Cultural aesthetic is always up for renewal.
While much of America had already moved on from cancel culture (and was never really onboard with it in the first place), legacy media has declared it passé.
“I feel like the trajectory of the 2010s has been exhausted in a lot of ways,” trend forecaster Sean Monahan tells New York Magazine in a feature titled A Vibe Shift Is Coming. “The culture-war topic no longer seems quite as interesting to people. Social media isn’t a place where you can be as creative anymore; all the angles are figured out. Younger people are less interested in things like quote-unquote cancel culture. These were kind of, like, the big pillars we used to navigate pop culture in the 2010s. And we had the rise of all these world-spanning, like, Sauron-esque tech platforms that literally have presences on every continent. People want to make things personal again.”
“Vibe shift” is the transition to a new culture, or at least to a recycled one with variations of trends that appeared in past timelines; what’s old is new again. While many have declared “cancel culture” meaningless, as even disgraced politicians like Andrew Cuomo invoke the umbrella phrase to avoid accountability, there is a reason why the phrase has resonated as a reference point.
Regardless on whether the ends justify the means, vitriol spread through social networks in service to ideology was spread by actors of all political affiliations to remove individuals from positions of influence. Since Americans are conditioned around storylines of individualism wherein they see themselves as the main character in the movie about their life, they saw themselves in either the cultural figureheads riding activist campaigns, or the culture figureheads adversely affected by them. The paradox in both instances is one of heroism and martyrdom, and the transparency of social media allowed an individual the possibility to prove their existence by finding inconsistencies in “the other” who represented an abstract threat to their internalized main character narrative.
A contributing factor to cancel culture, or a timeline wherein direct political activism became the constant across all American institutions, was how the transparency of social media recast an individual’s past comments alongside changing norms. The preceding cultural aesthetic of “shock and awe” throughout the aughts later gave individuals (again, of all political affiliations) ammunition against others which could be repackaged and deployed across social media in service to ideology and a simulation of self-preservation.
A lot of shock value from the aughts looks bad now, and it’s obvious in retrospect that the cultural aesthetic at the time was used to conceal, justify, and whitewash uglier realities about human nature, including racism and misogyny. We look back at language and dialogue from as recently as ten years ago and cringe.
Despite the moral certainty of ideologues, or followers parroting prepackaged worldviews, opting into a culture which blurs the lines between cyber-bullying and political activism is also posed to age poorly. And like the previous culture, those who benefitted the most at the expense of other people will have their comments preserved online forever, and recast against another recycled set of norms.
Rather than acting disgusted at these transgressors, as they did towards others, let’s meet them with love and compassion.