To shame or cancel, that is the question

An embarrassed turtle
Can I go back in now?

When I was a kid, you did something stupid at school and everyone laughed at you, and your face burned red (maybe you even cried in the bathroom); but eventually you went home, and you wanted to die. But come the weekend, it was forgotten, hopefully, by Monday.

Eh, probably not. Who are we kidding.

Thanks to social media, you can pretty much guarantee it won’t be forgotten.

(The more mature and famous crowd might get a book deal, if they’re lucky. The older ones have a thicker skin maybe. They seem to go on with life a little bit easier. Different rules, I guess.)

One thing is true for many people–say or do the wrong thing, and you’re screwed.

Although, what I said just now could be construed as “shaming.” Hate the transgressor a little too much, and now you’ve shamed them, and you’re thrown to the dogs too.

Interestingly, someone with obnoxious characteristics, behaviors, or predilections is in a precarious position. They’ve put themselves on the fine line. If they’re criticized just one iota too much, they’ve been shamed, and now the hate redounds to the shamer and the shamed one earns some cachet. But if they slip and say/do something really socially unacceptable, the scale can easily tip the other way and now they get “canceled.” This is disastrous.

One who is “canceled” is ostensibly so irredeemable that their livelihood must be removed immediately. Then everyone else, from the YouTuber with only their friend watching to the biggest and baddest, has to immediately put out a video denouncing the sinner. In the case of the beauty-obsessed, this could involve smashing a makeup palette or something.

As annoying as all parties involved are, there’s a sort of existential question at stake: at what point in your life do you get to stop paying for your sins? Are some people truly unforgivable? Is there an expiration date on ostracism or must the punishment continue in perpetuity?

Can they never be employed again? What are they supposed to do once they’ve been publicly canceled? Now I’m sure they are not unable to generate any income whatsoever; who knows, maybe they make more. Some can even stage a sneaky comeback. But not all of them. If they were hated before the transgression, it was that people loved to hate them. And they enriched themselves by that. Now they’re canceled, just plain hated. And they’re often boycotted.

Weirdly, I can’t help wonder about the mental health toll that the canceled one suffers. I guess I imagine how I would feel if I had done it.

Think how many tragic incidents have happened among teenagers who were treated this way by their classmates. With social media, there’s no escaping the humiliation and insults. You could say, well the YouTuber deserved it! Maybe. Of course, the young person didn’t, and it isn’t the same thing because the young one did nothing to deserve it. My point is simply that relentless hate can wear someone down, even the most fame-hardened and even if they did something wrong.

With this sort of unforgiving culture, do we put the same burden on ourselves? Do we relentlessly criticize ourselves, never forgiving ourselves because of mistakes we made years ago? Do we cancel ourselves? Is it the culture that makes us treat ourselves this way, or have we collectively created it?

I think it is true that some people don’t see the beam in their own eye, and they don’t beat themselves up because they can’t see their own mistakes. These probably comprise a goodly portion of the cancelers. They’re usually referred to as hypocrites. At the same time, though, I think some of the worst mud-slingers are the ones who roll themselves in their own mud, too. Some people practice their cruelty on themselves first.

It’s just so easy to mess up, and it’s a theme I’ll most likely return to.

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