Cynthia L. Eppley, MA
These are strange times in which we live. 2020 will be remembered for many things: COVID, protests and discourse, and “Cancel Culture.” Every year seems to add new terminology to our lexicon. This new term has been around for awhile, but with new meanings and applications.
Understand, reader. I am not offering debate and dialogue. Instead, I am offering what I observe as I watch the culture.
So what is this?
Here is one definition: “Cancel Culture is the phenomenon by which people or entities are publicly boycotted or divested from because of callous words, actions or ideas they have promoted, or have been associated with.”
This involves harassment and shame:
Online shaming is a form of public shaming in which targets are publicly humiliated on the internet, via social media platforms (e.g. Twitter or Facebook), or more localized media (e.g. email groups) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_shaming#Cancelation
“Callout culture” describes a form of boycott in which an individual (usually a celebrity) who has acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner is boycotted.
This happened to JK Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter series, when she made controversial statements.
We find it in our culture: celebrities, authors, politicians, TV shows, boycotts on companies. Statues and monuments. And even us.
“Harper’s magazine has published a letter July 7 in defense of free speech signed by more than 150 public intellectuals, which has already fallen victim to the kind of virtual mob-rule that it decries. Ironically, a number of signatories have asked that their names be removed after either being attacked for having signed or learning the names of other, presumably intolerable, signatories.” https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/canceled-by-the-cancel-culture
What we are seeing now is a culture of fear. Dissenters have the power to ostracize you. Perhaps we can accept this dynamic. But now, they have the power to have you fired.
In one very sad case, a 16 yr old was sharing memories of her father, a policeman, who was ambushed and killed in a domestic violence call. It was one way for her to give voice to her grief. But the daughter of slain McAllen Police Officer Ismael Chavez was attacked on social media by anti-police critics for posting a heartfelt tribute to her murdered father.
A friend of mine on Facebook posts her political beliefs. She is regularly slandered and called horrible names. “Shut up, you’re so brain washed!” “Did you take your pills today, dear?”
These are, of course, the only ones I can print here.
And just today, another friend has changed her name on FB because she accidentally responded to someone using the wrong gender. (Chris can be female or male, correct?) It was an honest mistake, and she apologized. But the backlash she received on social media was not worth it.
Is this what we have come to? Is this the best we can be?
Truly, this behavior is not new.
Throughout time we’ve used many methods to diminish others: Here is a beginning laundry list of “people behaving badly.”
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. It includes physical, verbal, relational and cyber-bullying. And it is not limited to school age children. We see it everywhere around us.
Shunning is the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from an individual or group. Think of the Amish.
Snubbing is to rebuff, ignore, or spurn disdainfully.
Stonewalling is a persistent refusal to communicate or to express emotions. It is common during conflicts, when people may stonewall in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable conversations or out of fear that engaging in an emotional discussion will result in a fight.You might know it by another name: ‘the silent treatment’ maybe, or ‘freezing’ someone out’. It can involve one person saying ‘I’m fine’ even though something is clearly wrong, or simply refusing to speak at all. As a counselor, I’ve described it as “a sanitized form of murder.”
Shaming is to publicly humiliate or shame for being or doing something specific.
In Pandemic times? Shaming has become rampant. From having a party in our backyard, to going to the Jersey shore:
“We get this image of half a country having a party that most of us are not doing,” Tangney said. “It’s natural to become angry and also be afraid and to want to shame people, because we believe if we shame them, they’ll stop doing this bad thing. But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/us/pandemic-shaming-wellness-trnd/index.html
Time after Time….. As I write these things, it takes me back to Junior High. Those were hard days. Fear reigned and the pack mentality was always present.
Where do I belong in this pack?
Am I accepted for who I am?
If I make a statement that is not in the general consensus, will I be shunned or humiliated? I remember well giving a public address in my English class–perhaps 1965. I presented my case. I don’t remember how the class responded. I DO remember that the teacher began to berate me, my viewpoints, and position. She even berated my clothes, stating that it was in keeping with my position. Clearly, my stance was not the status-quo.
Or maybe NOT so far back. In my working life, if I entered the room, there might be a certain “frosty” reception. People might not look up from their desk. No “Good morning.” In reading body language and lack of interaction, I knew I was in trouble. It was only a matter of time, or putting my ear to the ground to the rumor mill, to find out the issue.
And in the church? I would hope we would not fall into these categories. There have been times I’ve seen dissenters or those with differing opinions marginalized or even intellectually dismissed. This should not be happening.
Nothing New under the Sun
Not much has changed, has it?
The difference is that today we have the Cancel Culture on hyperdrive.
With Internet, Social Media, Instagram, Twitter, Tic-Tok, chat rooms, and numerous other venues, we have the power to bless or to curse. And our response goes ‘round the world with a simple click.
Labels and their Power
Take your pick.
We so easily throw them out there:
Racist, Bigot, Hater, Liberal, Conservative, Alt-Left, Far Right, Republican, Democrat, Fascists, Marxists, Communist.
“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Not true.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
In my next blog I’ll address these issues more specifically.