Cancel culture has been a buzz word the past few years. A quick Google search will provide you with an abundance of articles listing off all the recent victims of cancel culture. 2020 saw the canceling of celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, J.K. Rowling and Chris Pratt. While some victims of cancel culture arguably deserved it, such as Roseanne Barr and Abby Lee Miller, one too many people have received the #[insert name]isoverparty for arbitrary reasons. Cancel culture is problematic in so many ways, and not just because it goes after people who may not be the most deserving.
The biggest problem is that, even for the worst offenders, cancel culture is usually temporary. Celebrities are canceled one day and winning over the public the next. While celebrities in older generations seem to face longer-lasting repercussions for their distasteful actions, TikTokers and YouTube stars — whose fan bases are made up of Gen Zers — seem to bounce back quickly and often. Either Gen Z is more forgiving, or they just don’t really care about accountability. My money is on the latter.
Gen Z has gotten so comfortable with complaining about problematic stars that they simply do not stop consuming their content, even while complaining. Gen Z content creators have used this to their advantage. Their relevance, view counts and paychecks depend on controversy. YouTube apology videos appear to be in high demand. YouTuber Logan Paul’s apology video, which was in response to a video he posted that featured clips of the body of a man who appeared to have killed himself, has nearly 60 million views — over six to seven times the average views he gets per video. The popularity of apology videos is apparent with other social media celebrities, such as Jeffree Star and James Charles. The comment sections are usually filled with people calling out their inauthenticity and lack of awareness. Despite that, these social media stars have continued to grow their following. At the end of the day, views are views, whether they’re coming from a fan or a hater. Trisha Paytas, the D’Amelio sisters and Tana Mongeau have continuously been called out for their problematic behaviors, and yet their follower counts continue to rise.
The issue goes beyond giving second chances. For so many TikTok stars and YouTubers, second chances have turned into third, fourth and fifth chances. Where do we draw the line and say we will stop supporting people who clearly don’t care enough to change their actions? When will we, as a generation, believe controversy-brewing stars when they show us their true colors? When will we refuse to support celebrities and social media stars who thrive off of controversy that is too often offensive and hurtful?
Unfortunately, it seems that the value these stars hold is not in being good role models, but rather in their ability to generate controversy. While kids may have once looked up to their favorite Disney Channel stars for moral guidance, Gen Z has turned into a cohort that just wants to be entertained. They don’t watch Trisha Paytas to learn how to be a good person. They watch Trisha because they can count on her to stir up drama and give them the juicy gossip they crave.
As a generation, we have become disturbingly good at building people up just so that we can tear them back down. I often find myself questioning how these stars are able to bounce back only days after seemingly being canceled. It’s likely because we are too busy finding other people to cancel to actually care about the aftermath of a cancellation. The vicious cycle of canceling stars is problematic in its own right, however, as it also raises a broader concern of accountability.
Continuing to support problematic people, especially when they have shown no genuine remorse for their actions, is setting a precedent that holding people accountable for their behavior is beyond the purview of cancel culture, or not something Gen Z is capable of doing as a whole. This trend doesn’t just hold true for social media celebrities, though.
On the campaign trail in 2016, former President Donald Trump boasted about being able to shoot someone and not lose supporters. The same goes for politicians across the political spectrum, who have been caught in scandals relating to using racial slurs as well as facing sexual harassment allegations and abuses of power. It’s concerning that the new norm is calling people out for the sake of entertainment and then failing to demand an actual long-term change in their behavior.
Looking toward the future, whether this generation has the capacity to demand accountability from those in the public eye is questionable. Simply posting malicious comments on someone’s social media page is not enough for them to disappear completely. We need to stop crying wolf on every celebrity who does something we don’t like and focus on the people whose actions and words are inciting the worst “-isms” in us.
Then, when someone actually does something worth getting canceled over, they can be held accountable. The norm must be a denouncement of problematic behavior and a demand for actual change in that behavior in order to earn our forgiveness.
Theodora Vorias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.