Celebrities and Second Chances

Is cancel culture always justified?

Illustrator: Claudia Dube

Whether or not one believes that humans are inherently good, the idea of a second chance can be difficult to give to individuals living in the public eye. Recently, the concept of “cancel culture” has become particularly relevant in the age of social media where users are quick to call for the end of a celebrity’s career after a scandal. To some, policing others’ behavior online can be advantageous by holding those in prominent positions accountable for their actions. Many discussions in the aftermath of a controversy involve the decision as to whether or not an apology is sufficient. Above all, the question remains whether actions truly speak louder than words.

Oftentimes, consumers of media will base their stance on a controversy based on the first instance of it they see. Unfortunately for the subjects of the story, this can create holes and speculations regarding what truly happened, causing occasionally irreversible damage to individuals who were possibly not deserving of it. If utilized carefully, social media platforms can be useful for issuing apologies and clearing the air regarding a matter.

A possible exception to this subject can best be described with the recent controversy surrounding the future of Logan Paul’s career after he posted graphic content on his YouTube channel. Weeks ago, Paul shared mostly uncensored footage of a deceased victim in Japan’s suicide forest on his channel. The boundaries he overstepped were clear and undebatable considering the evidence of the incident. This mirrors backlash aimed at other YouTube personalities like PewDiePie, Kian Lawley, and Shane Dawson for having a track record of controversial, racist, and inappropriate content that cannot be defended.

Following the incident involving Logan Paul, he posted a written apology to his Twitter followed by a video uploaded to YouTub in which he revealed his regret for his actions. Both responses made by Paul were met with a significant amount of backlash by those who believed he could not fix the damage he had already done. Additionally, those same respondents wonder whether this regretful facade would fade as he transitioned back to his clickbait-centered content.

Considering the number of dedicated followers some celebrities have, many believe that they should be exhibiting their best behavior at all times to set a positive example for others. On the other hand, some argue that regardless of the magnitude of a scandal, everyone deserves a second chance. Then there are those that land somewhere in the middle, who seek to grant forgiveness to others as long as they are able to admit their wrongdoing in a timely and open manner.

Someone who has recently been at the center of this discussion is comedian Aziz Ansari, who was the subject of a sexual assault account from September of this year. This story produced a rather definitive cut between those who believe Ansari’s career should be discontinued with others who believe there is a lack of clear documentation to draw any conclusions.

While it can be easy to make snap-judgements in a case of sensitive material, conclusions on the Ansari story cannot be supported with complete factuality. This is not to discredit the allegations made by the victim, but to serve as a reminder that in this instance, the only two who know what truly happened are those who were there. In cases like these, the lines of cancel culture are especially blurred. Should Ansari’s career have been immediately “cancelled” after such allegations? Or should he be offered a chance for redemption?

Perhaps most important about individuals faced with criticism are their steps moving forward. To some, an apology is the most important response following such a matter, to take responsibility for their actions in a straightforward and vulnerable way. To others, it is the actions performed in later days, weeks, and years that are most meaningful in order to prove their words through behavior.

As long as social media dominates our world, users will be faced with constant pressure to remain conscientious of their actions and words. Unfortunately for some, the delete button cannot put a stop to discussions once they have begun. For now, the potential termination of a public figure’s career will likely remain in the hands of those online.