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Cancel Culture: Sensitive Millennials or a Form of Protest?

By Emma Friedman

Comedian Shane Gillis was recently hired at Saturday Night Live for the 45th season but was fired four days later before the first show ever aired. 

What was the reasoning for this?

Gillis allegedly used racist and homophobic language on his podcast, Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast, that recently was brought to attention by the media. Lorne Michaels, SNL’s producer, said she was unaware of the remarks he had made before hiring him, according to Vanessa Romo. 

The question now that has gained publicity is… should someone be fired based on comments they have made in the past? In a more broad sense, is supporting an artist and their art also supporting their opinions? 

On the talk show, Lights Out with David Spade, comedians Bill Burr and Jim Jefferies discussed SNL’s decision to fire Gillis. In the interview, Jefferies uses the term “cancel culture”.

Urban Dictionary defines cancel culture as, “a modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions. It is caused by a critical mass of people who are quick to judge and slow to question.”

The  idea is that when the public finds something out about someone or something, they will publicly “cancel” them through social media to get the word out in an attempt to make other boycott them. Cancel Culture is essentially a modern day internet boycott. 

But, has cancel culture gone too far?

In the interview, Burr and Jefferies make jokes about millennials and how they just seem to be looking for the bad things in someone’s past and ignore all of the good they have done. 

Instead of seeing cancel culture as a way to bring awareness and hold people accountable for their actions (wheather they are sexist, homophobic, racist, anti-semetic or anything else) they are viewing it as a way to target people.  At one point Burr even goes as far as to call millennials “rats” saying, “none of them (millennials) care, all they want to do is get people in trouble.”  

While cancel culture is meant to be used to bring upon a greater good and awareness to issues, has it been taken too far?

The discussion behind firing Shane Gillis goes way beyond the issue of ethics but expands to the ethics of cancel culture as a whole. 

I have been thinking about this question a decent amount recently after I had a discussion with some friends about Quenton Tarantino. A friend of mine brought to my attention that Tarantino uses unnecessary violence against women in his films and has used sexist language throughout his career. This comment started a long discussion of whether or not people should boycott Tarantino’s films. 

This conversation got me thinking more in depth about cancel culture. Is boycotting already famous Quenton Tarantino movies making a difference? Or is it just millennials being overly sensitive “rats” in Burr’s words. 

After watching countless arguments for both sides of this new phenomenon, I still have not come to a conclusion on what I believe is right. There is good and bad to both sides. It is true that people make mistakes and that we are all human, but I do not believe some things, such as racism, can be belittled into being considered a ‘mistake’ someone made… especially if they still believe and stand by it. 

I do not believe racism, sexism, homophobia, ant-semetism or anything else of that nature in this day and age should be excused. 30 years ago it was a different time than now. In today’s age we are more aware and sometimes can be considered sensitive. Yet, to keep making social progress and making this world a better place for black people, women, the LGBT+ community, Jewish people and so many others, I believe it is important to acknowledge things that were said that are not okay anymore. 

At one point in time using those slurs may have been considered slightly more acceptable by the greater public to use, but today they are not and it’s important to acknowledge that. 

Yes, we are all humans and we make mistakes. But saying something racist and then saying, “whoops that was a mistake just ignore that and only remember everything else I said right,” is unrealistic. Today, everything can be seen through social media, so maybe instead of making excuses for relaying hate, cancel culture should be seen as an extra reminder to be a better person.

Emma Friedman can be reached at Emma.friedman@spartans.ut.edu

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