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Are we too quick to cancel?


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Unlike any generation before us, thanks to the internet (especially Twitter), the thoughts and opinions of celebrities are often very much within the public realm. 

On the one hand, this means many famous faces have become less like mysterious, unreachable enigmas and we can make more informed choices about who we like and whose careers we’re happy to support. 

On the other hand, it leaves little to no wriggle room regarding even the most minor controversy when the public have so keenly taken on the role of moral jury, ready to pounce and cancel someone for the slightest ill-conceived slip of the tongue. 

 Image credit: nofrills on Flickr

In a culture where a “woke” attitude is an accessory almost as desirable as Fila Disruptors or that neon green ASOS slip skirt, more and more of us are taking on the role of keyboard warrior and encouraging our followers to cancel some of the most famous figures in the world. But is it sometimes a case of too much too soon? Are we too quick to cancel?

In many cases, the answer is no: some of our editors were lucky enough to attend the Annie Mac Presents conference on cancel culture, where high profile cases including R Kelly and Michael Jackson were discussed with Laura Snapes, Ben Zand, and Ben Homewood. The severity of their alleged crimes is such that it’s justified and natural that the general public wouldn’t want to listen to their music in nightclubs, or hear it on the radio anymore. 

The panel / Image courtesy of AMP Presents

Equally, following Karl Lagerfeld’s recent passing, Jameela Jamil was one of few celebrities to publicly address the numerous offensive statements made by him during his lifetime.  Lagerfeld made numerous fat-phobic remarks throughout his career at the helm of Chanel, and even dismissed the #MeToo movement by victim-blaming and remarking that “If you don't want your pants pulled about, don't become a model! Join a nunnery, there'll always be a place for you in the convent.” 

Following these comments, Rose McGowan called for an ultimately unsuccessful boycott of Chanel; essentially, she asked for Lagerfeld to be cancelled, albeit in a slightly less Gen Z vernacular. In response, many defended Lagerfeld by citing his artistic talent and ground-breaking contribution to the fashion industry. 


Karl Lagerfeld / Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


While his talent was undeniable, it seems unethical and wrong that so many influential figures continued not only to support his career but actively laud it. In an ironic twist, many of Lagerfeld’s most ardent supporters are women who often profit from making their “wokeness” part of their brand. Given his consistent adherence to his offensive beliefs, truly cancelling Karl Lagerfeld could have been the progressive leap the notoriously exclusive global fashion industry needed to take.

When all is said and done, can we really be expected to see the beauty in a dress as it descends down the runway on the back of a female model knowing full well that its designer outwardly dismisses and insults so many other women? Can we be expected to enjoy dancing to Ignition when the voice behind it has allegedly been caught on video having sex with a 14-year-old? Separating the art from the artist is one thing, but turning a blind eye to criminal or offensive behaviour is quite another. 


R Kelly / Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

However, at the same panel, an audience member brought up the public’s reaction to a resurfaced tweet in which a then 17-year-old Maya Jama wrote “'Dark skin [women] shaving their head expecting to look like Amber Rose, when really they end up looking like Michael Jordan'. looooooooool”. Many accused her of unforgivable colourism and now, six years on, her comments are still used against her in an attempt to hamper her chances at success. 

While it’s definitely not up to me (a Caucasian woman) to decide what does and doesn’t constitute colourism, the same audience member made the very valid point that as teenagers didn’t we all say - in real life or online - something stupid or offensive? Aren’t our teens a time to make mistakes and learn?

Surely holding celebrities accountable for words spoken years ago when they were young and less educated is unfair. I know that I said things that I would now apprehend and, quite frankly, look down upon others for saying and if I ever become famous (unlikely, but let me make my point) someone could probably find something incriminating on my Twitter account. 

 Image credit: PhotoMIX-Company on Pixabay

This is why it’s so important that cancel culture doesn’t embrace a simple good/bad opposition. When a grown adult in their right mind says or does something unforgivable then yes: cancel away. Put your money where your mouth is and do all you can to prevent them from living a gilded lifestyle whilst their words or behaviour put others at risk. 

But, when a young person who maybe lacks the resources to fully educate themselves or is still in the process of learning about the world makes an error, don’t lambast them and ruin their career before it’s really begun. 

We’ve all said things we regret; the difference is the majority of us are able to start afresh and let our shortcomings be corrected with time, without half the internet watching our every move and waiting for a chance to take us down. Instead, take the time to educate them about their behaviour so that they can continue to grow and become role models for the next generation of impressionable young people. 

Lead Image Credit: nofrills // flickr

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