to artists though, there seems to be confusion as to whether the boycott should extend to their work or not.

As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power, comes great responsibility", it is important to hold people in power responsible for their actions. Since they are in a position to make changes in several people’s lives, irrespective of the result being positive or negative, every action of theirs plays a huge role in how society reacts.

Since the #Metoo movement, there has been a horde of artists from different fields who have been accused of various crimes. From actors such as Kevin Spacey to stand-up comics like Louis C.K., it seems like there isn’t any industry without its share of offenders.

There are several people who, after watching the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland, have spoken about how they lost their love for his music. The film documented the alleged sexual abuse of two men by Michael Jackson when they were children.

It is important to note that at the same time, cancel culture can be a dangerous trend. As Dubner says during the podcast, “I think cultural diktats can be dangerous”. This culture of exposing people has turned toxic and results in more harm than good.

Even former US president, Barack Obama criticized it while speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Oct. 29th, 2019. He said, “I do get this sense among certain young people and this is accelerated by social media. There is this sense sometimes,of the way me making change is to be as judgmental as possible”.

Is there a concrete solution to this problem? Well, not exactly. Stephen J. Dubner offers some advice by saying, “One way to think differently about this issue, would be to take it outside the sphere of emotion and to use some cost-benefit analysis. You could add up someone’s faults and come up with a (morality) score and see where a person lands”.

The problem that most people find with boycotting or “cancelling” an artist is that they might be someone who has written their favourite book, directed a film that had an impact on them or even sung a song that got them through a tough time or holds nostalgic value to them.

An article by Vox claims that cancel culture is often confused with the call-out culture, claiming that the latter is the toxic form of calling someone out on their mistakes. They back their claim by interviewing Anne Charity Hudley, the chair of linguistics of African America, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Hudley describes cancel culture as not being a new culture to black people and compares cancelling someone to boycotting their art. The only thing that changes in this scenario is that it is a person rather than a business. She said, “If you don’t have the ability to stop something through political means, what you can do is refuse to participate”.

Edited by Kriti Soneja and Jasmine Singh