Cancel culture is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been "cancelled". The expression "cancel culture" has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship. The notion of cancel culture is a variant on the term ''call-out culture'' and constitutes a form of boycotting involving an individual (usually a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner.


The 1983 Chic album ''Take It Off'' included the song "Your Love Is Canceled" which compared a break-up to the cancellation of TV shows. The song was written by Nile Rodgers after a bad date Rodgers had with a woman who expected him to misuse his celebrity status on her behalf. "Your Love Is Canceled" inspired screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper to include a reference to a woman being "canceled" in the 1991 film ''New Jack City''. This usage introduced the term to African-American Vernacular English, where it eventually become more common. By around 2015, the concept of canceling had become widespread on Black Twitter to refer to a personal decision to stop supporting a person or work, sometimes seriously and sometimes in jest. According to Jonah Engel Bromwich of ''The New York Times'', this usage of cancellation indicates the "total disinvestment in something (anything)". "Call-out culture" has been in use since 2014 as part of the #MeToo movement.

Academic analysis

According to the book ''The Coddling of the American Mind'' (2018) by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and free-speech activist Greg Lukianoff, call-out culture arises from what they call "safetyism" on college campuses.; For ''safetyism'', see According to Keith Hampton, professor of media studies at Michigan State University, the practice contributes to the polarization of American society, but it does not lead to changes in opinion. Cancel culture has been described by media studies scholar Eve Ng as "a collective of typically marginalized voices 'calling out' and emphatically expressing their censure of a powerful figure." Cultural studies scholar Frances Lee states that call-out culture leads to self-policing of "wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate" opinions. According to Lisa Nakamura, University of Michigan professor of media studies, cancelling someone is a form of "cultural boycott" and that cancel culture is the “ultimate expression of agency” which is "born of a desire for control speople have limited power over what is presented to them on social media" and a need for "accountability which is not centralized". Some academics proposed alternatives and improvements to cancel culture. Critical multiculturalism professor Anita Bright proposed "calling in" rather than "calling out" in order to bring forward the former's idea of accountability but in a more "humane, humble, and bridge-building" light. Clinical counsellor Anna Richards, who specializes in conflict mediation, says that "learning to analyze our own motivations when offering criticism" helps call-out culture work productively. Professor Joshua Knobe, of the Philosophy Department at Yale, contends that public denunciation is not effective, and that society is quick to pass judgement against those they view as public offenders or persona non-grata. Knobe asserts that these actions have the opposite effect on individuals and that it is best to bring attention to the positive actions that most of society participates in.

Prominent examples

A number of prominent cases have been cited as examples of "cancel culture". In August 2017, James Damore was fired from Google after writing a controversial internal memo. In the memo, Damore called the culture at Google an "ideological echo chamber" and argued that gender disparities in the workplace could be partially explained by biological differences. In May 2020, after the video of a racially charged confrontation went viral (Central Park birdwatching incident), Amy Cooper was fired from her job at Franklin Templeton Investments and had to temporarily surrender her dog to a shelter. In February 2021, science and health reporter Donald McNeil Jr. was fired from the ''New York Times'' for repeating a racial slur in a 2019 conversation about a student being suspended for saying the word. In a controversial note explaining the firing, the executive editor of the ''New York Times'' said the paper does not tolerate racist language "regardless of intent", though he later walked back this statement.


The expression "cancel culture" has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship. Former US President Barack Obama warned against social media call-out culture, saying that "People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and, you know, share certain things with you." Former US President Donald Trump also criticized cancel culture in a speech in July 2020, comparing it to totalitarianism and claiming that it is a political weapon used to punish and shame dissenters by driving them from their jobs and demanding submission.

Open letter

Dalvin Brown, writing in ''USA Today'', has described an open letter signed by 153 public figures and published in ''Harper's Magazine'' as marking a "high point" in the debate on the topic. The letter set out arguments against "an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty." A response letter organized by lecturer Arionne Nettles, "A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate", was signed by over 160 people in academia and media and criticized the ''Harper's'' letter as a plea to end cancel culture by successful professionals with large platforms but to exclude others who have been "cancelled for generations".

American public opinion

A poll of American registered voters conducted by Morning Consult in July 2020 showed that cancel culture, defined as "the practice of withdrawing support for (or canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive," was common: 40% of respondents said they had withdrawn support from public figures and companies, including on social media, because they had done or said something considered objectionable or offensive, 8% having engaged in this often. Behavior differed according to age, with a majority (55%) of voters 18 to 34 years old saying they have taken part in cancel culture, while only about a third (32%) of voters over 65 said they had joined a social media pile-on. Attitude towards the practice was mixed, with 44% of respondents saying they disapproved of cancel culture, 32% who approved, and 24% who did not know or had no opinion. Furthermore, 46% believed cancel culture had gone too far, with only 10% thinking it had not gone far enough. However, a majority (53%) believed that people should expect social consequences for expressing unpopular opinions in public, especially those that may be construed as deeply offensive to other people.

Criticism of the concept

Some journalists question the validity of cancel culture as an actual phenomenon. Danielle Kurtzleben, a political reporter for ''NPR'' writing in 2021, has said that the over-use of the phrase "cancel culture" in American politics (particularly by Republicans) has made it "arguably background noise". Per Kurtzleben and others, the term has undergone semantic bleaching to lose its original meaning. Connor Garel, writing for ''Vice'', states that cancel culture "rarely has any tangible or meaningful effect on the lives and comfortability of the cancelled." Historian C. J. Coventry argues that the term has been incorrectly applied, and that it more accurately reflects the propensity of people to hide historical instances of injustice: Another historian, David Olusoga, similarly argued: Indigenous governance professor and activist Pamela Palmater writes in ''Maclean's'' magazine that cancel culture differs from accountability in her article about the public backlash surrounding Canadian politicians who vacationed during COVID-19, despite pandemic rules not to. Former US Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia says that cancel culture is a form of free speech, and is therefor protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. According to Scalia, cancel culture can, however, interfere with the right to counsel, as some lawyer would not be willing to risk their personal and professional reputation on controversial topics.

In popular culture

The American animated television series ''South Park'' mocked cancel culture with its own "#CancelSouthPark" campaign in promotion of the show's twenty-second season (2018). In the season's third episode, "The Problem with a Poo", there are references to the 2017 documentary ''The Problem with Apu'', the cancellation of ''Roseanne'' after controversial tweets by the show's eponymous actress, and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Both the Dixie Chicks, for their outspoken criticism of the Iraq War and President Bush, and Bill Maher have said they are victims of cancel culture. In 2019, cancel culture featured as a primary theme in the stand-up comedy show ''Sticks & Stones'' by Dave Chappelle.

See also

* At-will employment * Blacklisting * Character assassination * Culture war * Deplatforming * Deviationism * Divestment * Enemy of the people * Freedom of speech * Internet vigilantism * McCarthyism * Online shaming * Political correctness * Politicization * ''Persona non grata'' * Presumption of guilt * Relational aggression * Social exclusion * Social justice warrior * Thoughtcrime * Double standard * Woke



Further reading

* * * * * {{Authority control Category:2010s neologisms Category:Pejoratives Category:Social rejection Category:Shunning