In a tweet and delete society, accountability seems to be an unknown concept that creates constant misunderstanding. Many confuse cancellation with calling-out toxic behaviours; creating further harm rather than space for change and growth.
Cancel culture can be defined as a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles. This may take place online via social media platforms, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled.” However, accountability culture has swept social media with users calling out abusive behaviours. Called-out culture is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as a way of behaving in a society or group in which people are often criticised in public; for example on social media, for their words or actions, or asked to explain them. Brené Brown says that when we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This may be why we sometimes attack who the accused individual is, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice. Humans make mistakes – it is how we handle them and grow from it that counts.
Technological convergence has allowed phenomenal advancements in how we communicate, but there has recently been an infection of cancel culture hitting platforms without social media users understanding the harm it may cause. Keyboard warriors miscarry their perceptions of justice despite healthier alternatives that advocate for change and progress. The anonymity of the digital age presents individuals with a power and online presence that has enabled a ‘trial by social media’. We have seen the positive impact of Calling Out culture implemented in our communities, through the likes of music industry professionals and influencers like James Charles – but cancelling is a thin ice to walk on. Call-out culture is a safe way for some to be able to come forward in the safety of doing so as a collective, in order to stay anonymous for their own protection.
A question frequently asked by many; what is the pivotal difference between the two cultures? Jameela Jamil describes her stance on calling-out as advocating for the ownership of mistakes, condemning it if it is harmful to others and then demanding the perpetrator does better. Many celebrities rarely support cancel culture, unless the person/company has done irrevocable harm or hurts more people than they help, or refuse to shift on their dangerously bigoted views and behaviour. Regardless, sometimes this action can be taken too far.
Despite the good, we have the bad and the ugly. Moving away from accountability and apology, a movement of blacklisting has made abuse a two way process. Bullying, harassment and one sided input; greater and more important stories get lost in a sea of slander. Cancel culture invalidates the meaningful offence that is being called out and instead, indirectly creates further harm and victims. Alas, the important message is forgotten about. In simple terms, hurt people hurt people and that is not okay. The former US president, Barack Obama, even called out the cancel culture movement on the Internet, saying that ‘it is not an effective form of activism’. Many agree.
Humans possess an unorthodox craving for wanting to see people fail. One can deny it but the incomprehensible surge of reality TV and embarrassing social media content, the human psyche gets uncomfortable at the thought of ‘you’re doing better than me’. Yes, we love to see our friends flourish and many are routing for others. However, humans have a jarring attitude that may appear selfish from the outside – the cancelling of another human. Pointing out where someone needs to do better and holding them accountable for their actions publicly… it gets confused with the cancelling and social murder of an individual. The unnerving attitude of the digital age means that sometimes, more harm than good can come from online social justice warriors. We are behind a screen and desensitised by a pixelated and remote version of ourselves. A rise in click bait has led to trial by social media becoming invalidated and saturated with misconceptions and sensationalist motifs. An author must trust the reader to have an understanding of the issue before making a decision on where they stand. This involves a full understanding of what abuse is, the unfortunate aftermath, and retaliation. Yet, it is your own responsibility to be aware of the consequences each action has. New wave celebrities of the TikTok and YouTube age have been trained to fake accountability. Apology videos lack authenticity and face value from PR perfect scripts. Desensitisation from repetitive ‘sorry’ videos have misled audiences into believing change and progress has occurred. The idea of what accountability is and how progressive change can actually be implemented has become clouded with a whoops… But then they do it again.
Some commentators like Gag of the Millennial, argue that those who shout the loudest must also look inwards at the people they surround themselves with and those who are closest, their inner circle. When thinking about cancel culture, the phrase “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind. Power, money and potential influence leads to conceited attitudes where hurt people, hurt people. One culture enables growth whereas the other ruins any foundations for change.
There will always be the millennial argument of the new found pressures social networking has conjured in young people – a social media persona that wants to shock without malicious intent. It can be argued that it is justified through the sheer anger at the fact that the world has completely changed and we are the worst-off generation as a result of that. By no fault of our own, FYI. Bad actions can not stand against bad actions but, where there’s smoke there is fire. Abuse is not an excuse for further abuse. Hindsight can see it but in the moment, things are different and humans make mistakes – it is how we respond that matters.
The worst response that we are very familiar with are those on constant, distracted alert to prevent shame and embarrassment from landing on them. People can get touchy and they treat conversation like a minefield, tiptoeing around pejoratives as if they are social suicide, covering them with shame. I often think about what the perfect response would be to abuse accusations. Psychologist Jeremy E. Sherman argues that the first step in a good response is to let our guards down, be more receptive and less defensive.
“It’s hard, though not for lack of people suggesting that we do. That sermon is everywhere… Don’t fight your defensiveness, upstage it with a better response that comes easily, maintains your dignity, and pivots you to more productive focuses.”Sherman
Everyone has the ability to be defensive but how does having the ability become a mark against you? The simple answer is that there are those who act on this urge to defend themselves and those who listen and ask the question – am I using it appropriately in the situation? By people treating the universal trait as a ‘rare pathology’, when the accused disagrees with how it’s applied to the situation at hand, we are surprised at their response. Sherman states that the better response to accusations can take the example ‘we can talk about that if you want. Let me know if your hunch is that I’m using them wrong. I’m open to revising my hunch if I decide using it differently would be more appropriate to the situation’.
One could argue that the perfect response is to not respond, but listen and learn then do better.
Professional, digital investigative journalism does not perpetuate cancel culture. However, the hype surrounding it can be incredibly toxic as some argue that there is no perfect response. A new fear has arisen; irrelevant or cancelled – which one is worse? Comparing the cultures, the highlight for a disregard to male victims and female predators can prove shocking. There’s a nuance in society regarding abuse; showing an ignorant blind spot as a culture about who can/can’t be victims and who can/can’t be predators. We need to take a step back and think about the core message and the voice of those who just want to see a change.
When allegations came to light against music promoters, Tits Upon Tyne had the unique opportunity to interview alleged victims who were speaking out about their experiences.
“Sometimes call out culture is necessary. In the recent allegations of music promoters for example, it’s very apparent that while these allegations are very sad and concerning, it hasn’t seemed to have shocked a huge amount of people. This is very likely because [the accused’s] questionable behaviour is something that a lot of the members of our ‘tightly knit’ industry are very much aware of.”
The consensus of those interviewed is if that’s the case, why has this gone on for so long, and why hasn’t this been dealt with in a different manner?
“These managers are aware of their behaviours, have had complaints made to them, and certain individuals have tried to take a quieter route in doing something about it, but yet the behaviour never stopped.”
“I suspect lots of that comes back to the power management held over [their] employees, freelancers, subcontractors, local artists and more.”
– Newcastle whistleblower
A post by the social media page; Amplify Her Voice (@amplifyhervoice), highlights that the music industry is no stranger to sexism. Women in music are regularly underpaid, underplayed, and consistently overlooked. ”Taking accountability, enacting preventative measures, and promoting healing can start the change that has been long overdue.” The normalised double standard has become a textbook practice in music through hyper-sexualisation of female artists, the rejection of female confidence and fangirls/fandoms. We have all asked ourselves why this behaviour exists and it is a complex one. What many recognise is a huge lack of women and gender minorities in positions of power. These positions are predominantly held by older white men. Maybe their love of the industry comes from a time when there was an even lesser equal representation, a time when women were groupies, fans, assistants, attractive singers and they hoped that would never change. There are a multitude of difficult experiences as a woman in the music industry. While there are a few serious significant experiences that stand out, it’s important that people understand that almost every woman in music has experienced misogynistic, degrading and inappropriate behaviour. Not once, nor twice – but so frequently, that the long term impact of that, arguably less serious behaviour had nearly as much, if not the same impact as the few more serious and significant ones.
“In systems like the music industry where money and power dynamics are at play, sexism becomes increasingly evident, and this often leads to the detriment of people’s careers – especially women. A call-out culture backed by facts and fuelled by fighting for equality and change can be a powerful way to hold the people in charge of these harmful systems accountable. A Musician’s Union survey found that 85% of sexual harassment victims never report their harassment due to the culture of the music industry – a culture that encourages its people not to speak out. Calling out these systems is important, and thanks to social media, it’s something that we, as individuals, now have the power to change. Using our voices to shine a light on the sadly dangerous, hidden things that people might not always easily see within the music industry is a chance for us to demand better treatment. Not only does call-out culture give us a chance to spread awareness, but it also proves us deserving of the change that we’re asking for.” Amplify Her Voice stated to Tits Upon Tyne.
2020 definitely showed us the bad eggs within the creative industries. A byproduct of lockdown, holding people accountable seems to be accompanying us into 2021. From music figureheads like Burger Records to perverted tattoo artists, countless individuals have been outed during lock down. But my question is, what’s next? Have the campaigns actually helped or are people ignoring the accusations now the buzz has ‘died down’.
The disheartening thing about it all is that the survivors just want the corporations to take accountability, acknowledgement and to address how we can change as a community. Instead of striving to be better, narcissistic denial of wrongdoings heighten the tension within our community. Despite this, I can say I am pleasantly surprised at some male artists in the local scene who have really stepped up. Not only cutting all ties with any known abusers in music, but also speaking up to their male counterparts in trying to create a safer space. In times like this, those who respect women and survivors truly pave the way for progress.
On the other hand, respect for some is dwindling at a rapid rate. As soon as the clouds seem to part and the survivors disperse, a sense of normality seems to settle as though nothing really changed. Times like these make me think what was the point? Whistleblowers can only do so much. Fighting a battle in their heads between doing the right thing versus their own PTSD – they must ask, was it even worth it?
The answer is yes! But truthfully, if long-term change doesn’t take place, it is going to get harder to tell ourselves this.
What happened in the North was just a microcosm of the wider issue. The amount of performative feminism by the men involved is really infuriating. Now things are slowly returning to normal, we need to continue to maintain our standard as well as continuing to maintain standards for others. Consequently, the trauma inflicted through cancelling must be voided in an attempt to reaffirm the messages made through calling-out. In an ideal world, we should cancel cancel culture.