Ryan Adams, cancel culture and the complicated truth

Are we taking things too far as a society when we make the cancellation of individuals we find morally questionable a ferocious blood sport?


It was in 2017 that MeToo became a worldwide phenomenon after actress Alyssa Milano picked up the phrase, coined by Tarana Burke, and tweeted the now famous hashtag regarding her abuse at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Not long after that, women across the world began sharing their stories of abuse using the MeToo tag, and before we knew it, a movement had been born, one that would cling to the press and social media in ways we could never have predicted.

MeToo started with positive intentions: to empower women to share their stories of sexual abuse and victimization?—?and to ensure the alleged abusers face up to what they have done. It was a movement of solidarity, whereby those who have experienced abuse can stand united with others and raise awareness. There are few who would argue that these aspects of it are to be applauded. However?—?is there a point where those who stand accused of misconduct have a right to their life and their career, without the noose of past accusations holding them back from all future prospects forevermore? For those who have been accused yet have not been convicted of any crime, this question seems an important and vital one.

Just last week singer Ryan Adams (US singer, songwriter, producer and poet) found himself taking to his Instagram account to talk about the impact that sexual misconduct claims against him had had on his career. In February 2019, seven women, including singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers and his ex-wife Mandy Moore, came forward publicly to the press stating that Adams had used his position and fame to promise them help in their music careers, whilst making sexual and romantic advances towards them. Furthermore, they alleged that when they rebuffed the singer, he turned to harassing them. Adams made a public apology regarding the accusations.

In a further turn of events, it was reported that Adams had had a sexual exchange via Twitter direct messages with a minor?—?however Adams vehemently denied this and has since been cleared of any wrongdoing by the FBI.

In Adams' passionate, now deleted Instagram post, the singer said he was at risk of losing everything, stating:

"I know I'm damaged goods. I know I am and they aren't the ideal thing, but I had a label interested for months and they wasted my time. I'm months from losing my label, studio and my home.

"I just really want a second chance to make some music?—?maybe help other people believe you can get up out of the gutter and be something. I'm 46 and scared I'm gonna be living in my sisters basement. If you are a label and interested please let me know."

Adams added that the post was: "Sent with love and humility. I already got dropped by Capitol twice. Maybe someone still cares."

In another since deleted post, Adams said: "Please if someone takes a chance on me and this music I'll bust my ass to support it. Sorry to sound desperate."

Adams' situation certainly brings to light certain questions about the MeToo movement, cancel culture and what the world is supposed to do with these figures that have been raked over the coals due to their actions. Are these individuals forever tarnished, unable to redeem themselves? Some may argue that that is actually the best outcome?—?to oust these famous icons in order to hold them up as examples to future would-be abusers. Perhaps it is. However, are we missing something in the story of it all?—?the chance for redemption?

As the MeToo movement and cancel culture have evolved over recent years, we have seen many applaud the movements?—?but also many stand up and criticize them. For as much as the majority of people would completely agree that those who are genuine perpetrators of crime deserve to face repercussions, when exactly, is enough enough?

Especially when the drama plays out in the public eye, and those accused are often in the centre of hashtag frenzies (with social media users demanding the ends of once successful careers) it seems that those who have done wrong are not allowed to be given anything further. They are allowed nothing except the scorn and judgment of the internet scrolling public who forever hold their grudges. In the case of figures who have been accused, stood trial and found guilty, this actually seems fair game. But what of those who have not been convicted of any criminal acts?—?much like Ryan Adams?

The momentum of MeToo and cancel culture has reached fever pitch across the world. Whilst undoubtedly the aim to publicly highlight predators and abusers (and hopefully prevent further victims) is a positive one, often the end result of MeToo and cancel culture is one of endless smear campaigns, where we are left not with the true human behind the sordid headlines, but with an almost fictional monster who is no longer allowed the credit of any humanity, one who is forever marked as a heinous outcast.

The tide often turns swiftly against such figures—?let's not forget many stories are judged through trial by media, not by court. Yet when does our dedication to the undoing of these figures begin to mirror our own brutal nature as a society? Our society appears to be full of people who are more and more like those of the olden days?—?with gatherings around the public hangings of criminals, where we make entertainment of the punishment and despair of the guilty party.

The question I'd like to ask regarding those in the public eye who have been essentially "cancelled" is this: Are there no paths to redemption?—?especially for those who have not been convicted or found guilty of a crime? Are we taking things too far as a society when we make the cancellation of individuals we find morally questionable a ferocious blood sport?

Sometimes great artists are flawed. Sometimes they make terrible mistakes. Sometimes, they are genuinely reprehensible criminals. But the end of the story for these individuals isn't the headlines and hashtags during our smear campaigns– their life goes on. Are we ready to have this discussion? Are we ready to consider that highlighting the wrongful acts of those in the public eye shouldn't necessarily turn into a witch-hunt without end?


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