Words by Isabel Kho, Melissa Nava, and Shannon Matsuda
Edited by Katherine Go
Art by Martine Irog
“The moment we stop treating an individual who has done wrong as perpetually untreatable and unchangeable is the moment where we’ll be able to take the next steps in preventing these things (and those that perpetuate it) from happening again.”
With the ongoing pandemic constantly changing our lifestyles, it becomes draining to watch the news or check for updates on social media regarding COVID-19. This pandemic not only has brought more attention to underlying issues deeply rooted in our society, but it also exposed several leaders, businesses, and even celebrities for grave misconduct. Depending on the degree of the crimes these people have committed, this could lead to their lives being canceled by the general public.
Before delving into it further, it is important to understand what it means for one to get cancelled. According to Dictionary.com, cancel culture “refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” In the most extreme cases, the people getting canceled saw an end to their careers, as a result. This phenomenon emerged in 2019 when there were many incidents of celebrities who committed crimes or problematic behaviors on social media.
Though cancel culture is a phenomenon that is quite prevalent, especially in our online communities, we must remember not to mistake it for call-out culture. Call-out culture is the process wherein people point out (or “call out”) when someone has done something that you consider inexcusable. This differs from cancel culture because cancel culture takes an extra step after calling someone out, which is to figuratively remove a person from society, hence the use of the term “cancel”.
While call-out culture does prove that an individual should face the consequences of their wrongdoings and be held accountable for their actions; cancel culture may prove detrimental to the accused in the long run. The downside of promoting cancel culture is that it does not provide the wrongdoer an opportunity to correct themselves. It does not allow wrongdoers to grow outside of their mistakes. Those who fall victim to this type of culture have no means of coming back from their mistake and redeeming themselves, as the masses figuratively “remove” them from society.
An example of call-out culture in Philippine context is the story of popular Filipino singer-songwriter Yeng Constantino – who came under fire online because of a particular vlog she posted recalling an event she experienced with her husband in a hospital in Siargao. Constantino pointed out the lack of preparedness and professionalism of the hospital’s staff in her vlog, bringing netizens to call her out for “doctor-shaming” licensed medical professionals, and being ignorant about the fact that they were in a provincial hospital, which may lack certain services and staff that she may be used to.
On the other hand, we are also able to see numerous instances of cancel culture in our country. Aside from the more recent incident with the CEO of Cookies by the Bucket, with Philippine politics being one of the main topics of discussion on any Filipino’s online news feed, it becomes a topic that netizens consider highly important to speak out about. Though it is important to discuss local politics, this puts those who choose not to speak openly about it in a tight spot. When Filipinos are known to have active social media accounts, but have not spoken up about important matters happening in the country, some netizens are quick to ‘cancel’ these people and rant on their online platforms about it.
To get a better glimpse of how members of today’s youth see cancel culture, we were able to acquire the testimonials of four young adults who have a specific stance on cancel culture. (Some interviewees have requested to remain anonymous and have requested to use aliases as placeholders for their real names, for their privacy.)
When asked about their understanding of the cancel culture phenomenon, most of the interviewees agreed that cancel culture could be described as changing one’s view of (or withdrawing support for) a person that has done something that is perceived negatively by the majority. Paula Lavilla, a sophomore studying under the AB Asian Studies degree, noted that cancel culture is considered “dismissing someone that has done something bad (which in common situations [are counts of] racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), and never viewing them as someone who can be good, or as a person who deserves respect.” Nina Peralta, a sophomore studying under the AB Communications degree, added that “People [who partake in cancel culture] have [a] proclivity to judge based on their personal set of opinions and their own set of criteria. As a result, the person they have given a verdict of what we usually label as ‘cancelled’ is no longer viewed positively by society.”
When asked to differentiate between call-out and cancel culture, a majority of the interviewees pointed out in some form or other that call-out culture is done through pointing out a person’s mistake in order to teach them, while cancel culture is more a more dismissive process, which doesn’t hear out the accused and doesn’t give them a chance to grow. Anna Yam, an advertising student, pointed out that cancel culture is “an extension [or] higher form of call-out culture, [in a sense]. You [call someone out] first, then decide whether to cancel them or not.” Atom adds that “The difference is [that] call-out culture is [that] we can literally see everything, point something out, and give feedback on it.” They then add that “Cancel culture isn’t a personal thing – it’s when there’s a collective.”
All of the interviewees said that they are against cancel culture. They would rather promote call-out culture instead of cancel culture, or change the concept of cancel culture entirely to make it sound less “toxic” or “harsh.” Nina Peralta pointed out that having experienced the trauma firsthand as a victim of cancel culture, it “brought a huge change in [her] life – in both good and bad ways.” However, she adds that “it doesn’t make you easily forget about the person who chose to insult you [in public] instead of educating you in private. You don’t have the power to know what the other feels, but you can always give respect.” Other interviewees pointed out that cancel culture inhibits the growth of the accused individual, and does not show all sides of the situation. Paula Lavilla noted that “it doesn’t allow people to have productive conversations, and it pushes them to have a silo-way of thinking, which only empowers ignorance.” Anne Yam preferred to refer to cancel culture as ‘accountability’ culture instead, because she believes that “it’s important to hold people accountable for their actions, but that does not mean we should cancel them right away. We have to look at their growth and sincerity first before hating/boycotting completely.”
With famous figures going under fire under the cancel culture phenomenon, interviewees were asked if they feel that it is justified to boycott them because of a mistake that they’ve committed. Anne Yam answered that “it depends on what they did wrong, and how grave their actions were.” Anne brought up the example of famous singer Dua Lipa as an instance that can be forgiven. Dua Lipa was previously criticized for using a racial slur when singing one of her songs. Upon being called out, the singer apologized to the public and made the initiative to educate and further improve herself, and is now an active ally for the Black Lives Movement, constantly making an effort to bring awareness for the social issue through her various platforms. Atom brought up a more local example to justify their own response, referring to the Cookies by the Bucket controversy. They restate that “we cancel a type of behavior that is collectively agreed upon as bad. With Cookies by the Bucket, it’s about the CEO – the higher management. If [we] boycott the product realistically, we end up affecting the workers, and not the CEO directly. So [in that instance] I think that we also have to think [that] if our problem is with the CEO, [we should try not to] let it affect the actions of others.”
With social media being the main avenue for cancel culture, interviewees were asked for their opinion on how to utilize these platforms to engage in proper discourse regarding certain issues. Though the general consensus of the interviewees was to try to listen to both sides and communicate properly with both parties, Anne Yam added that “it would be really helpful if you maybe send them news articles, testimonies, videos, Twitter threads, [and other resources] that can help them [educate themselves].” This being said, going beyond just actively listening to and properly communicating with all parties involved, it is very important to aid in properly educating people, including those watching the conversation unfold.
With this in mind, it seems as though our vision of compromise gets blurred in the context of cancel culture. While it is important to promote transparency and accountability for individuals who have done something wrong through “calling them out”, it is also important to help them grow from their mistakes and learn to change for the better through properly communicating with them and educating them on the matter at hand.
“Humans can and will make mistakes, but there is a difference between an honest mistake and a repetitive one. “
The concept of cancel culture has enormously grown into a button to push when someone does something wrong. The constant urge to cancel others by sending personal attacks, threats, and boycotting their affiliations shows less concern in addressing the issue, tracing where it’s coming from, and bringing awareness, and more on public and group shaming. Humans can and will make mistakes, but there is a difference between an honest mistake and a repetitive one. An honest mistake is an unintentional error with no malicious intent behind it, while a repetitive mistake is already having done the error several times. The prior speaks about not knowing better, while the latter shows someone who’s made the same mistake several times, struggling to grow out of old habits.
It is highly encouraged that you, the reader, should attempt to hold a thoughtful, open-minded, and reflective conversation with these types of people. There may be a reason for their lacking and their being short-sighted that is beyond their control. We must remember that calling something out brings it to our attention, but canceling someone does not necessarily hold them accountable. There is a fine line between the two, but we mustn’t interchange them with each other, and certainly not with accountability. The constant search for accountability remains, but at the same time, we must allow those who were previously unaware, uninformed, and underprivileged to reflect upon (and make a change within) themselves.
Each person has so much capacity to grow and making mistakes teaches us that. At present, we must shift our focus to empowering our brothers and sisters from minority groups, especially those that are in need. It is essential that in this process, we must also learn that there are things best to be left alone for those directly involved for the time being. Until then, we must pursue listening twice as much as we speak. There is no denying that those who have done wrong will (and should) be held accountable for their actions, but making the situation inappropriately personal may make it seem as if someone is incapable of changing how he/she views the world, and our reaction says more about society than it does about the one being canceled. The moment we stop treating an individual who has done wrong as perpetually untreatable and unchangeable is the moment where we’ll be able to take the next steps in preventing these things (and those that perpetuate it) from happening again.
Shannon resides in Quezon City, Philippines, and is currently a fifth-year Marketing Management and Communication Arts student at De La Salle University. Her role is to apply her learnings on marketing and media in organizations that leave a positive social impact on the student body. She feels strongly passionate about sustainable living, press freedom, women empowerment, mental health, and inclusivity in the workforce.
Martine is a freelance graphic designer and an undergraduate Physics major in Metro Manila, Philippines. Her line of work is both in traditional and digital media including creative illustrations, typography, social media posters and UI/UX designs. She is very passionate about science communication, gender inclusivity in STEM and astronomy through public outreach.
Katherine resides in Metro Manila, Philippines and is currently a SenseReporter for Makesense Asia. Her role focuses on creating inspiring content that sheds light on global issues and calls for action. Katherine is an advocate for living a sustainable lifestyle and supporting social enterprises.
Issa resides in San Juan, Philippines and is currently a sensereporter for Makesense Asia. Her role is to contribute content on social impact across Asia. Issa feels particularly passionate about social justice, and equality for all types of individuals.
Melissa lives in Metro Manila, Philippines, and is currently a Sensereporter for Maksense Asia. Her role focuses on penning down statements that hold meaning and substance that engage readers with the truth for a positive social impact. She hopes to bring about change even in the littlest ways because when accumulated, it will make a huge difference. Melissa feels particularly passionate about inclusive health care, gender equality, and press freedom.