You’ve probably heard the term cancel culture or maybe heard about someone being “cancelled” before, but may not know what it really means.
In 2020, daytime television star Ellen Degeneres was supposedly “cancelled” after being accused of fostering a “toxic” workplace culture. Her programme, The Ellen Show, returned in September but executively have officially now cancelled the show. A few months after this, renowned author J.K Rowling was “cancelled” for a succession of online posts and activities that have been labelled as transphobic by many LGBTQ+ activists and organisations.
These are not rare incidents, however, but rather just some examples of what many people refer to as part of “cancel culture”.
What is cancel culture?
Simply put, cancel culture is the idea of taking away support for an individual, their career, popularity and/or fame because of something they’ve said or done that’s considered unacceptable.
Most of the time, people are “cancelled” because they are a public figure with influence over a huge audience and what they’ve done or said is alleged to have caused harm to a particular person, group of people or community. For example, many of those who have been “cancelled” have received this public backlash following accusations of violent, sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic activities or comments.
Some see participating in cancel culture as the most effective way to hold public figures to account, especially if no other lawful way appears to be working. By bringing the grievance public, it forces the accused’s employers and others to confront the situation and distance themselves from the perpetrator. In other words, it re-balances the power gap between those with huge audiences and the people or communities who could be negatively affected.
However, others believe cancel culture is more of a “mob mentality” that’s gone out of control.
The idea of cancel culture or “cancelling” someone hasn’t been around forever, though. It first appeared in a breakup song written by Nile Rogers in 1981 called “Your Love is Cancelled”, before being used in the dialogue of 1991 film New Jack City. Following this and throughout the 90s and early 2000s, artists continued to use the phrase in music and YouTube videos. It became more mainstream when a comment was made about “cancelling” someone in a 2014 episode of popular reality show Love and Hip Hop. The term was frequently then used on social media – particularly on Black Twitter – either seriously or as a joke.
The term once again became more popular with the #MeToo movement, as public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K and R. Kelly were all “cancelled” due to allegations of sexual abuse.
Since then, cancel culture and “cancelling” have made their way into mainstream vocabulary. But while the idea has been around for some years now, the new use of the verb ‘to cancel’ only entered the official Merriam-Webster dictionary earlier this year.
What does it mean to be “cancelled”?
To be “cancelled” is effectively to be boycotted, with the intent that the person will be ostracised and no longer benefit financially, personally or professionally from their elevated position.
Some people who have been “cancelled” have gone onto be held accountable for serious crimes, relating to what they were called out for. For example, Harvey Weinstein was first “cancelled” following allegations by multiple women published in The New York Times. After three years and several further allegations of serious sexual violence, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault.
While many people see “cancelling” someone today to be trial by social media, conducted largely by anonymous accounts, it has been publicly used a force for justice in the past. In the case of Weinstein, many women felt that their accusations had not been taken seriously by the entertainment industry, in which the disgraced film producer was seen to be at the helm of, or by the authorities. By coming together in numbers and “cancelling” Weinstein through the power of media, it allowed the women to finally be heard.
However as an uncompromising form of public backlash, it doesn’t always work this way – or have social justice as its primary motivator.
“Some have mixed emotions about cancel culture and the way that people on social media hold influencers and celebrities accountable,” explains leading psychiatrist Dr Tiago Reis Marques. “It can be seen as helpful particularly around large social issues but also damaging to someone’s career and reputation.”
Dr Marques, who is also the chief executive officer of Pasithea Therapeutics, says that for the “cancelled” person, the mental impact can be huge. “It can essentially feel like they are being attacked by the whole world. This is particularly harmful to a person’s psychological state as we have seen in previous cases and often leads to chronic depression and anxiety.”
This is why many people refer to cancel culture and the idea of “cancelling” someone as a public pile-on. While the most famous examples are A-listers, people have called for reality stars, who have less media support or PR understanding, to be “cancelled” for innocuous comments and actions distorted in production, leading to damaging consequences.
“As cancel culture often leads to an individual being ostracised for something they have done or said, it can cause the person in question to feel rejected,” our expert says, especially if it turns out the “cancelled” person in question has actually done nothing wrong.
“Rejection can have a negative impact on self-esteem and self-worthiness which are known risk factors for depression and anxiety, potentially leading to a worsening of the patient mental health. Cancel culture is public shaming and social media has given rise to a particularly virulent form of mob justice that is negatively impacting our mental health.”
Who has been “cancelled”?
It seems like a new celebrity falls out of favour every day. But these are the celebrities who have supposedly been “cancelled” over the last two years alone, with some experiencing serious consequences for their actions and others…not so much.
The most recent addition to the list, Jimmy Carr’s new Netflix special His Dark Materials, has caused outrage. In a clip from the show, which originally aired on Christmas Day, the comedian makes a ‘joke’ about how “no one wants to talk about the positives” of the fact that “thousands” of people in the travelling community were “killed by the Nazis”. Referencing the Holocaust, in which an estimated half a million Roma and Sinti people in Europe were murdered by the Nazis, the comments have been slammed by various charities along with PM Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and MP Nadia Whittome.
The Traveller Movement’s official Twitter account posted in response to the comments, “This is truly disturbing and goes way beyond humour. We need all your support in calling this out.”
While CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE shared a statement online which read, “We are absolutely appalled at Jimmy Carr’s comment about persecution…and horrified that gales of laughter followed his remarks.
“Hundreds of thousand of Roma and Sinti people suffered prejudice, slave labour, sterilisation and mass murder simply because of their identity – these are not experiences for mockery.”
Phillip Pullman is the author of His Dark Materials series, which have nothing to do with Carr’s special but the two are linked by the same name. On learning about what was included in the “abominable, sickening” set, he said he had “no idea what Jimmy Carr would be talking about in his show” but would be “very glad if he called his show something else from now on”.
Almost 15,000 people and counting have also signed a petition to have the special removed from Netflix. Created by The Traveller Movement, it calls the comments “nothing short of a celebration of genocide” and warns that joking about such atrocities “normalises further discrimination, and even violence, against already marginalised communities.”
Jimmy Carr responded to the controversy himself by telling attendees at a gig recently that he was “going down swinging”. According to The Mirror, the comedian said, “We are speaking, my friends, in the last chance saloon. What I am saying on stage this evening is barely acceptable now. In ten years, f****** forget about it.
“I am going to get cancelled, that’s the bad news. The good news is I am going down swinging.
“The joke that ends my career is already out there. It’s on YouTube, Netflix or whatever, and it’s fine until one day it f****** isn’t.”
Carr, who is also the host of panel show 8 Out Of 10 Cats, added, “You are going to be able to tell your grandchildren about seeing this show tonight. You will say I saw a man and he stood on stage and he made light of serious issues. We used to call them jokes and people would laugh.”
The comedian, who has amassed a huge wealth over the years, has yet to officially comment on the special. While Netflix, who are still streaming the set on their subscription service, have also yet to comment and the programme is still available to watch with the ‘joke’ included.
J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was another famous “cancellation” of the last few years. The multi-millionaire took to Twitter in support of a woman with history of making comments seen to be transphobic. Maya Forstater is a British researcher who was fired from her job at a nonprofit after she tweeted a series of statements about proposed changes to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act, which have been labelled as transphobic.
Rowling tweeted in response, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
With some seeing trans rights at such a perilous point in the UK at the moment, many commented that it was “dangerous” for Rowling to tweet out such an opinion to her 14 million followers.
Alphonso David, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, tweeted,”J.K. Rowling says she’s opposed to fundamentalism in any form, but she’s promoting a harmful fundamentalism that endangers the LGBTQ community — particularly transgender youth. She should apologize.”
While the author has been praised for some of her previous efforts to defend LGBTQ+ people, accusations followed about previous incidents. In 2017, Rowling liked a tweet that promoted an article seen to be transphobic. She liked another tweet that referred to trans women as “men in dresses” earlier that same year, although her spokesperson said it was an accident.
Following the Harry Potter books, J.K Rowling released a crime novel series called The Cormoran Strike. Instead of using her own name, she used the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Rowling has explained that the name came from one of her personal heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, and a childhood name she invented for herself, Ella Galbraith. However, Robert Galbraith is also the name of the man who invented conversion therapy – a treatment to change a person’s sexual orientation or suppress their gender identity. Many were quick to point out that this information is available with a simple Google search, something they say Rowling should have done herself.
However, Rowling has hardly experienced being “cancelled”. She did return the Ripple of Hope Award bestowed upon her in 2020 by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organisation (RFKHR) after its president, Kennedy’s daughter, criticised the author’s opinion on transgender people. But aside from that, not all that much has happened to the author.
In fact, following the controversy and the beginning of lockdown, Bloomsbury announced that sales of the Harry Potter books were up and had boosted their children’s division by more than a quarter.
Following the reemergence of actor Chris Noth as “Mr Big” in Sex And The City reboot And Just Like That, two women approached The Hollywood Reporter with their stories of incidents involving the star. The women, who did not know each other and remain anonymous in the piece, allege that Noth raped them. The first woman, known as Zoe in the piece, said that she was living in Los Angeles and 22 years old in 2004 when she met Noth, who would regularly visit the place she worked for business. While Lily told the publication that she was working in the VIP section of New York nightclub as a waitress in 2015 when she met the actor.
Chris Noth denies all claims made against him, telling the paper that the accusations were “categorically false” and the encounters were consensual. “These stories could’ve been from 30 years ago or 30 days ago – no always means no – that is a line I did not cross. The encounters were consensual. It’s difficult not to question the timing of these stories coming out. I don’t known for certain why they are surfacing now, but I do know this: I did not assault these women,” he said.
Even though (spoiler alert) Mr Big dies in the premiere of the series, Noth was apparently due to come back in the finale for a dreamlike scene where his wife Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica-Parker, scatters his ashes. Following the publication of the piece shortly after the first episode aired in December last year, it was revealed that he would be cut the scene as it played fine without him. And shortly after the allegations were made public, co-stars Parker along with Cythia Nixon and Kristin Davis issued a statement in support of the women. “We are deeply saddened to hear the allegations against Chris Noth. We support the women who have come forward and shared their painful experiences. We know it must be a very difficult thing to do and we commend them for it.”
After a third woman alleged Noth assaulted her in 2013, the actor’s agents dropped him and he lost his role as a regular on CBS series The Equalizer. Peloton, who released an advert featuring the star after Mr Big dies following a ride on one of their bikes in the first episode, also pulled their feature.
A spokesperson for the brand said, “Every single sexual assault accusation must be taken seriously. We were unaware of these allegations when we featured Chris Noth in our response to HBO’s reboot. As we seek to learn more, we have stopped promoting this video and archived related social posts.”
There is currently no criminal cases against Noth, The Independent confirms, as reports of the incidents have not been filed.
Chrissy Teigen – model, television host and bestselling cookbook author – was arguably most famous to those in the Twitter sphere for her ‘honest’, witty observations and jokes. Often levelled at widely criticised political figures, she’s gained a multi-million person following over the last few years and even managed to warrant an outburst from former President Donald Trump on the platform. She’s also been praised for her honesty after opening up about her struggle with postpartum depression and sharing tragic news of her miscarriage on social media.
But it was in March 2021 when one of the people who Chrissy had levelled her Tweets at years before revealed the dark side to the star’s online habits. Courtney Stodden’s first interaction with the model was when they were 16 years old after marrying acting coach Doug Hutchinson – who was 34 years their senior. While the relationship would be looked at very differently today, Vox reports that at the time, Stodden was considered the butt of the joke due to the relationship and someone “whose feelings you didn’t have to care about”. Among others, Teigen directed her barbs straight at the reality star.
Stodden revealed in an Instagram video posted in March 2021 that Teigen had sent multiple nasty public Tweets to them in the early 2010s, including one that referenced them taking a “dirt nap” and another simply saying “I hate you.” Along with this, Teigen also allegedly direct-messaged Stodden, according to the star’s interview with the Daily Beast, telling them to kill themselves.
Speaking about how they reacted to the onslaught, the star said, “I experienced so much harassment and bullying from her when I was just 16 years old. At a time when I needed help. I was being abused.”
They continued, “It really affected me. It’s so damaging when you have somebody like Chrissy Teigen bullying children.”
Following this revelation, the line of cookware that Teigen had stocked at Macy’s disappeared from the store’s shelves – without comment from the retailer. Multiple headlines covered the pages of papers, including Page Six which declared the model as an “undercover bully”, referencing the fact that she herself had moved away from Twitter due to trolling. On Saturday Night Live, which is watched by an average of 9 million Americans every week, Pete Davison joked that “getting Chrissy Teigen out of our lives” was one of the only good things to happen over the last year.
In May 2021, Teigen made a statement herself about the controversy. “Not a lot of people are lucky enough to be held accountable for all their past b******* in front of the entire world. I’m mortified and sad at who I used to be. I was an insecure, attention seeking troll. I am ashamed and completely embarrassed at my behaviour but that is nothing compared to how I made Courtney feel,” she wrote on Twitter.
One month later, Teigen wrote a post on Medium apologising for her past tweets. “I won’t ask for your forgiveness, only your patience and tolerance,” she wrote. “I ask that you allow me, as I promise to allow you, to own past mistakes and be given the opportunity to seek self-improvement and change. I ask that you allow me, as I promise to allow you, to own past mistakes and be given the opportunity to seek self improvement and change.”
Since then, not all that much has been heard from Chrissy Teigen – although she is back on Twitter. When asked in an interview recently how long she thinks she could be a member of the “cancel club”, the star replied with a laugh, “I don’t know, it could be forever. I have no idea. I don’t know.”
She said, “All I can do is live my life and take care of my kids and family. Everyone else can make their own choice.”
Other than the removal of her cookware line from Macy’s and Twitter-based public condemnation, Teigen hasn’t faced many repercussions for her actions against Stodden. By the looks of her Instagram, she’s back to normal and promoting her new cook book – ‘Cravings: All Together’.
Johnny Depp entered proceedings to sue The Sun newspaper for libel in 2020 after columnist Dan Wooton referred to the actor as a “wife beater”. The piece questioned whether Depp should have been cast in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise, Fantastic Beasts, after a string of alleged domestic abuse incidents involving his second ex-wife, Amber Heard.
During the public trial, intensely personal details of the couple’s relationship became public knowledge. Among the allegations, there were reports that Johnny Depp misused alcohol and drugs, was emotionally abusive and physically violent towards Amber Heard – hitting, kicking and throwing things at her on multiple occasions. Three months after the trial, Judge Justice Nicol ruled that the tabloid’s use of the label “wife beater” to refer to Depp was not libel as the claim was “substantially true”.
Depp disputed the claim and he has not been charged with any criminal offences since the verdict. In turn, Depp filed a counter law-suit against Heard for defamation as she published an opinion piece in The Washington Post in 2018 accusing Depp of domestic abuse. However, he is not allowed to appeal the verdict of the libel case as the original hearing was “full and fair”, with the trial judge giving “thorough reasons for his conclusions”.
Following this, Johnny Depp was dropped from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. As Neama Rahmani, a formal federal prosecutor in the US told Insider magazine, “I predict his career may never recover. Disney has lost interest in Depp for its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and I can’t imagine any other major studio wanting to work with him.”
With revelations about his abusive behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse coming to light, it’s unlikely that a family-friendly cooperation such as Disney or Warner Brothers would employ the actor again.
Johnny Depp himself has also recently spoken out, following the trial earlier this year. He said he has experienced “an unpleasant and messy situation” and is facing a Hollywood “boycott” because he lost his libel case against The Sun.
Depp lost the libel case as evidence suggested he did in fact abuse his ex-wife, Amber Heard. Despite that, it’s difficult to say that the act has been truly “cancelled” by Hollywood. The interview he gave to The Sunday Times, where he made this statement, was to promote his upcoming film – Minamata, the story of a war photographer working in the early 1970s. Depp went onto say that Minamata, which was made before the libel trial in 2020, will certainly not be his last film despite the supposed “boycott”.
The actor also received the prestigious Donostia Award at the San Sebastian festival in Spain earlier this year, despite outcry from various feminist groups. It’s the highest honour at the festival and organisers called him “one of contemporary cinema’s most talented and versatile actors.”
People have issued allegations of sexual abuse against I Believe I Can Fly singer, R. Kelly, for more than 20 years.
The allegations, many of which concern his involvement with teenage girls, began at the beginning of the 1990s when Kelly – real name Robert Sylvester Kelly – was just starting out in his career. He famously married singer Aaliyah at a secret ceremony in Chicago when she was just 15-years-old and he was 27. Two years later in 1996, Tiffany Hawkins sued R. Kelly for the “personal injuries and emotional distress” she allegedly experienced during her relationship with the star when she was 15 and he was 24. According to Chicago Sun Times, Kelly denied having any sexual contact with the teenager and Hawkins settled out of court for $250,000, a fraction of the $10 million she originally sought in damages.
Multiple other law suits soon followed, including one by a 17-year-old intern who claimed she was “treated as his personal sex object and cast aside”. Another women who was a teenager when she met R. Kelly alleged that she became pregnant by him underage and was forced to have an abortion. Kelly denied any wrongdoing in both these cases and settled with the women out of court for an undisclosed sum of money, according to the New York Post.
In 2002, he was charged with 21 counts of making child pornography after The Sun Times in the US received a video anonymously. It took six years for the case to actually reach trial. Eventually, the jury concluded that the prosecutors were unable to prove the girl in the footage was a minor and Kelly was found not guilty.
In 2017, Buzzfeed published a report that accused R. Kelly of trapping six women in a sex “cult”. The article, which featured interviews with women all of legal age, claimed that Kelly seduced young women when they came to him for help with their music careers, taking control of their lives. It claimed that Kelly decided “what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records”. Kelly strongly denied the claims made in the piece and said he would work “diligently and forcibly to pursue his accusers and clear his name”.
Following this, several women broke their confidentiality agreements and spoke to the press about their own alleged experiences with the singer. R.Kelly denied all the allegations made against him.
The first evidence of R.Kelly’s cancellation comes in July 2017, though, with the creation of the #MuteRKelly campaign. Co-founder and activist Oronike Odeleye said that she helped to create the movement, alongside Kenyette Barnes, because “someone had to stand up for Black women, and if I wasn’t willing to do my part — no matter how small — then I couldn’t continue to complain. It’s time for us to end this man’s career. Enough is beyond enough.”
She said, “#MuteRKelly continues until the Black community has fully financially divested from the man and his music and we tackle the overwhelming issue of sexual abuse.”
The campaign lobbied the singer’s record label RCA to drop the artist. They also contacted promoters of his work, ticket sellers and even streaming services – such as Spotify and Apple Music – to cancel Kelly’s appearances and demote his music from their playlists. Although the services agreed at the beginning, they reversed the decision later on before once again removing his work from their sites after the Surviving R. Kelly documentary series aired in January 2019. Artists who worked with the singer in the past, including Lady Gaga, also apologised and removed their music collaborations with the singer from the streaming sites.
“I stand behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously,” Lady Gaga wrote in a Twitter statement. “I’m sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young, and for not speaking out sooner.”
During the decades Kelly faced accusations of sexual abuse against young women, he continued to work with famous artists including Chance the Rapper, Justin Bieber and Mary J. Blige. During the six years it took for his child pornography charge to reach the court, Kelly released his “Trapped In The Closet” album. This was hugely successful and went onto be nominated for an Image Award by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Many argue that Kelly is only facing justice now, four years after the #MuteRKelly campaign began. This year, the singer faced both state and federal charges in the US to do with the allegations of sexual assault, abuse of a minor, creating indecent images of minors, racketeering and obstruction of justice. The singer repeatedly denied the claims against him.
In September, he was found guilty of being the ringleader of a scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex. After nine hours of deliberation, according to multiple reports, R.Kelly was convicted of all nine counts against him – including racketeering and eight violations of the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law.
One of the most famous cancellations to happen in 2020 was that of American television show host Ellen Degeneres.
She came under fire after Buzzfeed News published an article where former members of her staff claimed the star created a “toxic work culture”. The former employees claimed that DeGeneres is not the same person she appears to be on the show when the cameras stop rolling. Instead, one claimed she was “demeaning” and her senior exclusives failed to follow through with her famous tagline of “be kind”, firing people who took sick or bereavement leave. One former employee also claimed that her top senior producers made “racist comments” and contributed to micro-aggressions on set.
While several of those who spoke to Buzzfeed blamed executive producers and managers on set for the toxic environment, rather that Ellen directly, one former employee said that because it’s ultimately Ellen’s name on the billboard, “she really need to take more responsibility” for the environment around her.
At the beginning of season 18 of the show, DeGeneres said, “I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected.”
Despite this apology, Ellen’s show will come to an end in 2022.
In February 2021, actress Evan Rachel Wood named singer Marilyn Manson – real name Brian Warner – as her alleged abuser. She wrote in an Instagram post, “He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years. I was brainwashed and manipulated into submission. I am done living in fear of retaliation, slander or blackmail. I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives. I stand with the many victims who will no longer be silent.”
Wood and Manson were in a relationship when the actress was 18-years old and the singer was 36. The two were also engaged for a brief period of time in 2010.
Following the post, multiple women came forward with more allegations of horrific experiences with Manson in Vanity Fair magazine.
Manson has denied all the allegations against him. He responded at the time by saying, “Obviously, my art and my life have long been magnets for controversy, but these recent claims about me are horrible distortions of reality.
“My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners. Regardless of how – and why – others are now choosing to misinterpret the past, that is the truth.”
Despite sexual misconduct allegations and convictions stretching back as far as 1998, Manson has only a small handful suffered professional repercussions for his actions in the last year.
Following Wood’s post on Instagram, Loma Vista Recording – who have worked with Manson since 2015 – dropped the artist from their label. They said in a statement, “In light of today’s disturbing allegations by Evan Rachel Wood and other women naming Marilyn Manson as their abuser, Loma Vista will cease to further promote his current album effective immediately. Due to these concerning developments, we have also decided not to work with Marilyn Manson on any future projects.”
Marylin Manson still making music, though, as he famously appeared on Kanye West’s new album – one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year. He accompanied the singer and rapper on Donda on a track called ‘Jail pt.2’ and was brought up on stage during the listening party in Chicago.
Manson’s appearance on the album was widely condemned and some reviewers dismissed it based on that fact, handing the entire release a 0-star review because of the “sour taste that no number of good beats, gospel choirs or church organs will cleanse.”
Earlier this year, Justin Timberlake took to Instagram to offer an apology to two women – Britney Spears and Janet Jackson.
Following the release of The New York Times documentary ‘Framing Britney Spears’, focusing on Britney’s conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement, Justin Timberlake received renewed backlash for how he treated the star in the early 2000s. The two were in a relationship that garnered much press attention and even created somewhat of a super fandom among the couple’s dedicated supporters.
After their break up, Timberlake was accused of weaponising his ‘Cry Me a River’ video to pin the demise of their relationship on Britney and her alleged infidelity. In the video, he appears alongside a blonde look-alike and it’s widely understood that the song is about his ex.
By pinning the fall of their relationship on Britney, critics of Timberlake argue that he received positive professional attention while leaving his ex-girlfriend – who was only 21 at the time – to suffer at the hands of his fans and the tabloids.
Justin Timberlake also apologised to Super Bowl half-time show co-performer, Janet Jackson, following accusations of racism and sexism. In the 2004 show, Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s bare breast live on TV, an act that some saw as a deliberate publicity stunt at the time rather than the wardrobe malfunction it was passed off as. While Timberlake faced no professional consequences for the stunt, Jackson was blamed for the incident and forced to issue a public apology.
Shortly after the “Framing Britney Spears” documentary aired, people began calling for Timberlake to be “cancelled” on social media. While #JustinTimberlakeistrash is a hashtag that first appeared on Twitter in 2012, it quickly grew in posts after the documentary aired as more people called for boycotts of the singer’s music and other professional endeavours.
However, some believe that Timberlake has escaped what could have been an inevitable cancellation by apologising quickly. On the second slide of the post, the singer says that the music industry “sets men, especially white men, up for success”. And while he “didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life”, he said he does not “want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again”.
He concluded, “I can do better and I will do better.”
Since the apology, Justin Timberlake has appeared on social media in the studio with big names in music, including DJ Khalid and Timberland, leading us to the conclusion that Justin’s career is just fine.
Very few people won’t know who British journalist-turned-television-presenter Piers Morgan is – or why he’s been “cancelled” numerous times.
Until March this year, Morgan was one of two hosts on the breakfast-time show, Good Morning Britain. In one segment alone, he managed to mock minority communities by taking aim at the BBC’s plan to teach children gender diversity, saying that he identified as a “penguin”, and was accused of sexist remarks towards co-host Susanna Reid.
“It’s not fine that the BBC should be doing this,” he said in response to the plan. When Reid attempted to diffuse the situation, he added, “You women moan as well. Women have it so hard don’t they? They have it so hard. But you and your massive salary, working four days a week. Come on.”
Even before this point, there had been multiple calls for ITV to sack the controversial host. He appeared to redeem himself to some critics after holding politicians to account during the coronavirus pandemic but this was short-lived.
Soon afterwards, Morgan quit Good Morning Britain after a clash with a colleague over comments he made about Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah. In the episode following the bombshell interview, he said that he did not believe Markle had been suicidal. The comments were slammed by mental health campaigners internationally, along with celebrities and other stars. Over 41,000 people registered complaints against the host with the Office of Communication (OFCOM).
Following this, the network released a statement saying, “Following discussions with ITV, Piers Morgan has decided now is the time to leave Good Morning Britain. ITV has accepted this decision and has nothing further to add.”
But despite all of this and more, it’s difficult to argue that Piers Morgan has actually been “cancelled”. Months after leaving GMB, he’s up for an award at the National Television Awards for his time on the show. He continues to make headlines almost daily, with his Twitter account still active.
Morgan himself even confirmed that he wouldn’t be going anywhere as he spoke to reporters in March. He said that he still doesn’t believe Meghan Markle’s claims but if anyone else wants to – “that’s entirely their right”.
He also said, “I think it’s fair to say, although the woke crowd will think that they’ve cancelled me, I think they will be rather disappointed when I re-emerge.”
Glee star Lea Michele came under fire from multiple angles in June 2020 following a post about George Floyd, an African-American man killed by police in May 2020 in Minneapolis, USA.
Michele tweeted about Floyd with the Black Lives Matter hashtag. In response, fellow Glee star Samantha Ware who played Jane Hayward in the show, wrote, “Remember when you made my first television gig a living hell?!?! Cause I’ll never forget. I believe you told everyone that if you had the opportunity you would ‘s— in my wig!’ amongst other traumatic microaggressions that made me question a career in Hollywood.”
Many of Lea Michele’s other former co-stars from various productions throughout her career backed up Ware’s claims. It appeared to create a clear pattern of behaviour for the whole world to see.
Former Glee co-star Amber Riley confirmed that she didn’t believe Michele was racist – but she certainly made life very unpleasant for people on set with her.
Keeping it diplomatic, she said that she wasn’t “going to say that Lea Michele is racist”. However, she said that the Glee set wasn’t “the most comfortable environment” to work in and was she glad Samantha Ware had spoken out.
She also urged people to consider the bigger picture during the Instagram Live, as she said, “I don’t give a s***. People are out here dying, being murdered by police.”
Gerard Canonico worked with Lea Michele on the broadway production of ‘Spring Awakening’. He wrote on Twitter, “You were nothing but a nightmare to me and fellow understudy cast members. You made us feel like we didn’t belong there. I tried for years to be nice to you to no avail. Maybe actually apologize instead of placing the blame on how others ‘perceive’ you. You’ll probably just delete this though.”
After Ware’s first Tweet hit the headlines, Michele lost a brand partnership with HelloFresh. Zola, a wedding registry company Michele was working with before the accusations, also released a statement. They said that they weren’t working with the actress anymore but were disappointed to learn of her behaviour.
Following this, Lea Michele posted a long apology on Instagram. She wrote, “I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused.
“One of the most important lessons of the last few weeks is that we need to take the time to listen and learn about other people’s perspectives and any role we have played or anything we can do to help address the injustices that they face.”
Most recently, executives cast actress Beanie Feldstein in the broadway revival of Funny Girl. Many commented that when producer Ryan Murphy bought the show rights in 2014, Michele was originally going play this role. The actress performed many hits from the musical during her time Glee over the years it was on air. While many believed that Michele would be bitter about the casting, which comes one year after the controversy and supposed cancelling, she wrote a congratulatory note under Feldstein’s announcement.
So despite this – much like Justin Timberlake – it appears as though Michele has recovered from her temporarily cancelling. Over the last few months, it looks like she’s been focusing on her newborn baby. She’s also appeared on covers of baby magazines to celebrate and is set to release a new album soon.
Fans were less than impressed when the trailer for singer Sia’s film, Music, hit screens earlier this year. The film follows the life of an autistic teenager, played by non-autistic actress Maddie Ziegler. Kate Hudson also stars. Twitter users considered the portrayal “offensive” and “inaccurate”, while also claiming that the musician hadn’t done her research and so the film really failed to portray the important and underrepresented topic in the right way.
Irish actress Bronagh Waugh, for instance, asked Sia why her main character wasn’t being played by an autistic actor. “It’s pretty offensive the way you’ve chosen to portray this character. People with disabilities are not broken and don’t need fixing,” she wrote on Twitter.
Others argued that the trailer showed autistic people “suffering” and said that the film should have taken a more positive approach. As one user said, “Autistic people do not bring their families or carers suffering, in fact it’s often caregivers who cause harm to disabled people. autistic people need to be allowed to tell their own stories, not this garbage.”
Sia urged people to wait for the whole film to come out before making assumptions, but it appeared as though the damage had already been done. “Incredibly disappointing to see yet another misrepresentation of neurodivergent people. What an incredibly wasted opportunity to showcase autistic talent, and share an authentic story from that community. Will not be watching this,” said another person on Twitter.
Following the release of the film, in which the main character is shown under restraints at one point, critics from the likes of The Guardian and IndieWire called it “tone-deaf” and “baffling” and gave the picture a host of one-star reviews.
In response, the star took responsibility for the distressing scene, before deleting her Twitter account. She said, “I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.”
In November, a petition to cancel the film went up online. Sia herself described the petition as a “love letter to caregivers and to the autism community”.
However, was Sia really “cancelled” after this? Music was given a Golden Globe nomination for best picture in the musical or comedy category, while Kate Hudson received a nod for best actress. The film lost both awards and hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler called the movie the year’s “Biggest Flopparonni”. Since then, the notoriously reclusive singer and song writer hasn’t really been heard from so we’re unsure whether she’s involved in any other major projects coming up.
Matt Damon was one of the most recent cancellations in 2021. In July, Bourne Ultimatum star Matt Damon told The Sunday Times that he only recently stopped using a homophobic slur commonly used to refer to gay men after his daughter told him it was “dangerous”.
He said, “The word that my daughter calls the ‘f-slur for a homosexual’ was commonly used when I was a kid, with a different application.
“I made a joke, months ago, and got a treatise from my daughter. She left the table. I said, ‘Come on, that’s a joke! I say it in the movie Stuck on You. She went to her room and wrote a very long, beautiful treatise on how that word is dangerous. I said, ‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.”
While Matt undoubtedly thought very little of this revelation, others thought a lot of it. For many people, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community, the idea that a prominent actor such as Matt Damon still thought it was acceptable to use this phrase in 2021 was disturbing to say the least.
Following widespread criticism, Damon said that he understood why his revelation “led many to assume the worse”. But he added that he had never used the slur personally and that the conversation with his daughter was not a “personal awakening”.
He said, “To be as clear as I can be, I stand with the LGBTQ+ community.”
So while many attempted to cancel Matt Damon with calls to boycott his upcoming film, Stillwater, he’s still very much being cast in new films and has received very little ongoing condemnation.
The so-called “cancellation” of Enid Blyton came amid plans by British Heritage to review almost 1000 blue plaques following the Black Lives Matter protests across the world in 2020. The plaques adorn buildings around the UK that have been significant in the lives of prominent figures in history. For example, Princess Diana’s legacy was honoured with a plaque outside her former London flat last year.
In April 2021, British Heritage announced that they would be updating the website reference that links to the plaque outside the home where Blyton lived from 1920 to 1924. “Blyton’s work has been criticised during her lifetime and after for its racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit,” the website read, according The Washington Post and The Telegraph. The line recalled an article written by The Guardian in 1996 that looked into ‘The Little Black Doll’, a book published in 1965 where the character of Sambo is only accepted once their “ugly black face” is washed “clean” by rain.
As of February 2022, this line is no longer on the website – instead this part of Blyton’s history is simply referred to as “Criticism” and the charity say that some people “took exception to what they perceived as social snobbery, racism and sexism embedded in Blyton’s storylines”.
Naturally, as with any subject of supposed cancel culture, there were two sides to the debate when the Twitter sphere kicked off in June last year. Some consider Blyton’s work to be essential in the literary canon and not subject to the same standards as today, considering the books were written almost 100 years ago. To others, this has been a long-time coming. The Royal Mint were forced to put plans to honour the author with a commemorative coin on hold in 2019, following backlash that referred to the author as a “racist, sexist, homophobe and not a very well-regarded writer”. But allegations of problematic language from Blyton have been around since before she died. Publisher Macmillan refused to publish Enid Blyton’s story ‘The Mystery That Never Was’ in 1960, citing a “faint but unattractive touch of old-fashioned xenophobia.”
So has Enid Blyton been cancelled? Not really. Firstly, British Heritage has apparently backtracked on their commitment to address “any uncomfortable aspects” of this plaque subject’s life on their website, as promised. But to be “cancelled” requires mass public rejection of work, with the threat of a loss of reputation or earnings. Enid Blyton is still claimed as one of the most beloved children’s authors to have lived and she is the fourth most-translated author in the world – coming in close behind William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Jules Verne.
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