Coverage ideas: Cancel culture

The practice of online shaming of people who have problematic behavior from the past or present continues to be a cultural force, particularly among people who identify as more liberal. This practice is not new. It was a summer of many open letters. The issue has evolved into an election campaign issue since President Donald Trump mentioned it at his July 4 speech, where he called it “the very definition of totalitarianism,” and “completely alien to our culture and our values.” Note that canceling something can be different from cancel culture. Its prevalence in the culture through several recent high-profile “cancellations,” and because it has become an election issue make it a timely topic to cover for any student media, including yearbooks.

Cancel by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

  • This 32-minute podcast from WNYC’s “On the Media” breaks down the principles of cancel culture and its effects.
  • The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, who writes from a more conservative political perspective, offers “10 Theses About Cancel Culture
  • A letter published in Harper’s Weekly in July caused a stir when notable authors and writers pushed back against “cancellation” of ideas and individuals: “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.”
  • The Harper’s ‘Letter,’ cancel culture and the summer that drove a lot of smart people mad (The Washington Post): “While the Harper’s letter doesn’t explicitly blame ‘cancel culture,’ many readers saw it as the subtext — a big part of the debate roiling elite cultural institutions. For some, ‘cancel culture’ is the specter of online mobs advocating for someone to get fired over anything from an old tweet to an innocuous statement that doesn’t conform to some emerging progressive ethos. Others argue there’s no such thing — that the phrase itself is an attempt to dismiss the young or minority or LGBTQ groups using social media to hold the powerful accountable.”
  • The New York Times podcast “The Daily” took a deeper dive through a two-part explanation Aug. 10 and 11. Part 1: “Where it came from” and Part 2: “A case study”

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • When it comes to calling out bad actions, what are the possible repercussions — both for those being called out and those doing the calling?
  • Is there room for redemption, particularly among younger offenders? Can people recover from a cancellation?
  • How do teens reconcile positive feelings toward people and things they enjoy (entertainers, performers, creators, products) with potentially problematic behavior by the people behind those things? In short, can you separate the art from the artist?

Possible sources:

Journalists, digital media and pop culture college professors, social media influencers that your audience follows, people who have been “canceled” and others who have expertise in this area

Possible sidebars:

  • Case study of someone who was called out or who called someone out
  • Glossary of terms
  • Timeline of “cancellations” or the life cycle of a “cancellation“
  • Quotation collection or poll with opinions about cancel culture
  • Pro/con debate

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