to cancel or not to cancel 

BY Kody tinga

He’s a Prime Minister, the voice of liberal North America...and a former user of blackface on multiple occasions.


She’s a body positivity activist, chart-topping recording artist,...and harassed someone for her millions of followers on Twitter.


It is 2019, and social media, to put it lightly, is literally everywhere. From the ding of our phones to the sliding notifications on our screens, it has become easier each and every day to gain insights into our most beloved celebrities - for better and for worse. While perhaps not lin the literal sense, at least figuratively, literally everything about people’s lives can be found online, from their  morning self-care routines, mental breakdowns, or even trips to the toilet. The advent of social networks has allowed an unprecedented degree of access into the private lives of our heroes - and sometimes, parts of their lives they’d rather keep private. .


The rise in “cancel culture”lends weight to that thought. When a celebrity shares an opinion, or has committed an action that is controversial (or more often, downright rude or racist), many fans and users of social media decide to boycott their works, effectively “cancelling” them. If someone does something worthy of being “cancelled”, then it’s fair game to boycott them, right?


In a perfect world, yes.  But we don’t live in that world, so its worth asking, at what point does the bad outweigh the good? How can we know when the scales of ethics tip towards one side or the other?


The short answer is we kind of can’t, honestly, other than by looking on a case-by-case basis. The long answer goes something like this:


Take Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada. The much-lauded last beacon of liberalism in the post-Trump, post-Brexit political landscape of the West. Trudeau has come under fire recently thanks to the discovery of photos - in the yearbook of the school he taught in circa 2001 - which display him appearing in robes and a turban with his face, hands, and arms darkened. While several other members of the faculty had also been shown in the yearbook to have dressed up for the occasion, no one else at the party had darkened their skin. Shortly thereafter, a photo of Trudeau in his high school yearbook showed the now-PM singing the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” in afro wig, and, yes, black face.


That’s only one case, and so now we should instead take a peek at Lizzo, possessor of the chart-topping song “Truth Hurts”, whose songs preach an ethos centered around self-love and acceptance. Imagine the furor when, after posting a tweet including the picture of a delivery person and detailing that that the person had stolen her food (with included threat that the woman was lucky Lizzo didn’t fight anymore), it was then discovered the deliverywoman had left the premises simply due to the fact that no one had bothered to pick up the food. Between that first tweet and the following apology tweets came out noticeably divided, some praising Lizzo for her perceived forthrightness, and others chastising the danger she could have potentially placed the woman in.


Both were, rightfully, chastised on social media, leading to a prompt  public apology. Lizzo posted that she would try to “check her petty and her pride at the door”, while Trudeau ended up apologizing directly to two African-Canadian schoolgirls who inquired about the topic. What he said to them, however, may have ended up causing more ire, confessing that “[He] didn’t know it [was harmful] back then, but [He knows] it now." Now, the fact that his wearing of blackface was in 2000, and not 1920, does add a sour note to these quotes, but it also creates a perfect spotlight on the concern of all of this: Cancellation, in the end, can only come as a result prolonged problematic behavior, not a one-off incident that dies off shortly thereafter.


Does this mean that Trudeau is then inherently cancel-worthy? No. However, that doesn’t still doesn’t make it any less of a shame that a man who has been lauded in recent years for being an outspoken advocate of human rights, has participated in multiple occasions in such a dehumanizing practice. Meanwhile, while disrespectful and dangerous, Lizzo’s one-off incident is at least somewhat less likely to present a spate of problematic behavior - unless such were to then again be found on social media, of course.


In essence, in the end, one offence does not a pariah make, but one apology does not mean all is forgiven, either. Heroes can remain heroes, but the shards of humanity allowed through, become all the more relevant to keep in mind.


We must all follow our heroes, but at the end of the day, as sappy as it sounds, you must become your own hero.

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