Cancel culture is real. It happens at the top levels of industries and way down at the bottom. It happens to people who have everything to lose, to people who are household names, and to people who are invisible outside their small sphere of influence. It happened to me and to a bunch of people I know.
This is what it feels like.
What it feels like to get mobbed is total isolation. It is to be stripped of everything that comprised your life—work, friends, social life. It is an image of solitude, with constant pings about how much you suck.
It is excommunication, and it doesn’t stop with the first round. In the first round, lots of people turn their back on you—maybe fifty percent—but then there’s other people who remain undecided, who you think maybe will stay your friend. The second round, in solitude, happens when these people drift away. You hadn’t talked to them in ages anyway, but a wall comes down, there’s no way to reach out. Loneliness sets in anew.
Being mobbed is a solitary enterprise. It’s one where, piece by piece, everything that connected you to decent society is cut until you’re hanging by the shreds of an existence. You eat, you sleep, you work in whatever way you are able and try to pay your way. You might have to borrow money, or strip through savings, or blow up what’s left of your life and find some way to start over.
And all the while you don't know if you have any friends, or if there's anyone you can reach out to. And you feel ashamed and stupid and hurt and victimized and like you've fucked up all at the same time. It is hard to find joy. You begin to contemplate the wonder of sun, of butterfly wings, of the clockwork tick tock of your own brain.
All you have left are the motions of life.
The things you've built—reputation, social life, projects, things you would do and places you could go and people you could reach out to—it's gone. It doesn’t feel like anyone will talk to you, or care about you should you fall apart, or fall off, or disappear. You think they might even be glad—but in truth, they’ve moved on, they’ve forgotten about you, the mob has mobbed and moved on.
It's like you're standing there with nothing, so you go online. But online feels like it’s all people hating you. The cancelling pulls everything away until you’re a machine of a human being.
You eat, you work, you try to make new friends, but there’s always this thing hanging over you. And you don’t know, for anyone you meet, do I tell them about this thing that happened to me? Do I tell them that I am living a different life from the one I used to? Do I give this new person all the information they need to make the option to take a side?
How long do you wait, after meeting someone, before telling them that you had a past life, a past life that was peopled with people you thought cared about you, had your back, wouldn’t run away just because things get dicey, or your disagree, or have been accused, or turn out to be a person who is not the same as everyone else—and no one is?
You wonder if you owe it to people to let them know that there is a controversy over whether or not you are a worthwhile human being. And you decide, often, that you do. That you need to warn the new people that associating with you could cause problems for them. And in some cases, you know, that means no, that means you will not be friends. You start to wonder if you will ever have friends, you start wondering who from your past might still care about you.
It’s easy to decide that no one will, it’s easy to start cutting people off yourself, to spare yourself the agony of coming up against someone who has cancelled you that you don’t even know about, someone who was a silent part of the mob, who agreed with your shunning.
Once you decide this, it’s hard to trust anyone. It feels like the most prudent thing to do is to remove yourself so no one need be troubled with you any longer.
You figure otherwise you’re going to embarrass people just by being around them. For those who say cancelling isn’t real, they should know that it is visceral, it feels like walking around as a very visible gaping nothing. And no matter how much you build, it doesn’t replace it, it doesn’t come back. There’s always this cloud.
It turns out, you can go on national TV, and have an audience of millions, and still go back on Facebook and find yourself embarrassed to be who you are in front of your old college friends, who very clearly aren’t your friends, but for some reason keep commenting on your stuff.