When I think about some of the famous figures, from past to present, who have caused divides and at times, controversy, I am grateful for them—even the ones I strongly disagree with. I hunger for the individuals who cause a ripple on the tranquil sea of celebrity culture, those who are willing to stick to their beliefs in the face of derision and, at times, face severe media backlash.
There's almost a "witch trial" vibe in the online world today: to merely type a few words that go against the grain can lead one to be hung out to dry—slung aside as the latest super-villain to satiate our desire to feel better about ourselves and our own thinking.
Each of us will know of at least one or two celebrities who have been in the firing line from the cancel mob. It's not a rare occurrence nowadays—although some make more headlines than others. You will probably remember the drama of last year, when Harry Potter author JK Rowling ended up on the dartboard of social media yet again. With her face firmly glued to the bullseye, thousands of accounts had their darts at the ready. We saw in real time the effect that it has when a big name stands up for something that many others don't agree with—the results aren't pretty. I am not one of her critics—and this is not because I agree with all that she said, but because I respect her right to her views and appreciate the conversations that can spark in the public forum when opinions clash.
Of course, JK Rowling doesn't stand alone in being targeted. Johnny Depp is another significant name who has been dragged through the mud; online campaigns popped up a few years ago to "cancel" the actor due to allegations of domestic abuse—allegations that have been cast under doubt. People were quick to demand his "cancellation" before they knew anything more than the headlines, and demanded his removal from some of his much loved roles based on something they knew very little about at the time. It seems the "judge and jury" crew of social media feel qualified to determine a person's guilt—a scary reality for those living their lives in the public domain.
There appears to be a "moral panic" online, doesn't there? It's almost as if, as a society, we don't know how to handle complicated things, we want every issue to be black and white, with no grey areas, and we want so desperately to be on the "right" side. Innocent or guilty? Pick one side and leave no room for doubt. In this we feel safe: we want to know where to stand—and more importantly, want to know we are with the majority, because to do otherwise comes at a cost, as we often see.
In a world driven by the desperation to be "politically correct" above all things, we are doing ourselves a disservice. It is not that an audience needs to blindly agree with what they are hearing from any particular public figure, far from it, however, we should be allowed to co-exist with the voices that differ from our own–even ones that bother or perhaps offend us. Never before have we experienced such a high level of cancel culture, whereby armies of online users try to silence the opposition simply for thinking about things in a different way. An opinion, nowadays, comes with a huge price tag if you are a public figure: one can either nod along sagely with the majority of their peers, buying a secure, comfortable status and ensuring to never 'rock the boat'—or instead, choose to stand up and speak out, selling their enjoyable comfort-zone to the savage altar of public opinion.
We pride ourselves on trying to raise the voices of the marginalised, but should not the aim be, ultimately, to ensure everyone has an equal right to share their views and experiences—to live their life as they please—without inadvertently creating a new demographic of silenced and suppressed voices? Are we not working together as a society to bring about a world where—barring those inciting hatred or violence, of course—diverse opinions are debated, explored and discussed without the risk of a blanket ban from others, just for the "crime" of seeing things a different way?
The price to be paid, if and when we are successful in "cancelling" a public figure for their opinions, will be a watered-down, diluted world, filled with non-individuals lacking in the capacity to discuss real issues in any constructive way. If we manage to shut down and push away every person or public figure we disagree with, it is we who will eventually lose—the flavours of society are far more interesting when everyone in it is not forced to conform to uniformity out of fear of ridicule or rejection.
The world will soon become a dull place if we lose the value of diverse thought and opinion in favour of censorship and cancel culture. It is by hearing opposing voices that we learn more about ourselves. Let's not be frightened to be "triggered" by others—after all, if we feel secure in ourselves and our beliefs, if we feel so certain that we are in the right, then no argument or perceived "controversial" opinion from another should be able to threaten that. What are we all so afraid of?
Truthfully, cancel culture isn't such a big threat, is it? There are enough of us left who appreciate the status quo being questioned, poked and prodded, to ensure the world will remain truly diverse in all ways. The keyboard warriors and the angry anonymous gangs can hashtag their way onto anyone's online pages and attempt to bully into submission, but all the while there are figures amongst us fighting for freedom of speech, we will be safe. Let's treasure those voices—the ones who never let others settle for the way things are just because it's easy—they are the ones who change history.