Cancel Culture At Its Finest

By Teun Snijder | January 2, 2021

I want to start this off with a small disclaimer: I will be sharing some of my personal opinions on some subjects. You may disagree with what I’m saying in the following 500 or so words. I might even get some stuff wrong and I apologize in advance.

It was 2017 when the first MeToo case opened to the world. Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault against actress Alyssa Milano. Weinstein was the first of many and created a movement wherein many men and women could find a platform to come forward about sexual assault against them. The many newsworthy stories were always those with celebrities as perpetrators. This movement lead to a bigger cultural change in the way we hold celebrities responsible for their behavior and actions. It is commonly known as “cancel culture”.

One of the most recent and predominant debates is that of J.K. Rowling and her blog explaining her concerns about the safety of women when transgender women are allowed to be in public bathrooms and other private places. These comments were mostly misinformed and generally hurtful towards the transgender community. It was not the first time J.K Rowling has spoken out about these topics and she showed no signs of backing down. It is not my intent to depict or analyze her blogs, so here’s all I’ll say. Her comments did more harm than good and with a little research you can easily find out most of her opinions were misinformed. There is of course a case to be made for freedom of speech, but some of the proposed facts in the blog were not facts, the blog turned into a spreading of lies that were led by emotions and not by substantial evidence. As this information started to spread across the globe people jumped on it with their own opinions. Some substantial criticisms, others more irrational and even threatening. J.K Rowling received a lot of backlash, but also a lot of agreeing followers. It raised some interesting questions in my head about celebrities using their platforms to spread political and cultural opinions and the widely discussed idea of “death of the author”. I am by no means an expert of this theory but the basis of it indicates that a text belongs to the reader not the author after it’s been published. The author has no power over what the reader interprets and likes/dislikes in the story. With this way of thinking, it’s easier to discard any of the controversial events when talking about her work. “Daniel Radcliffe wrote Harry Potter” got the most buzz online. Comforting as that thought might be, it’s unfortunately not true. When you buy the books, you’re financially supporting her and her politics. If she keeps making money off of her work, it signals that her behavior online has no influence on her income making it easier for her to continue to act in that way. One of the best comparisons I can think of is how Donald Trump never got punished for anything he said online, making it very clear to him that he could get away with misguided tweets. The films are a different story to her books. The amount of people who worked on those projects is immeasurable and it would be unfair to discard the works of art they’ve created based on the actions of one person. The Harry Potter films are an adaption of the books she’s written, and her direct involvement was limited. That distinction between the films and the books should be brought into consideration. While it’s impossible to erase her previous work or undo those purchases, it’s still possible for us, as the public, to stay away from any of her future endeavors.

Another example of this was when Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault his entire role was recast and reshot in the film “All the Money in the World”. Director Ridley Scott knew he couldn’t get the movie out with Spacey on the posters after those allegations. The case of Kevin Spacey is one of the very few criminal prosecutions coming out of the #MeToo era but was dropped not long after. The accuser invoked the 5th amendment after getting a warning that destroying evidence is a felony, he continued to do so until the judge decided to drop the case. This brings me to the difference between a blog containing hateful and misleading claims and sexual assault. I presume I don’t have to explain the difference in heaviness between both cases, because sexual assault is definitely worse than a blog. Kevin Spacey should have been convicted if found guilty and send to jail.  J.K Rowling should be confronted in other ways. For instance, she should be called out on how she’s wrong and how she might approach communicating her thoughts differently. 

What happens a lot with cancel culture is that the punishment of the people in question seldom fits the actions. Should a single statement from 5 years ago that he already apologized for and revised, be the reason for a filmmaker losing his job? Or be the reason for a writer to lose theirs? We have to make our own decisions in these matters. Whether we like it or not the act of buying, viewing or reading somebody’s work who’s done questionable or down-right horrible things is supporting the people involved, mainly the perpetrator. The power of celebrities and their platforms should not be underestimated, but the power of the people shouldn’t either. As time goes on our opinions will often change, so only time can tell whether we change our views on people like Kevin Spacey or J.K Rowling. A willingness to truly pay for their crimes (in the case of Spacey or Weinstein) or apologize and be open to discussion (in the case of J.K Rowling) would be a strong foundation to build upon. Unfortunately, many celebrities are just as stubborn as the people they attract, so a willingness on our side to be open to their evolution in the way they act would be a strong foundation as well. Like many discussions, the solution often lies in the middle. Perhaps we should accept that the people we grow up to adore and admire are often not as great as we think they are.