Author: Heidi Hudson
Celebrities seem to be getting canceled much more frequently nowadays as compared with a decade ago. From Ellen DeGeneres and Will Smith to Target and Balenciaga, there seems to be a never-ending list of celebrities and companies that have been exiled from the land of fame for controversial things they have said or done. What exempts some stars from this cancel culture?
There are many ways to define cancel culture. In a 2020 Pew Research study, “Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’: Where Some See Calls For Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment”, researchers found that the general public views cancel culture through a variety of lenses/ Many purposes were mentioned, ranging from use as an accountability tool, as way to call out racial or gender-based persecution, as way to displace anyone with differing opinions, as an attack on American society, and many more. Even so, at the core of cancel culture, people see canceling as an opportunity to stand up for what they believe in and as a refusal to be poorly represented by the people we have elevated-people who we admire and hold to a higher standard.
On Sept. 7, alternative country singer-songwriter Zach Bryan’s security guard was pulled over by a police officer in rural Oklahoma. Bryan, who had been driving in a separate truck, also pulled to the side of the road. Bryan exited his vehicle and began verbally harassing the officer, leading to his arrest. Verbal harassment of an officer seems like it would warrant public cancellation, but Bryan responded to his actions quickly. According to Fox News, Sergeant Betsy Brantner Smith of the National Police Association is reported of saying, “I can’t, off the top of my head, come up with another celebrity who’s [apologized] that quickly and that sincerely after having a negative experience with law enforcement”.
While many other celebrities wait until the public is outraged to formally apologize to the parties affected and to the people themselves, Bryan quickly addressed the issue both privately and on his social media sites. On Sept. 8, Bryan posted on both Twitter and Instagram explaining what had happened through a heartfelt expression of his regret. He recognized that he was wrong and he worked to make this knowledge known before he faced public backlash.
Fans of Bryan were quick to forgive his actions due to his prompt addressing of the event, showing that general respect comes from admittance of one’s wrongdoings. This story has the ability to explain a lot about cancel culture— the shunning and boycotting of celebrities that have acted unfavorably— in big ways. When a celebrity is representative of a group of people, as they often are, these people stick by the celebrity’s actions. When they act unacceptably in the eyes of their fans and do not take that as an opportunity to apologize and grow, they public retaliates by means of cancel culture.
Forgiveness is a difficult concept to fully understand, but through work and intentionality, people can give grace and receive forgiveness. Together, Hope College, we can hope for a forgiving future.
Photo credit: Fox News