It’s no secret that celebrities are just like us. They go grocery shopping, pay taxes and even struggle with issues like mental illness. One other way that celebrities are just like us: They say and do things they later regret. Unlike us, those in the public eye, on any level, are more prone to scrutiny. If you’ve ever opened Twitter, checked Facebook or scrolled through Instagram, you’ve probably seen more than one post pulling up a celebrity’s old posts, loudly broadcasting that they’re “canceled.” These posts range from having questionable political opinions, getting into petty online arguments or even going so far as to use racial slurs and stereotypes. Social media creates a platform for us to express our thoughts, and often it goes too far. But where do we draw the line? When does “canceling culture” become toxic?
Approximately 67 million people actively use Twitter in the United States as of 2018, and it seems like nearly everyone with even 15 seconds worth of fame has been “canceled” at one point or another. Everyone from Kanye West, for his comments on slavery and his very public support of President Donald Trump, to seemingly less problematic famous folks like Rowan Blanchard, have all been canceled — some for no immediately clear reason at all. Even Kelvin Pena, known on social media as “Brother Nature” for his playful interactions with wildlife, was “canceled” for racist and homophobic tweets published when he was 12 years old. Canceling itself isn’t a well-defined process, and even when clearly explained on social media, not everyone supports or agrees on a “cancellation.” Being that it is an already loosely defined action, how serious is canceling?
It is also worth saying that certain individuals apologize and show a noticeable difference in their behavior since said damning tweets were sent out. Some individuals, such as British presenter Katie Hopkins, made no public apology after tweeting that there needed to be a “final solution” for Islamic terrorism. After she was fired from her job at her show, Hopkins even went so far as to alter the tweets and claim the previous tweet was a “mis-type.” On the other hand, Pena quickly posted an apology after his tweets were discovered by Twitter users: “I apologize for the 12-year-old Kelvin … Everyone changes, everyone learns, and everyone makes mistakes.” Many Twitter users quickly forgave him and came to his defense after reading what he posted, citing his age and seemingly heartfelt apology.
So who do we cancel and who do we let slide? It’s a tough call. I think it depends more on the individual and what was said. Frankly, I’m more likely to believe Pena over Hopkins, given that Hopkins has a history of racist comments. If every person was held accountable for the stupid things they’ve said, we’d all have something to be embarrassed about. I’d like to think that humans are capable of change, understanding and growth when we do something wrong. Maybe “canceling” is more toxic than we realize.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore double-majoring in biology and English.