Cancel Culture never sleeps—it seems somebody on the internet is getting #canceled every other day now. Most recently, the YouTube beauty community #canceled guru Laura Lee over a particularly awkward incident in which she and her friends subtly called out fellow mega-successful beauty guru and problematic fave Jeffree Star, only to get herself exposed for more than a few racist tweets. Oops? Lee has reportedly lost a large number of subscribers and sponsors over the incident, including beauty retailer ULTA.
#RehireJamesGunn – Maybe?
On a more serious note, director James Gunn has recently been "exposed“ for, let’s be honest here, pretty disgusting tweets from ten years ago and, as a result, been fired as director of the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This was, unfortunately, not the first time Gunn has made himself unpopular with sexist and homophobic comments: in 2011, he published a blog titled "The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With," in which he made some pretty homophobic and sexist comments about Gambit, Batwoman and Batgirl. Yikes. Especially with the decidedly anti-woman stance that is still prevalent in the comic book industry, his comments feel particularly icky. In his apology to both these controversies, Gunn underlines that all he wrote was satire and meant to be provocative and funny and that, in retrospect, he doesn’t find what he wrote and said particularly humorous or appropriate. He claims that he was not the same person that he is today and feels embarrassed by his past behavior.
Resistance is futile.
Now for the big, surely life-altering question we all must answer in order to reach the next level of transcendence on this planet: Is there any way to #uncancel yourself?
The internet never forgets. I can’t say I find either James Gunn or Laura Lee sympathetic in these situations. I'm not going to sugarcoat it: No person of sound mind with the least bit of empathy laughs about explicit rape or pedophilia jokes or finds jokes about racist stereotypes particularly hilarious. Gunn’s supposed satire is evading me completely and I honestly fear the kind of person that reads his rape-tweets and gets a chuckle out of it.
But that happened almost ten years ago. People change in this amount of time, hell, they change in much less. Is it really that impossible to forgive somebody for the terrible things they’ve done and said a decade ago? I’m absolutely excluding physical and sexual assault in this, but what about inappropriate and hurtful comments?
My Problematic Fave and Yours: Jeffree Star
Let’s go back to my quick mention of Jeffree Star. Star has been a social media influencer long before that was even a thing. He was well-known on MySpace (Hi Tom!) for his outrageous behavior and comments. Furthermore, he established a successful music career out of his internet fame and eventually signed to Akon’s label. During this time, he also became famous for something else: racist comments, such as charmingly suggesting a Black girl drink bleach so she can be prettier. That, too, was about ten years ago.
Today, Star speaks openly about his problematic past, acknowledges it as a terrible misjudgment and only promotes beauty brands that have inclusive color ranges, as well as calling out racist behavior and comments on his social media platforms. Star himself said that in the past, he craved the attention he got from saying or doing shocking things. According to him, the comments he made came from a place of anger and depression. To this day, Star is mostly known for his racist comments and was only recently involved in another spat with vlogger Gabriel Zamora, who claimed Star still made racist comments in private—only to have tweets of Zamora using the N-word resurface. Don’t f with Jeffree Star fans, I guess. They’re better than the FBI.
Cancel Culture destroys any chance for self-betterment.
Does Cancel Culture have any room for redemption?
I personally don’t know anything Star could do except for creating a time machine and making his racist past undone. He speaks out against racism, he apologized again and again, and helps promote causes against racism in the present. Yet, he will always be known for the comments he made, regardless of the good he’s trying to do to redeem himself.
James Gunn, too, has been apologizing for his tweets since 2012 and, let’s be honest here, Disney’s decision to fire him now, despite being well-aware of the controversy and his output when they first hired him for Guardians of the Galaxy, is nothing more than an attempt to save face retrospectively.
It’s a sign of how times have changed: Six years ago, Disney didn’t care one bit about Gunn’s tweets, they hired him despite the controversy. Today, they claim they can’t stomach working with him because Disney is "a family brand". At the same time, Disney continues to employ actors like Johnny Depp, who has been taped throwing bottles at his ex-wife. It doesn’t feel particularly consistent, is what I’m trying to say.
The Birth of an Asshole
The internet has created a strange parameter for goodness which dictates that you’re not allowed to make mistakes or learn from them. Let’s be real here, we’re all humans and none of us have exited the womb as perfect intersectional feminists or anti-racism activists. We’ve all said offensive and hurtful things and probably regret them today. I know I have and do.
But we should be allowed to acknowledge this mistake and better ourselves without having our livelihood destroyed. If it happens again and again, sure, I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but immediately going off on somebody for making a mistake doesn’t help them change, it just leads to bitterness and fake apologies. Am I right, Laura Lee?
I’d prefer an online dialogue in which somebody who says something offensive or hurtful isn’t #canceled but instead #educated. I’d like there to be a way where something productive can arise out of a hurtful situation. Because that’s how we learn. If you cancel somebody before they can better themselves, aren’t you just creating an army of assholes who will never know better?
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