Nov 23rd, 2022, 04:32 PM

Cancel Culture: How Far is Too Far?

By Zion Raeburn
Image credit: Winkler
Celebrity cancel culture complicates ideas of separating the art from the artist and freedom of speech

Kanye West was canceled after he wore a controversial “White Lives Matter'' t-shirt at the Balenciaga runway show during Paris Fashion week this past October. In my opinion, canceling someone’s career and livelihood because of their beliefs is a violation of free speech. Cancel culture is increasingly widespread so now is the time to have a discussion on where we draw the line, and at what point we separate the art from the artist. 

Is canceling a person for their harmful words really beneficial to society? Celebrities have been called out for their harmful words and many have called for the cancelation of their careers. How do we strike the balance between freedom of speech and censorship? We need to draw a line between the art and the artist. But where is the line? Exactly how far is too far? Is there room for growth and redemption? In recent years cancel culture has become a way to hold people of higher status, mostly celebrities, accountable for their actions. Depriving people of their platforms takes away their power and influence. 

A recent example would be rapper DaBaby, who on stage at Rolling Loud Miami went on a homophobic rant. Ever since, his career has been downhill, he has not been in the spotlight because the general public decided to hold him accountable. They ceased to buy tickets to his concerts and download his albums. People decided that his actions demanded accountability and thus essentially ruined his career. 

Kanye West has recently been in the limelight after spewing anti-black rhetoric as a black man. As confusing as that sounds, Kanye West is in the hot seat consistently. From the White Lives Matter shirt he wore during Paris Fashion week, to the podcast where he claimed George Floyd died from fentanyl not the Officer on his neck; effectively spreading a right wing conspiracy as an attempt to dismiss the murder of another black man via police brutality. 

Kanye West seems to be immune to cancel culture because of his devoted following. With him, people feel more inclined to separate the art from the artist. I spoke to Anna Ferguson, a graduate student studying human rights and data science at AUP about canceling Kanye. She said, “guys like Woody Allen, I used to be a fan but now he’s such a weirdo, but Kanye West I like his old stuff so I’m probably going to still enjoy it.” Kanye West’s music is simply just too enjoyable for some to care for his problematic words. 

Image Credit: Axel Antas - Bergvist

Dave Chapelle is an interesting case of cancel culture as he has been able to dodge it much like Kanye West. Dave Chapelle came under fire because he called out the white privilege within the LGBTQ community on his Netflix special in 2021. He told a joke about how in America you can shoot and kill a black man and nothing bad will happen to your career, referring to DaBaby. However, he continued, the moment you upset the LGBTQ community your life is over. Shortly after this special, the Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders NFL team was fired after disturbing emails surfaced. They found racist emails and he continued to coach for two weeks, until they found the email containing one homophobic slur, then he was fired that morning. Did this prove Dave Chapelle’s point? In my opinion, Dave did not cross any lines; he simply stated his point of view. 

The AUP students I spoke to are not fans of cancel culture. I spoke to Toma Dufficy, a graduate student studying International management at AUP, about his feelings on it. Toma stated: “The stuff coming out about JK Rowling, her being transphobic has nothing to do with Harry Potter. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyment me and my family got from it. Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood, that doesn’t mean I support her transphobic views.” There seems to be some agreement that there is a line that separates art from the artist. 

Some students are firmly against cancel culture because of their belief that it doesn’t allow for people to grow and redeem themselves. I believe this is a good point: ending someone’s livelihood because of one mistake is not fair. That mistake is not necessarily an accurate representation of their character. Sarah Bashiti, a senior studying Art History at AUP states, “There should be a line but everyone has messed up in their past. If we can’t educate each other and come together as a community to explain why what was said is wrong, then we will have this endless cycle of people canceling each other.” Another fine point as to why cancel culture is not necessarily beneficial. 

Image Credit: Wangenheim

In March of this year, a controversial New York Times’ editorial claimed that the USA has a free speech problem. In “America has a Free Speech Problem”, the Times declares, “ideas that go unchallenged by opposing views risk becoming weak and brittle rather than being strengthened by tough scrutiny.” In other words, if we shut down debate, there will be no room left for growth and education.