‘Cancel culture’ is officially in 2019 dictionaries. How did we get here?


If 'cancellations' push otherwise right-minded people to double down on politically incorrect comments and embolden their angry followers, is 2019 the year we leave cancel culture behind?

ABOVE VIDEO: Michael Hing on Shane Gillis, SNL and the complications of cancel culture.

‘Cancel culture’ has beaten out ‘thicc’, ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘ngangkari’ to become Macquarie Dictionary’s 2019 word of the year.

Defined as “The attitudes within a community which call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from a public figure”, cancel culture has become and important and infuriating part of modern discourse.

It reached an entirely different level in October when former US President Barack Obama called out cancel culture saying it’s the “idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke.”

However, the roots of cancel culture reach further back than 2019.

In 2013, UK communications coordinator Justine Sacco tweeted this before boarding an 11-hour plane to Cape Town, South Africa:

Cancel culture, as it were, went on to have a massive influence on the #MeToo movement in late 2017 when people took to social media to expose and boycott accused abusers like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K and Aziz Anzari.

Comedians quickly became a popular target for cancellation with Kevin Hart bowing out of his Oscars hosting gig in 2018 after old anti-LGTBQI+ tweets of his were resurfaced.

Earlier in 2019, US comedian Shane Gillis was fired from SNL before he even debuted on the show after footage emerged of him using racial slurs on a podcast.

Many commentators have also pointed out how -- far from evoking shame -- cancellations often push otherwise right-minded people to double down on politically incorrect comments and embolden audiences who sympathise when them. 

Of course, when you appear to take down enough high profile people there will be a backlash. Like the endless think pieces asking, “Has cancel culture gone too far?

The counter-argument to this is the simple fact that, most of the time, cancellations don’t stick.

After a brief period out of the spotlight, Louis C.K. returned to touring with a show that leans into his anti-PC reputation

Aziz Anzari was nominated for a Grammy award just a week ago for his Netflix special ‘Right Now’ which briefly touched on his sexual misconduct allegations.

Alongside Anzari on the Grammy nomination list are fellow ‘cancelees’ Dave Chappelle (made anti-trans jokes), Ellen DeGeneres (went to a football game with George W. Bush) and Trevor Noah (made anti-Indigenous jokes).

Guardians of The Galaxy director James Gunn was brought back to direct the third film in the series after Disney fired him for a series of distasteful early 2000s tweets.

In the YouTube world, vlogger Logan Paul is still making videos after being dropped by YouTube as a content partner for filming a dead body in Japan’s notorious “Suicide Forest”.

Beauty guru James Charles just landed a Papermag spread after his very public cancellation by fellow guru Tati Westbrook caused him to lose 3 million subscribers (he’s since gained back 2 million of them).

Taylor Swift’s comeback record, aptly named ‘Reputation’, sold 2 million copies in the first week.

Even Justine “Hope I don’t get AIDS” Succo was rehired by the company that originally fired her.

In the rare case a cancellation does cause irreparable career damage, it often includes a court case or jail time. 

Harvey Weinstein will face a rape trial in New York in January 2020, and his social and professional reputation are undeniably in tatters.

Kevin Spacey faced civil litigation from a man who claimed he sexually assaulted him when he was underage. He’s been all but absent from the public eye bar one very unnerving Christmas video where he appears to defend his actions.

Multiple radio stations and streaming services have reportedly blacklisted R.Kelly, who is currently in jail in Chicago waiting on a trail for multiple sex trafficking crimes.

Bill Cosby, whose cancellation was ignited by comedian Hannibal Buress (who himself is facing a cancellation over being pro-landlord), is no longer remembered as a landmark comedian but as a convicted rapist spending time in a Pennsylvania prison.

Now, at the end of 2019, we have high profile people like Obama, ‘Joker’ director Todd Phillips and actress Jameela Jamil trying to cancel cancel culture.

But with its addition to the dictionary, the rapid evolution of social media and people’s tendency to do cooked things - cancel culture probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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