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The complications of ‘Cancel Culture’

Written by Comment

I grew up as someone who adored Tintin, not realising the dilemma this would cause for me as an adult reader.

A deeper gaze into the early adventures of the much-loved reporter, and his trusty furry sidekick, paints a more problematic picture than I saw as a child. The comics, to me, seemed to project a kaleidoscope of lazy stereotypes and harmful portrayals of other cultures. Yet over time, the evolution of the depictions within the comics mirror the writer’s own personal growth. As Hergé became more educated and mature, so did his characters.

Let me start with this first – I do not think there must be tolerance toward intolerance. Bigotry, transphobia, and hate speech all deserve to be shut down immediately. I do not believe that the argument that ‘free speech is dying’ holds much value if the speech you want to use freely oppresses marginalised groups (I’m looking at you, Rowling). That being said, I do believe that every case needs to be looked at in its own right, before the figure is dragged and ‘cancelled’ through social media. This is because such public outcry can have serious consequences.

The fluctuation of public opinion during the Johnny Depp libel trial shows how reactionary ‘Cancel Culture’ can be

The ongoing legal trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard comes to mind. Johnny Depp filed a libel suit against The Sun newspaper, after they allegedly ran an article calling him a ‘wife beater’. After being accused of domestic abuse Depp was met with a wave of ‘cancellations’ online – before the trial could make its decision on the allegations. He was soon fired from his role of Jack Sparrow and was dragged by multiple press outlets. Then, as new evidence had been revealed to the public ‘proving’ Depp was innocent, a wave of ‘cancellations’ for Heard began, making #JusticeForJohnny trend on Twitter.

‘Cancel Culture’ may struggle with nuance, but it’s impact must be judged on a case-by-case basis

This reveals a problem with with ‘Cancel Culture’. It can, at important times, lack nuance. This is why ‘Cancel Culture’ cannot be simplified into being either strictly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – rather each case presents a different story, and must be treated as such. It’s important to look at each individually, and carefully consider its context. We must also be conscious that certain cases might reveal something about ourselves as an audience, as we somewhat arbitrarily pick and choose what to redeem or criticise in public figures.

Much like Hergé, the legacy of J.K. Rowling’s books are bigger than her bigotry, and people have found their way to enjoy them independent of her personal views. Her transphobia ought to be cancelled – but her books that continue to teach lessons about friendship, love and courage which ought to be cherished. Her case also demonstrates that the mass boycott element of ‘Cancel Culture’ is more complicated than we might expect. Our choice of what we choose to retain as a society is ultimately what matters the most.

Featured Image: ‘Tintin and Snowy Graffiti’ from Wikimedia.

Last modified: 24th August 2020

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