The internet is immortal. Well, maybe not immortal. If something happened that knocked out people’s ways of logging online then it would die, our virtual footprint dead with us. But for now, while the internet is very much alive it at least seems immortal. We post things without a second thought, some of us have been since we were kids while other people are much older when they find themselves online.
The problem is that nothing ever disappears. Though there are thousands of pages on Google for random topics and even more websites, you can find anything if you search long enough. Sometimes this is harmless, an embarrassing photo from high school, a long forgotten fansite to a TV show, badly written fanfiction and drawn fan art. But other times the old things we posted can come back to bite us in the ass.
Last week Jenna Marbles, one of the first vloggers on Youtube, left the platform over old racially insensitive videos that she had made about a decade before. She made a very sincere apology video taking responsibility for her actions and acknowledging how even with an apology she didn’t deserve forgiveness because of the harm her videos caused to viewers and decided that leaving the platform was for the best. Marbles apology is considered one of the best by a Youtuber, but after she left viewers were demanding other vloggers be “cancelled” for their past controversial videos.
I’m not a fan of Cancel Culture. It started up a few years ago and can be defined as a type of digital form of group shaming of an individual over something problematic or insensitive that they posted. And I understand it, I see people who promote Cancel Culture as people who at their heart are trying to do good. They see someone has done something wrong and want that person “deleted” from the internet for their bad decisions. But people can’t be cancelled, and there’s a number of reasons why there’s issues with this subculture.
One is that people change. I am in no way defending Youtubers who have posted racially insensitive material, yes it can be argued that they should have known better but for whatever reason they didn’t. For whatever reason in that moment in time they something wrong and didn’t realize it was wrong for years later. But people can also grow, they can be aware that their actions were wrong (like Marbles) and take steps to put out content that isn’t bad like what they posted before. Of course people can still be offended by the past, people can be offended even if the person who posted the insensitive material realizes they made a mistake. But people don’t deserve to be cancelled or leave a space because they made a mistake (and I understand the problems with calling that a mistake because it’s definitely more than that) and realized they were wrong. The audience has a right not to participate with the content the creator is putting out but that doesn’t mean they have to leave.
Cancel Culture gets tricky though when wanting to cancel someone who repeatedly puts out negative content without realizing or growing (cough cough J.K. Rowling). When the audience finds out a creator they love will continue the hurtful mindset, it’s easy to want to cancel them. While J.K. Rowling continues to spout transphobic tweets and blog posts, the audience has created memes pretending that there is no author of Harry Potter. I understand where this thought process is coming from but the hard facts are that problematic people create wonderful things, and you can still enjoy these things even if the person is problematic. Though this brings its own troubles of course, because by enjoying the content from a problematic creator you are giving them money, but you also can’t control what you enjoy. I’m not going to pretend to have a right answer for how to consume entertainment by a problematic creator or even if you should, I’d have to write an entirely new blog post.
It’s easy to want to cancel someone, to pretend that they can be erased or deleted for the wrong they have done but for a number of reasons it just can’t happen. People can’t be cancelled whether they repent and grow or if they continue being problematic, the only thing we can control is how we consumer this creators media. We have the ability to cancel it for ourselves, to stop watching vlogs by former favourite Youtubers or to stop buying books by someone who used to mean something. But it’s individual, cancelling as a digital force is just too dangerous, and who knows what you may have posted long ago that could pop back up in an inconvenient way.
I don’t think Cancel Culture will stop anytime soon but we do have to start thinking and I think for the most part the internet has taken away that ability. We read something, we see that people are angry and jump on a bandwagon. I don’t know how to change a generational way of thinking that way, I don’t know how to get people thinking and considering before making a decision and wanting to cancel something. I guess this blog post is a series of “I don’t knows” but sometimes it’s better to just ask questions and wait for an answer to appear.