Caitlin Palmer discusses 'cancel culture' and its harmful effects.
I’m sure you’ve seen the recent twitter controversy, J.K. Rowling is a transphobe. I am not here to debate trans issues. What I am here to do is emphasise the importance of actually reading the news and listening to those you disagree with, and Rowling’s recent controversy fits as a perfect example. My social media has been inundated with claims that Rowling is a transphobe and consequently should be ‘cancelled’. Harry Potter stars have come out in an attempt to win back Potterheads everywhere as they lament the tarnishing of their beloved Harry Potter books. However, a large part of me wonders how many people calling for the ‘cancelling’ of Rowling have actually read the blog post she published explaining her views. I recently asked a friend what she thought about the controversy, she replied that she thought it was ridiculous and didn’t see why Rowling felt she had to voice her opinion. She hadn’t actually read any of what Rowling had to say.
It can all too often be much easier to just jump on the bandwagon and go with the flow of the latest injustice. I am all for calling out inequalities and wrongdoings, however I also believe that it is essential to know why something is unjust and to have come to that conclusion of your own accord. Whether you agree with Rowling or not, if you want to criticise her for her opinions, you have to know what those opinions are.
Our generation thrives off instant gratification. We get it from Netflix, Amazon Prime, ASOS next day delivery, and now the news. Whilst it’s great that information has never been more accessible, there is also a danger to this. That danger being that it is easier to form your opinion based on what 10 people say on twitter, rather than research something yourself. A less serious example is the recent news regarding Cambridge university. A BBC news headline reads ‘Cambridge University: All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021’. On reading this headline, one’s first reaction is of shock and sympathy for the unfortunate Cambridge students who will be facing on line teaching for whole year. However, on actually reading the article, you would discover that the majority of Cambridge’s teaching is done in small groups (which plan to go ahead as normal), and most lectures are optional anyway, meaning the effect on Cambridge students is minimal. If you were to go even further and do a little more digging you would discover that Cambridge is simply doing the same as pretty much all other British universities for the next year. A friend who studies at Cambridge was shocked to receive texts from many friends (who don’t study at Cambridge), absolutely horrified by the news. We are so desperate to appear intelligent and knowledgeable about so many issues that we often sacrifice real knowledge and a well-informed opinion for speed and ease, often resulting in extreme opinions.
Even worse than an ill-informed opinion is how we treat those we disagree with. It is very easy to think that the world is made up of good and bad people, and those that disagree with you should be ‘cancelled’, never to be respected or listened to again. This is where things can begin to get dangerous. By refusing to listen or interact with those that we disagree with we are essentially silencing them, taking their voice away from a group of people who could deconstruct their idea sensibly and carefully. As a result, the ‘bad’ people are forced to seek out a space where they can share their views, often unchallenged, allowing their ideas to gain momentum, validity and support. One just has to look at the event of Brexit and the election of Trump to see the devastating effects of this militant polarisation. A month or so before the election of Trump I was lucky enough to be an audience member on BBC Question Time and I asked a question about the possible outcome of the US election. In response, Alex Salmond laughed and told me we shouldn’t take political figures such as Trump seriously. 6 weeks later, Trump was in charge of the ‘most powerful country in the world’.
Our current attitude to the news is dangerous. We go from one headline to another, instantly quashing those we disagree with, labelling them as ridiculous or calling for them to be cancelled. We form our opinions from headlines of absolutes and biased tweets. This is worrying. Perhaps if we took the time, listened and tried to understand, we could avoid potential polarisation - the effect of which should not be underestimated.
Caitlin Palmer is currently studying Social Policy and Sociology at Bristol University.
She tweets at @caitlin_po