I was a bit of a recluse, around my junior year of college. I had a pretty healthy social life yet, I was overwhelmed with a desire to be alone, smoke weed and listen to music in my room. I was going through the doldrums of early-20’s nihilistic depression, struggling to find myself as I transitioned from child to post-child and cope with the realities of life and death in a seemingly indifferent and isolated world. You know, the usual.
To ease my turmoil I looked to science, particularly astronomy and physics, in my search for truth and essentially God. I obsessed over YouTube videos and science books to learn everything I could about the nature of the universe and life itself. One man stood out as a spokesperson for me, Neil Degrasse Tyson. I watched his show “Cosmos” like Sunday cartoons, read his books and listened to his podcasts avidly.
He was the bridge between an intimidating subject that seemed densely complicated and me. Neil had become my role-model by combining an obscure nerdy passion of mine with a glamorous career path that I wanted to replicate. I even considered switching majors from Broadcasting to Physics.
Years pass and it’s December 2018, my existential crisis had been quelled and my passion for astrophysics dwindled into mostly a hobby (though I always enjoy learning about the universe). I heard the news that Neil deGrasse Tyson, was accused of sexual misconduct by 4 women. One woman accused him of drugging and raping her.
I felt a jaded frustration at the revelation of yet another abusive celebrity and did an internal eye-roll as I mentally cancelled him. I assumed that was the last I would be seeing of Tyson, unless in a courtroom. I should have known that nothing that would be considered logical or appropriate following a case like this, would happen.
Neil proceeded to be completely cleared of his accusations by his employer, the Hayden Planetarium, through their own private investigation, AND allowed back on “Cosmos” by the network, even though the accusations came from women who worked with him at these very places.
The guy even went on a pseudo-apologetic book tour, appearing on numerous talk shows including “the View” and “Stephen Colbert” where he substitutes an apology for a shameless, “thank-you-to-my-fans-who-still-support-me-now-buy-my-book” shpeal.
Get to the Point Nick
This all brings me to one month ago, when my father gifts me a viewing of a “Masterclass” by the one and only Neil deGrope Tyson. It’s an extensive class on scientific thinking and communication, straight from the predatory horse’s mouth. My dad hadn’t heard the news about Neil, along with many others.
I was first repulsed by the thought of listening to him speak but I was also flattered that my Dad gave me this thoughtful gift, albeit cringey. Then I thought, maybe I should just listen to it and get what I can out of what I’m sure is a wealth of knowledge, I mean it’s not like he’s teaching a sex-ed course, right?
But then, does that compromise me as a caring, good-person, feminist and ally to the #MeToo movement? Does that totally derail my gravitas of personal morality and all the progress I feel that I have supported in believing women and taking sexual misconduct seriously? Or am I just being totally self-righteous by ignoring a heart-felt (and already paid for) gift from my Dad, that I could easily watch and learn from in a vacuum of my own experience?
At this moral crossroads, I had to deeply examine my intentions. Society didn’t cancel him, so should I? I had already cancelled Neil from my life, is it wrong to let him back in? Is it unethical to watch this Masterclass by Neil deGrasse Tyson?
To answer this, I had to start thinking about cancel culture and what it means for all those involved. I want examine what it really means, what it says about us and all its implications.
To Cancel, or not to Cancel?
I think ultimately trying to determine whether Cancel culture as whole, is right or wrong is asking the wrong question.
But what does it even mean to cancel someone?
When a high profile figure is exposed as doing something our society deems unacceptable, we see a response now referred to as “cancel culture,” the total end of consumption, attention and support of them and their creations, essentially a form of public shaming and it’s become a really loaded term.
Cancel culture has developed a negative connotation, when I type in “Cancel Culture” to Google most of the articles I find are criticizing cancel culture, noting how it has gone “too far” or even calling it dangerous. Even Obama made a reference to it.
Anti – Cancel Culture
Critics of cancel culture seem to imagine it as this millenial weapon of political correctness, ready to strike down anyone that has ever said anything controversial. It stems from the stereotype of our over-sensitivity and moral superiority.
But it’s not an organized strategy, it’s more of a cultural phenomenon. And it’s hardly new, Galileo was cancelled after they found out that he said the Earth revolved around the Sun.
But what are the critics of cancel culture really saying and who are they trying to protect? Do we have any current figures being prematurely burned at the stake that need to be spared? Who are the victims here?
Pro – Cancel Culture
Those actively looking to cancel someone like to see it as a form of social justice, but they need to ask themselves what it is exactly they are trying to achieve.
What is the goal of cancelling? Is it to simply cancel people like a tv show, no more of them or their image and end their careers as punishment? Is it to publicly shame and make an example out of them for future offenders?
Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K., Neil; all were accused of deplorable crimes and received a huge public backlash but has their career really suffered? All 3 are still doing the same work they did before, now with an edgy intrigue added. They have tarnished their image but Aziz is coming out with a Netflix special and Louis just announced a comedy tour.
It seems to succeed as a shaming tool temporarily but ultimately fail its intended goal, to cancel.
So do we really have a cancel culture at all?
The problem I have with the idea of cancel culture, is that most of the time the verdict comes down to:
How much we love the person vs. How mad their crime makes us.
It’s easy for us to actually cancel someone like Roseanne Barr, or Bill Cosby; people who haven’t really been on the public’s mind these days at all, but Chris Brown and Michael Jackson? Cancelling them is not so easy.
Chris Brown is the epitome of the failed Cancellation, he was convicted of physically-abusing Rihanna years ago and after a shitstorm of controversy he has ultimately been branded as an abuser, but has that really hurt his career?
He still makes music to this day, he even had a song with Drake in July. This to me, reflects our society’s soft stance on violence towards women and illustrates how we have yet to take it seriously as a crime.
Think about Michael Jackson, an extreme case. One of the MOST loved people ever, accused of one of the WORST crimes anyone can commit. How do you feel our society has handled that situation? Was he cancelled? Should he be?
Cancel Culture has morphed into a straw man, where people use it to complain about things they don’t like. Some think cancel culture means to find something you said 10 years ago and throw it back in your face, or that you have to be perfect all the time or risk the PC mob coming for your neck.
Conversely, some people think cancelling gives you the power to eradicate what you don’t like in the world in one fell swoop. You can’t just dismiss people and their actions from the world and move on because things don’t just disappear like that.
The most important power of cancelling, is that it gives the public a voice to state what we will not tolerate. Why we make that statement, when, how and to what extent, is a direct reflection on our values as a country, as well as individually.
Unfortunately, the use of that voice is often criticized, slapped with the label of “cancel culture” and the point is largely missed.
Moving the Conversation Forward
I don’t think we are talking about cancel culture in a way that’s beneficial. I think it has been misinterpreted and mischaracterized. We need to move on from the conversation of “is it bad” or “is it good” and really examine what it is that we are discussing.
It’s not about should I, or should I not cancel NDT, more about why I want to cancel him.
Is there a way we can discuss cancel culture in a way that is productive and beneficial? I think the root of the concept breaks down into 3 essential questions.
1.) Is it unethical to consume the work of someone that has done something wrong or harmful?
i.e. “Am I a bad person if I dance to Michael Jackson music, if I believe he molested children?”
Is it wrong when I dance to “Rock With You?” Once I hear that drum fill lead into that groovy keyboard melody, I can’t resist wiggling my feetsies and moonwalking across the living room?
But I don’t want to support the abuse of children or someone that potentially got away with it. I think becomes really subjective.
To me, that song represents memories of the good times I had listening to that song before I ever found out about Michael’s actions.
In my personal space at home or in my headphones, I’m ok with listening to his music but a full scale homage to Michael Jackson on a cruise-ship musical performance that I saw last summer, I feel is inappropriate.
We don’t need to honor or glorify him publicly and subject others to unwillingly listen to his music whom might be deeply offended by it or may have been abused.
I created a distinction between the song he created and the person he was. But how far can that be taken? That brings me to the next question,
2.) Is someone’s work inextricably linked to who they are as a person?
When is it appropriate to separate someone’s work from the actions of their life? By supporting MJ’s music am I supporting him as a person and all his actions?
Manny Pacquiao is one of the best boxers ever but he is also outspokenly homophobic, can I learn from his boxing styles while being a supporter of gay rights?
Is it possible to see humans as fragmented people, with different arenas of our lives in which we operate as different versions of ourselves? Or does this nuance get lost when we show public support to someone based on our personal interests, while the world sees us supporting a person who is mostly known for something hurtful. Does the desire to learn from this particular boxer outweigh your support for LGBTQ people?
3.) To what extent do we hold people accountable for their actions and when should we forgive?
I hear the fears of people being cancelled over something they tweeted 8 years ago when they were drunk, the fear of being punished for your past self. That power is ultimately held by the judgers, how long do YOU think someone should be held accountable. I believe it depends on the crime, context and the remorse that the perpetrator shows afterwards and the amends they choose to make.
The reality is that forgiveness is largely not ours to give, they didn’t hurt us. Think about if the victims to these people would be comfortable supporting them. Would a woman who was sexually assaulted want to watch Cosmos? If I don’t think they would, then I don’t think I should either.
I don’t think it is right for me to listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass, I choose to believe the women that accused him and I would not want to listen to a rapist drone on about anything for 2 hours. I can learn from another scientist that has no connections to sexual abuse.
I think the value that any celebrity brings to the world with their talent can be easily outweighed by the pain and negative impact they can cause when abusing their power.
You should choose who you give your money, support and attention to wisely and do so with intention. Give your adoration to people whom you really feel deserve it, and withhold your support from those who you do not believe are making the world a better place on your own conviction.
In my eyes, there is no easy answer and cancel culture, really isn’t a thing.
But what do YOU think? Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with anything. The point of this isn’t to provide an answer for you but to pose a question.
Can you think of any time that cancelling has gone too far? Is there anyone that you feel should be cancelled?
For real, let me know what you think! Let’s open up this dialogue and get a meaningful conversation going. Thank you for reading and subscribe if you like this shyt! Share it and see what controversy you can spark on your newsfeed :).