Blurred Lines: Rethinking Call Out and Cancel Culture
Call outs, cancelations and “righteousness porn”
Here’s a thought: we’re all caught in a love-hate relationship with the internet.
For many a 90s kid like me, the world wide web is akin to a childhood friend: that cool kid from the same neighborhood who would spend the sweltering summer afternoons with you playing with marbles and who introduced you to all their cool, hip friends in college––only the marbles are Flash games and the friends are Limewire downloads (sorry about the viruses, Mom). There’s a particular sentimentality that we associate with the internet––after all, most of us have probably made more memories with Internet Explorer and Google Chrome than with our best friends.
This time-tested sentimentality, along with the fact that the internet can help us do pretty much everything, both contribute heavily to the fact that most of us can’t live without it. Despite that, it’s simultaneously become easier and easier to hate the internet––and we’re not talking about the eye-rolling “I hate the internet!” that we can’t help but let out when we come across a particularly witty meme. I mean truly, legitimately disliking it for the sense of power it puts in everyone’s hands.
Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of call out posts on the internet. From the grammar nazis to the naysaying social justice warriors, social media has turned us into our bravest selves: always ready with an opinion, always ready to @ someone on their bullshit.
Forget Limewire. The internet has become a breeding ground for call out and cancel culture.
Call out culture, as we’ve previously defined it, is “a set of attitudes, beliefs, norms and phrases that promote an aggressive response to people who express bigoted views.” Simply put, it’s public shaming for a cause, or a digital punishing of the problematic.
Cancel culture takes it one step further by following up a call out with a boycott. Questionable opinions are met with a permanent seal of invalidation.
When you look up these concepts on the internet, it’s easy to find two opposing arguments that surround calling out and cancelling. One side believes the act of calling out and the canceling that may follow are rooted in good intentions. It’s an appropriate flagging of offensive statements and dubious behavior with a side serving of public humiliation to drive a degree of self-reflection.
The opposite side of the spectrum believes that it’s nothing but a spectacle. It’s toxic and rooted in a holier-than-thou mentality, or as Sarah Silverman recently put it at the Emmys, “righteousness porn.”
The Call Out
As a kid who got into trouble for challenging teachers in high school and is labeled “too opinionated” by my own grandmother, biting back a rebuttal against the forces of evil just isn’t an option! I believe in the power of a good call out––the operative word here being good. Publicly holding people accountable for opinions that they express publicly is a valid course of action. If they dealt damage, they ought to be prepared to back their claims with research or at the very least, a justification.
A more peaceful way to deal with matters would be “calling in” or privately settling the matter without involving public opinion. It saves people (or the self, in case proven wrong) from widespread humiliation, sure, but let’s be real: calling in doesn’t always do the trick. What about celebrities who wouldn’t be able to hear us without masses drawing attention to an issue? What of the people who refuse to pay attention to that one person trying to correct them in their DMs? Let’s be real: calling in can be pretty idealistic. I’m here for intelligent discourse, and sometimes, a call out is a way to reel that out of someone.
In the same breath, I’ll admit that the internet has birthed its fair share of clout-chasers. We’ve discussed the follower-hungry social justice warriors at length previously, and we still see them every day. Daily Twitter interactions are no different from the Tati and James Charles shebang, only with less makeup and no tearful back-and-forth vlogs.
While I can justify call out culture, cancellation is where I hit the brakes.
Following up a call out with a cancel feels a little… contradictory. Where a call out points out the wrong to arrive at a right, a cancellation strips people of their chance at repentance. Surely, there are some non-negotiables there (rape, domestic abuse, murder by their own hands or unflinchingly selling their soul to a government that murders, for starters), but when it comes to the topics people talk about online––from whether a song is a bop to matters like racism––it’s important to remember that people can change. Because hey, that’s what we’re really after, isn’t it? The positive change.
In the end, intention is a hefty character in the equation. Is the point of publicly spotlighting someone about accountability or about one’s own ego? The line separating the two might be thinner than we perceive.
The point of a call out, should be guided by the intention behind it––which, in an ideal world free of clout-chasing, would be to educate. Clicktivism is no good without any solutions. Without the foundation to inform, it’s just ranting. Without a call to make a wrong right, it’s but a public display of one’s own intolerances. As women’s expert Loretta Ross put it, “Social media offers new ways to be the same old humans by virally exposing what has always been in our hearts, good or bad.” Don’t let your next call out stop there––make it mean something.
Art Alexandra Lara