Creating A Culture of Accountability

Illustration by Lisa Zhou

"Cancel culture” has been a buzzword for much of the post 2010s. It’s a modern event of ostracism, a way of socially boycotting someone for committing an action who is then shunned by the group.

There are differing opinions about “cancel culture” and its effectiveness, but I personally think that the way modern discourse has digested it has really detracted from the main reason why it came about in the first place, and lost its effectiveness over time.

Take the recent case of creator and main director of the "Five Nights At Freddy’s" series, Scott Cawthon. Recently, Cawthon announced he would step down as the head director for the "FNAF" series. The reasons weren’t explicit, but it was right after Cawthon was called out for donating to high-profile anti-LGBT politicians.

These included donations to Republican politicians John Cornyn, who was the chief backer of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage on a federal level back in 2004, and Ben Carson, who has previously claimed no group gets to change the definition of marriage, establishing LGBT individuals in the same vein as people who commit beastiality.

Regardless of the motivations behind his actions, many fans were outraged due to the ‘FNAF’ fandom's significant overlap with the LGBTQ community. Cawthon explained that it was his right as an American citizen to contribute to politics in donations, but stepped down as the head director of the franchise amidst the backlash.

On a surface level, this “callout culture” was working. Someone in a high position stepped down due to outrage over their actions, but does accountability end there?

Repercussions of a “Callout”

Despite Cawthon’s seemingly good-hearted farewell, it’s safe to assume that Cawthon will still make money from the franchise — especially since he did note he would continue to create and produce games.

However, it’s also important to note that amid this controversy, Cawthon claimed that his personal information had been leaked, and that he had received threats due to the nature of his donations, which are publicly accessible information. Regardless of your political alignments, this kind of behavior is not okay, and one of the big contributors to deviating from any effective outcome “cancel culture” could bring.

That’s not to say these tactics haven't worked in the past. One of the biggest successes of “callout culture” was the “callout” of original Minecraft creator, Markus "Notch" Persson, who was removed after a series of posts that showcased his transphobia and his support for the bizarre right-wing conspiracy theory, QAnon. All references to Notch were removed from any Minecraft product or title, and he does not make money from the franchise anymore.

In my opinion, “cancel culture” is simply a movement about awareness. People in high profile places can often escape any legal repercussions of their actions — if legal repercussions are needed in the first place. We are entitled to inform people about the actions of others, especially if they could be affected by interacting with the person being “called out.”

This is especially true for situations where high profile individuals abuse their authority to interact with minors on a sexual level, such as the case of the YouTuber Mini Ladd.

However, at the same time, innocent people can also be blacklisted from calling out issues that matter. Take the case of John Boyega: He stood out among "Star Wars" stars by taking a firm stance on the Black Lives Matters movements that were exploding across America around 2020.

Boyega shared his own experiences about the ways he was harassed by fans for his race, and was critiqued by Hollywood for any signs of aggression. Since these events, Boyega has had his Twitter verification taken away, and was subsequently blacklisted in all but name.

Yet many people still view “cancel culture” as a symptom of a society where ‘no one can have opinions anymore.' But that's not the point of it, and the failure to understand the movement causes fundamental issues at the crux of it. We have to hold people accountable, and protect those who are shut down.

Failure to understand the movement causes fundamental issues at the crux of it. We have to hold people accountable, and protect those who are shut down.

Black, White, Gray

Consider the callouts directed towards several comedians, such as Louis C.K., on the basis of reported sexual harassment. Louis C.K. was ousted from the main headlines of comedy, but has since turned to "controversial" comedy that includes "kids these days" jokes about preferred pronouns and a skit mocking the survivors of the Parkland shooting.

Rather than deter Louis C.K. from making money on comedy in general, he shifted his audience and focus to a community who would be okay with him regardless of his actions.

Some people would see this as a failing of “cancel culture.” Louis C.K. is still celebrated in his actions and unapologetic to how he changed his direction in comedy. This is especially disheartening when you think about how many other celebrities like Louis C.K. who have done the exact same thing; when they get called out, they simply change their audience.

So the question is, what’s the point of “cancel culture” if it doesn’t do anything in situations that should matter, such as sexual harassment?

Ultimately, this is where I want to replace “cancel culture” with accountability and critical thinking. Upon seeing someone high profile called out for something, rather than rush to the defense of the individual, I want people to be able to take a step back from our parasocial relationships with celebrities.

I want people to decide for the sake of others, rather than themselves, to inform people of the current happenings — especially if they target a specific group. People fear to call out big figures on the chance that the callout is a lie, or a fabrication.

We have a social obligation to each other and our communities to hold people accountable to protect those who can be harmed if the callout turns to be true.

At the end of the day, that's wishful thinking. The person who ultimately chooses whether or not to keep following, thinks for themselves and no one else. Actions have consequences to the people around you. Be critical.

Actions have repercussions that people around you can hold on to. Be critical.