Opinion | Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’

By Ana Altchek, Staff Columnist

The First Amendment separates the United States from most nations in the world and empowers its people to express their opinions and fight for their beliefs without legal restraint.

Not only does this freedom allow people to feel comfortable voicing their opinion when they hold differing views, but it provides them with a moral obligation to speak up. But just because people have this right doesn’t mean they should aimlessly use their words to target people and exploit them on social media for any and every mistake made. Sexual misdemeanor and racism aren’t mistakes — but Scarlett Johansson’s faulty word choice about her desire to play marginalized people might have been. And when someone says the wrong thing, our First Amendment doesn’t mean public platforms should be used to verbally attack the person and destroy their life.

This has become the norm with the emergent and trending “Cancel Culture” that not only exposes influencers and regular people when they make mistakes but ruins their names and demolishes their careers. While some events and actions require widespread and public condemnation, a singular lapse in judgment on a minor issue should not result in canceling someone for good.

The most common victim of this trend seems to be your average “Karen.” The Karen meme initially emerged a few years ago, but has recently surged due to absurdly defiant or overprotective COVID-19 moms. Karen is the stereotype of a white, middle-aged woman who flaunts her privilege and throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way.

Everyone knows Karen. Most people dislike Karen. But that doesn’t make it OK for anyone to take out their phone and start recording every woman that has an unwarranted emotional overreaction to a small incident, like a parking spot debacle or food complaint at a restaurant. This backlash both penalizes the woman for acting out and simultaneously evokes laughter online. But catching someone in an unflattering light and then uploading it for the world to mock is a disproportionate punishment to Karen’s aggressive argument with a store manager.

While regular people have the threat of exposure on their worst day, influencers are being nitpicked and attacked every day. But unlike Karen, their behavior rarely affects anyone individually, and these figures often seem to take the place of a punching bag for their followers’ frustrations.

Amid rumors of a feud between Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn, the hosts of the “Call Her Daddy” podcast, Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy spoke about their business disagreement concerning the two hosts leaving the network. There’s no issue with Portnoy providing an explanation for why the hosts hadn’t produced content in weeks or with calling Franklyn out for a lack of professionalism. But a contract disagreement shouldn’t warrant the online community to post dozens of nasty and hateful memes about Franklyn and Peter Nelson, her alleged boyfriend who may have influenced her decision.

After Portnoy’s appearance on the podcast, he searched for memes and videos that ignited hatred toward Franklyn and Nelson, encouraging people to create content and rewarding the most well-done material by praising it and posting it to his own page. Suddenly, the internet was competing in a game that was ruining two peoples’ lives.

Perhaps Franklyn was greedy when she tried to negotiate an overly generous deal with Barstool. She may have shown disloyalty to the company that created her success by trying to leave the network. Nelson could have easily been responsible for influencing her decision. But none of these factors justified the daily attacks on Franklyn’s Instagram, the #cancelsuitman apparel that Barstool profited from and the general hatred of Franklyn and her boyfriend for a business move that impacted no one individually.

In this scenario, Cooper could have easily taken equal blame for abandoning her co-host without warning when she called Portnoy to let him know that Franklyn wanted to leave the company and he aired it for the entire internet community to hear. But no one is actually evaluating both sides of the story. They’re simply accepting whatever story they heard first and latching on to the trend without realizing they’re ruining the lives of two people who never had a chance to share their perspectives.

The Karens, Franklyn and Nelson have all received abnormally toxic amounts of hatred because of public misbehavior or business matters — and they’re not the only villainized people in the public sphere right now. These individuals may have been wrong in every scenario, but rather than provide constructive criticism and allow a chance at redemption, the internet put them on blast and made an example of them, verbally assaulting and physically threatening them. Franklyn’s Instagram pictures are barraged with insults and Karen memes are routinely followed up with comments encouraging violence.

“I just want to remind everyone that a little bit of violence goes a long way,” one comment, with over a hundred thousand likes, said on a Karen post.

I’m not proud of every word I’ve said or every action I’ve done — and I’m sure most people would say the same. In order to encourage a society that moves forward and pushes change, we should shift the focus from public humiliation and societal degradation and work to create a space that allows for forgiveness and improvement.

After all, we’re all human, and I think it’s fair to assume none of us are perfect.

Write to Ana at [email protected].