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Exploring cancel culture

Toxic or truth? Friend or foe? You decide.

Illustration by Lizzy Dunn

Chris Brown, Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Laura Lee, Jeffree Star, Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, The list is endless! Could you be next added to these names?

The term "cancelled" has been given a new context in the ever-changing world of Gen Z, igniting conversations around the who's and what's of "cancel culture" or "callout culture". So where do we draw the line? Is cancel culture doing us more good by exposing high profile celebrities, politicians, and social media influencers and their sins, or is this culture just an excuse to judge one's past actions?

By exploring cancel culture in different industries from fashion to education, I'm on a mission to determine if cancel culture is, in fact, a ticking time bomb for mob mentality or our saving grace to choose ethical brands and people.


Cancel culture was born in 2017 with its origins in the #MeToo movement. Merriam-Webster, the American publisher of dictionaries and thesauruses, connected cancel culture with the movement and the term's popularity with similar movements aimed at holding those in positions of power to account.

The Urban Dictionary defines cancel culture as "a desire to cancel out a person or community from social media platforms".

"It is characterised by the response of an evil individual when they are shown to be wrong. They will call on their followers to report the social media accounts of the person or group that did the criticising rather than discussing the criticism or showing by evidence where the criticism is incorrect."

Wikipedia defines the term "cancel" or "callout" culture as equivalent to public shaming or boycotting a person or brand via social media (usually Twitter) to hold accountable the questionable and problematic behaviour, comments and decisions that come across racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and xenophobic.

This act of cancelling someone is usually done through large numbers online, thus resulting in declines in the "cancelled" person's career, fan base, sponsorships and merchandise.

TV critic and assistant professor at Old Dominion University, Myles McNutt first used the term "cancel culture" in a tweet on February 14, 2014.

Google Trends has seen an increase in searches for the term “cancel culture” with numerous peaks, usually when a high profile person or company has been branded “cancelled”.

Searches for ‘cancel culture’ in Australia, past 12 months. (Google Trends)

Worldwide topics over past 12 months:

Top related topics to ‘cancel culture’, Worldwide, past 12 months. (Google Trends)

Searches for ‘cancel culture’ Worldwide, past 12 months. (Google Trends)

This graph shows the worldwide peak in interest and popularity to search “cancel culture” during July this year. More and more people are becoming aware of this term and finding out its meaning.

Blue: searches for ‘cancel culture’, Worldwide, past 12 months.

Red: searches for ‘callout culture’, Worldwide, past 12 months. (Google Trends)

The trend shows the term “cancel culture” worldwide has more use/popularity at time and is also used interchangeably with “callout culture”.

Searches for ‘cancel culture’ versus ‘call-out culture’, sorted by region, Worldwide, past 12 months. (Google Trends)

While exploring cancel culture, I wanted to find out how the popular term has made its way into different industries. I interviewed students and workers from various sectors to better understand how the term cancel culture is used in their particular industry/field.

“One sad thing about cancel culture is that it happens a lot when dancers get “too old” and people lose support and disqualify them. Cancel culture has been happening to some Tik Tok stars. Like Addison Rae, who is a famous Tik Tok dancer who made an All Lives Matter post in response to BLM. This withdrew support from a lot of people and is an example of cancel culture in the industry. Cancel culture is real and is spread quickly through dance depending on your platform.” — Damian, Professional Dancer

“In fashion, I would mainly associate it with outing brands as having copied particular designs like the now-infamous WeWoreWhat, as well as for issues associated with sustainability or ethical treatment of workers. I feel like it holds brands and designers accountable. I’d say there's classic examples of companies that people would shame you for supporting at uni cause we’re aware of all that stuff. For example, Zara, I remember hearing one girl shaming another for wearing Zara whilst knowing she was wearing Zara which was quite funny so I called her out on it (one of my friends), so there’s no hard clear line.”

— Kirsten, Fashion Design Student

“It’s a big thing when they push a narrative with certain ethnicities and how it just gangs up on that race or target and cancels them, like when it was the APEX gangs, the Sudanese community was targeted, then corona happened, and the Asian community were targeted and in the past with Muslim people when terrorist attacks were happening, Muslims also targeted. As soon as an event that happens that minority is cancelled or either ‘needs to be’ cancelled or deported.” — Besa, Criminology Student

“In education, we’re expected to know everything up to date like every way to treat a child, talk to them, teach them how to interact with their family, generational trauma and everything like that and if you’re not up to scratch in that you can become “cancelled”. These kids are someone’s whole world, you get one chance! If you don’t make a good impression you’re done for the rest of the year with that kid.”

— Kaitlyn, Primary Education Student

Illustration by Shelly Santos.

Will “cancel culture” still exist in ten years or just be another dying trend? From exploring this topic of cancel culture, it has revealed how powerful social online movements can change our views on brands, people and places, how we can withdraw our support as a mass that will create turbulence in one’s career and just how the term can be coined in any industry you can think of, not only the regular YouTube beauty community.

This “cancel culture” mentality has, for many, put us in a position to rethink our morals and the people/organisations we support.

So can “cancel culture” be used for good and bad? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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