What does it mean to be ‘cancelled’? Today, anything and anyone can be cancelled — it doesn’t matter whether you’re a celebrity, an Instagram influencer or just a regular social media user with a bit of a following. This mass movement to collectively cancel somebody can spark from a recent controversial statement which does not sit well with people or can also stem from an earlier comment or opinion made by somebody which gets dug out of nowhere. Nothing really escapes the internet. Though relatively new, this phenomenon has emerged in the last few years, a by-product of social media culture. The #MeToo movement proved to be a catalyst by boosting it into the mainstream.
When the 2016 elections happened in the US, to everyone’s shock and horror, Donald Trump who had been convicted of a number of sexual assault cases and general creepy behaviour was allowed to occupy the highest public office in the country. JK Rowling continues to be one of the best-selling and well-known authors even after a slew of transphobic tweets that caused a majority of twitter users to rage. So it’s no wonder that nothing earth-shattering could really happen when it comes to famous people in India. From MJ Akbar to Nana Paterkar to Alok Nath to Khodu Irani and many others, none of them have faced complete ostracization and their careers haven’t been disrupted. Basically, there is no long-term impact.
When it comes to celebrities, there seems to be a clear bias on who gets ‘cancelled’ and for what. Factors like sex, race and economic status certainly come into play here. Cancel culture being real would imply it actually ‘cancels out’ a person, making it hard for them to acquire work and people to work with them. And ‘cancelling’ and consequences to your actions are completely different things.
The whole idea of ‘cancelling’ that revolves around the notion that someone will automatically lose all currency and get silenced if you do or say something problematic, is quite frankly, laughable. The phrase has turned into a weapon of pseudo-wokeness and used as a shield for people in power who receive criticism, simply because they’re not used to it. Even when someone gets ‘cancelled’ for their opinion online, such as when Priyanka Chopra Jonas was called out for her insensitive statements on twitter, that didn’t make her magically disappear from the interwebs or get her projects cancelled.
This is why cancel culture isn’t really real especially when it comes to the Indian context. It doesn’t really impact a person’s livelihood. They stay famous and rich. Which well-known person has been cancelled and hasn’t just come back with more success within 6 months to a year of said cancellation? Nobody comes to mind when you actually think about it.
Frankly speaking, I’m more than open to the idea of ‘cancellation’ and de-platforming someone from social media who are genuine harassers or spread fake news to incite violence. In many cases, they don’t suffer real consequences and gain more off the back of being cancelled. Could it then be that one cannot truly ‘cancel’ rich and powerful people and therefore public criticism of them is not equivalent to ‘destroying their lives’? It could.