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A Brief History of Cancel Culture

Cancel culture is, in effect, a new approach to ‘boycotting.’ It takes public opinion and uses it to sway the perception of consumers. In effect, this ‘cancels out’ the negative results of the situation by spending less money and attention on something deemed inappropriate by society.

Cancel culture in media with a phone and picket sign saying Get Woke Go Broke, Mickey mouse to left, Disney logo in background
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Long and Tortured History of Cancel Culture: Online Outrage as Promotional Content

The New York Times ran an article to dive into the history of collective empowerment. It argued that while the “fear that cancel culture elicits, it hasn’t succeeded in toppling any major figures – high-level politicians, corporate titans – let alone institutions.”

Related: 7 Ron DeSantis Facts That Might Change Your Mind

How can you recognize cancel culture when you see it?

Withdrawing support for prominent figures is a significant way to identify cancel culture. It occurs when the person or company does something that offends a majority, such as inappropriate comments about the BIPOC, 2LGBTQIA+ community, or other objectionable actions.

Depending on the source of the opinions, many situations have a dichotomous idea that prompts cancel goals from multiple places. For example, take DeSantis and Disney. Those on the politician’s side want to cancel Disney for its “woke” approaches. The group that wants to cancel DeSantis concerns itself with threats to inclusivity.

Should cancel culture be canceled?

Canceling cancel culture is like multiplying two negatives. It might seem like a powerful movement, but it raises the volume on an already contentious issue. Take JK Rowling, for example. The concept of cancel culture lost her millions of fans due to transphobic comments.

However, the attempts to cancel those voices came with another wave of those eager to support ‘free speech’ and the writer. The ultimate result was more awareness about the author and her works, with new Harry Potter material continuing to develop regularly.

Shocked Mickey Mouse with AI symbol
Credit: Inside the Magic

Does ChatGPT have the right to free speech?

Under international legislation, humans possess an “inviolable right to freedom of thought.” Unless ChatGPT (or another AI) gains the right to claim humanity, it does not fall under the purview of existing laws.

However, some continue to rally for the general rights of AI. Time will determine the trajectory of culture and collective validation within the artificial intelligence sector.

How did cancel culture get started?

The modern version of cancel culture began in 2014 when an activist named Suey Park “called out” a racist tweet regarding the Asian Community, using the #cancelColbert. It resulted in a backlash against both parties.

This is a crucial example of cancel culture’s paradoxical self-destruction. The remnants of the movement from 9 years ago are such that cancel culture became a household idea that’s been around for much of GenZ’s lifetime.

Elon Musk, Mickey Mouse, and Mark Zuckerberg Meta's Threads
Credit: Inside the Magic

What are some examples of cancel culture?

Also known as call-out culture, the history of cancel culture mainly surrounds marginalized groups. These include everyone from those with Native American roots, issues with mental health care, and stigma to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Social justice is as old as social systems, but the onset of social media changed the landscape of the battle for righteousness. Examples include “canceling” the new Snow White or individuals like Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. It reaches as far as political figures like DeSantis and Trump to enterprises like Google, Meta, and more.

What are alternatives to canceling someone?

The act of canceling is almost oxymoronic. On the one side, it argues for a cause using social media and tying in relevant pages to claim an angle. The result is gathering a snowball of like-minded individuals. A side-effect is gathering a large number of dissenters. It calls attention to chiasmic differences in societal perspectives, with most major cancel goals having equal pro and con voices.

To engage is to fuel the fire while also growing attention, but this can lead to profit and engagement for the other side. The alternative to cancelation is providing something to replace the negative. Rather than simply saying no to something, it is to supply a better solution. It’s easier to have someone turn towards something positive than away from a negative with no promise of a better solution. This way, it’s not cancel culture but more of a substitution mechanism.

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Collective Validation and Collective Action Intentions in Cancel Culture

Collective validation is the idea of support from the general society about the morals and ethics relating to a certain topic. It uses free speech to generate collective action intentions. These are shared ideas that can be disseminated throughout the United States and internationally via social media.

The technological revolution enabled cancel culture for its ability to call to action millions (if not billions of people) to a goal. However, there are questions about the real power of cancel culture and whether it can create an impact outside of awareness.

Do you know who loves to cancel people?

Those with solid opinions love to cancel because it provides a cause and clear ethical boundaries within which individuals and groups can have collective validation and an authentic voice. It plays into free speech and United States culture, using social media as a primary way to garner attention for a worthy societal cause.

Unfortunately, those being canceled also like the idea because they benefit through free advertising via the work of others. It engages millions with withdrawn content, effectively resulting in free advertising. Playing into the naturally divisive state of humanity creates a separate cause, supporting the person being canceled. Consider the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp issue. There was support on both sides.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard (as Mera)
Credit: Inside the Magic

Does canceling someone help them change?

Regardless of cancel status, the only person who can impact change is the person being canceled. While the concept surrounds threats of lack of engagement or profit, it isn’t enough to cause a deep-rooted change. That said, it can shift the way politicians speak and actors behave.

Figures in the public eye are highly managed and follow the numbers. Cancel culture has the power to create perceived shifts in behavior, but behind the scenes, it is virtually impossible to tell.

Should artists be allowed to borrow from cultures besides their own?

The general consensus is that using pop culture through appropriation is never okay. It concerns many activists in call out culture because it causes diminishment of that culture itself. It can result in ostracism and lack of engagement with content, due to offending populations. As culture evolves, awareness of propriety grows and changes what’s okay (even in comedy). Now, the act equates more to theft and disrespect, removing the shield of satire in the court of public opinion.

‘Finding Nemo” Voice Actor Passes Away
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Should people speak up when offended?

New media makes it easier than ever to speak up from a technical perspective, but due to censorship practices with social media internationally, it can pose a real threat to some. Many have the privilege of speaking freely without fear of legal reprisal. Many don’t.

Cancel culture makes speaking out the art of the many, not the few. As a result, it’s prudent to understand the potential ramifications of speaking up when offended. Even those with full reign over their internet presence should research a cause before making a final determination and speaking up.

East Ridge High School Students
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How does cancel culture impact students?

There have been studies that show that the act of cancelation can result in depression, trauma, and suicidal behavior in teens. Despite all else, cognitive dissonance makes it particularly easy to cling to a belief. This is even more true in those who are younger and still developing.

Regardless of whether the person is the canceler or canceled, it can result in traumatic experiences during formative years. Collective anger becomes a part of society, which can result in teens perceiving it as okay to approach situations in this manner. Now, cancel culture extends to fandoms and causes divisiveness that can have long-lasting mental health impacts.

How does cancel culture affect your business?

Short of historical revolutions, the New York Times posits that there have been no effective cancelations for significant entities. It suggests that those who successfully get canceled are more likely to be individuals or smaller business entities. Effectively, it doesn’t remedy a systemic issue but attacks the most low-lying fruit.

Sony Officially Cancels Future 'Spider-Man' Project
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Brief History of Cancel Culture

Gen Z might take the most heat for the modern collective action that surrounds social media and ethical or “woke” causes. They aren’t, however, its origin story. Collective action intentions date back to the origins of unions.

Holding the root word of unification (togetherness), it is one of the premiere examples of collective action from New York to Asia and everywhere. When there is a group that shares viewpoints, per the New York Times, beyond cancel culture and that unification of ideas, the only remaining option is a “revolution.”

When does it go too far?

Cancel culture can go too far quickly, and unfortunately, at that point, it’s usually too late to make a meaningful change. Breaking laws surrounding the ethical treatment of others and harassing and invoking fear are all examples of going too far. There are real-life examples of people losing their lives and livelihoods to cancel culture. It turns a person into an idea and can call attention to a problem when done right.

Related: Op-Ed: Cancel Culture Is Killing Disney

However, the nature of collective action is such that there is no natural way to control the individual voice. Accountability culture is rooted in accusations against a public figure or a fandom. It imbues that figure with the message, removing the individual’s identity. As such, it goes too far when the individual’s humanity gets lost after a cancelation effort.

dylan minette 13 reasons
Credit: Netflix

Can you speak more about the difference between canceling and simple criticism?

Criticism is loosely defined as personalizing negative feedback toward an individual. It involves accusations that can be perceived as rude or offensive. On the other side of the coin is a cancelation, where the attempt is to use the free speech of the masses to silence the opponent.

One speaks to the person, hyper-personifying their flaws through criticism that can be personal or mean. The other removes humanity from the person by taking away their agency. Both are extremes. The middle ground is a correction.

Related: Disney Content Under New Cancel-Culture Threat

With a correction, the idea is to compare a behavior to a model of what’s appropriate. For example, the #ImWithHer movement showed the systemic issues behind women being unsafe to speak out. It gathered massive support, but mainly because it wasn’t canceling rather than unity, creating a movement.

Correction identifies the proper way to act, address an issue, and remove an individual (and the risk of scapegoating). It addresses a specific problem without dehumanizing the individuals who comprise the system.

Pirates in jail while a dog holds their key on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
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Call Out Culture in History

Call-out culture is the foundation for cancel culture. It uses the power of multiple voices, unified in examples like #LoveIsLove, #MeToo, and #ImWithHer. Collective action relies on collective validation (the hashtags serve as an example). Cancel efforts involve applying this agreed-upon ethos to a specific situation. For example, consider Dr Seuss’s enterprises.

The much-loved individual and artist came under fire for racial stereotyping in the content of different books. The “racist and insensitive” imagery caused “If I Ran the Zoo” and “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” to be pulled off shelves. This in itself led to a division within cancel culture, relating heavily to revisionist history and the simple act of censorship. It is a strong example of how cancel culture is inherently divisive, even with a fixed ethos.

Related: DeSantis Risks Disney Guest Safety, Goes Against CDC

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Cancel Culture in Entertainment

The Daily Bruin ran a column noting that perhaps the “thirst to cancel for the sake of canceling may be quenchable yet,” showing optimism about the approach to voicing anger and opinions.

To understand the risks of cancel culture, look at a list of those who find themselves canceled. Dr. Seuss is on the same list as Amber Heard, Jared from Subway, and Bill Cosby. It’s so diverse that it puts each of these individuals (guilty of extremely diverse crimes) on the same list.

Consider these:

  • Kanye West
  • Elon Musk
  • Will Smith
  • Johnny Depp
  • Amber Heard
  • Olivia Wilde
  • China’s Lipstick King

The names are all widely known and fall under the cancel scope. However, the nature of the crimes is massively different. In China, the Lipstick King Li Jia-qi depicted a tank on his feed, referencing the oft-censored Tiananmen Square Massacre (an actual historical incident where China opened fire on its citizens).

On the same list is Elon Musk, who was canceled for changes to Twitter (now X). Will Smith slapped someone who insulted his wife. Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were both accused of deviant acts, including violence and abuse. These are all very different issues, and the catch-all phrase of cancel culture risks equating the gravity of the offenses.

Related: Kanye West Considers Starting His Own Amusement Park

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Pros and Cons of Cancel Culture

Cancel culture, also known as call-out culture, is a term used to describe a social phenomenon where individuals, typically on social media, call out or boycott public figures or individuals for perceived offensive or objectionable behavior. This can range from past problematic statements to actions or beliefs that are considered offensive or harmful by the public.


Opinions on cancel culture vary widely. Proponents argue that it can be a means of holding individuals and entities accountable for their actions and can be a way to address issues like racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination. They believe it empowers marginalized groups and provides a collective action and change mechanism.

Accountability: Cancel culture can hold individuals and organizations accountable for their actions and statements, especially when traditional avenues of responsibility, such as the legal system, may not be effective.

Amplifying Marginalized Voices: It can amplify the voices of marginalized communities, enabling them to call out systemic injustices and discrimination.

Cultural Change: It has the potential to drive cultural change by highlighting and discouraging harmful behaviors, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices.

Collective Action: Cancel culture can serve as a means for collective action, fostering a sense of solidarity among those advocating for change.

Disneyland Cancels Oogie Boogie Bash
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On the other hand, critics argue that cancel culture can be excessive, punitive, and sometimes counterproductive. They suggest that it can lead to a “trial by social media” without due process or a chance for redemption, causing harm to individuals’ livelihoods and mental well-being. Some believe it can stifle free speech and discourage open dialogue.

Lack of Due Process: Cancel culture often lacks due process, leading to accusations and consequences without a fair, objective, or impartial assessment of the facts.

Overreach can lead to excessive and disproportionate consequences, potentially harming individuals’ livelihoods and well-being without offering a path to redemption or growth.

Chilling Effect on Free Speech: Critics argue that it can stifle free speech and discourage open dialogue due to the fear of being “canceled” for expressing unpopular or controversial opinions.

Mob Mentality: Cancel culture can sometimes become a form of mob mentality, where individuals and groups engage in online harassment or punitive actions without a balanced and thoughtful approach.

Lack of Nuance: Cancel culture often oversimplifies complex issues, reducing them to black-and-white judgments, which can hinder meaningful discussions about the root causes of problematic behaviors.

Walt Disney World Park Reservations Hotel Cancellations
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Cancel Culture in Modern Times

Cancel culture is not just a widespread phenomenon of modern times; it’s a current name for an ancient mechanism. It harkens to any time that to safely express dissent against tyranny of any kind, it was a matter of numbers and free speech.

The constitution holds it as the First Amendment has to be protected. While there are risks of those being canceled using social media to gain attention, it still offers a collective opportunity to unify for a cause and shape the modern world’s culture.

What are your thoughts on cancel culture? 

This post originally appeared on Inside the Magic

Corrina Murdoch

Corrina Murdoch is a lifelong writer and Disney enthusiast. Starting in print journalism, she has one published book and another set for a 2023 release. Her favorite character is Mulan and favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast. During Corrina's free time, you can find her swimming, climbing, hitting the theme park, or binge-watching the newest series.

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