Categories
cancel culture diversity MeToo politics

The Aftermath of Cancel Culture: Apology Culture

“Cancel culture” has become a buzzword in today’s entertainment landscape, a term whose definition and ethics are hotly debated each time a celebrity finds themself in the spotlight for committing a wrong. Without engaging in the conversation on its toxicity or lack thereof, I’d like to define cancel culture as a movement, one similar to the #MeToo movement. Cancel culture seeks to expose celebrities whose status has long protected them from facing consequences of their actions. The movement aims to acknowledge long-standing harmful cultures in the entertainment industry and reveal the individuals who permit and perpetuate them, as well as making an ongoing effort to point out celebrities’ insensitive behavior as it happens. This behavior ranges from the discovery of years-old insensitive tweets to habitual and violent sexual harassment and assault.

Often, once these incidents gain attention, there are calls for the celebrity to be “cancelled,” to lose the support of their fans and be removed from their current projects or stripped of the social power they wield. There have been very few instances where a celebrity has been effectively cancelled (Kevin Spacey’s immediate, total, and so far permanent removal from the public eye following accusations of him raping an 18-year-old boy is the only true example that comes to mind). That said, the threat of cancellation appears to be enough for us to have become saturated in what I will refer to as “apology culture.”

In tandem with the increase in public acknowledgement of celebrities’ wrongdoing is the increase in celebrities apologizing for these actions. On the surface, this seems like a good thing- celebrities are being held accountable for their behavior, and they are owning these missteps. However, I argue that, for a handful of reasons, apology culture is actually stalling the momentum of cancel culture and preventing meaningful change from coming from the things that have so effortfully been brought to light in recent months and years.

The most straightforward issue with apology culture is the questionable nature of the sincerity of the apologies themselves. In December of 2020, Shia LaBeouf was sued by ex-girlfriend and Honey Boy co-star FKA Twigs for sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress. Twigs claims that LaBeouf knowingly infected her with a sexually transmitted disease and cites “relentless abuse” from the actor. Upon the lawsuit being made public, LaBeouf released a statement in an email to the New York Times: “I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel. I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations. I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I’m ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say.”

Even more recently, The Bachelor host Chris Harrison came under fire for defending contestant Rachel Kirkconnell of the most recent season of the series. It came to light that Kirkconnell had attended an “old south” themed party in college, shared an Instagram post with language strikingly similar to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and liked a friend’s post of them posing in front of a Confederate flag. Kirkconnell and Harrison were asked about these things in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first Black Bachelorette. In the interview, Harrison came to Kirkconnell’s defense, claiming that while this behavior would be unacceptable today, it was not at the time that it happened.

Harrison has since acknowledged the problems with his statements in the interview and offered an apology: “I am an imperfect man. I made a mistake. And I own that. I believe that mistake doesn’t reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to the progress – not just for myself, also for the franchise. I am saddened and shocked at how insensitive I was in that interview with Rachel Lindsay, and I didn’t speak from my heart, and that is to say: I stand against all forms of racism. And I am deeply sorry. I’m sorry to Rachel Lindsay, and I’m sorry to the black community.”

I use these two instances as examples and sources of comparison because, while these offenses are drastically different in every way, the apologies are strikingly similar. They share the same tone, intensity, and sentiment, and they are far from the only celebrity apologies that do. The general message of owning one’s mistake- though clarifying that it was a mistake- and offering a heartfelt “I’m sorry” is consistent among the majority of celebrity apologies, which have now become innumerable. Seeing one nearly identical statement after the other, they begin to sound rehearsed, even coached, and it becomes increasingly difficult not to question the sincerity behind them.

Another important factor in the celebrity apology is that it doesn’t come after the incident- it comes after the public disapproval of the incident. Thus, while already seeming manufactured, these apologies also come across as an act of self-preservation. Rachel Kirkconnell’s racist actions had already come to light as insensitive and controversial by the time Harrison spoke on them in the interview with Rachel Lindsay. Harrison had had the time to reflect on the issue before coming to her defense and didn’t offer his apology until almost a month after doing so. The amount of time between the incident and Harrison’s taking accountability for it suggests that it was the increased stakes, not true regret, that prompted his response.

The questionable nature of these apologies is exacerbated by the lack of action following them. Many, like Chris Harrison, make bold yet vague promises like being “committed to the progress” without offering any specific examples of how or what will be different going forward. Further, any positive action that does come after the apology is often a decision made for the celebrity rather than by them. Before FKA Twigs filed her lawsuit, Shia LaBeouf was fired from Olivia Wilde’s feature Don’t Worry Darling for unspecified inappropriate behavior. While LaBeouf claimed to be aware of his faults in his apology, his firing on Don’t Worry Darling indicates that he is not making an effort to change but is expecting to continue working and remaining in the public eye.

While Shia LaBeouf’s firing came before any knowledge of his behavior became public (a sign of Olivia Wilde’s good judgement and character), Chris Harrison was replaced as host of The Bachelor franchise following the intense backlash his comments received. His departure was phrased as him “stepping away” from the franchise, but this is thinly veiled verbiage of his removal from the production. While The Bachelor distancing itself from a racist host seems like a move in the right direction, networks being quick to fire its stars that have found themselves in the hot seat ultimately adds another layer of self-preservation.

Chris Harrison’s racism came in the form of defending the racism of another Bachelor cast member. From this alone, it is clear that the franchise’s problems with racism extend beyond just Harrison himself. Yet, by putting two of the show’s former Black stars in Harrison’s place, the franchise is presenting itself as having fixed its only problem. While Harrison is not innocent, he has become a scapegoat for the production as it attributes any and all problems the show may have had to him. It allows The Bachelor to escape from making any substantive change and bury any other toxicity it may have with Harrison.

On the other end of the apology culture spectrum are Chrissy Teigen and Jenna Marbles. Teigen, a model and television personality with a strong Twitter presence, recently deleted her account on the social media platform. While she has remained generally popular and avoided any substantive controversy, she has received backlash from fans over tone-deaf tweets, like one about her mother buying Air Pods as if they are a disposable product. Teigen recently came to twitter one last time to say: “Hey. For over 10 years, you guys have been my world. I honestly owe so much to this world we have created here. But it’s time for me to say goodbye. This no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively. I’ve always been portrayed as the strong clap back girl but I’m just not. My desire to be liked and fear of pissing people off has made me somebody you didn’t sign up for, and a different human than I started out here as! Live well, tweeters.”

Jenna Marbles, a longtime YouTuber, stepped away from the platform after recently facing criticism for insensitive videos from 2011 and 2012 where she wore blackface in a Nicki Minaj impression, judged women who “slept around”, and incorporated a rap song with lyrics making fun of Asian people. In a video simply titled “A message,” Marbles emotionally declared that, “it was not my intention to do blackface. I do want to tell you how unbelievably sorry I am if I ever offended you by posting this video or doing this impression, and that that was never my intention. It’s not okay. It’s shameful. It’s awful. I wish it wasn’t part of my past.” She went on to say that “for now, I just can’t exist on this channel. I think I’m just going to move on from this channel for now. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. I just want to make sure the things I’m putting in the world aren’t hurting anyone. So I need to be done with this channel, for now or forever.”

While Teigen occupies other public spheres as a personality on LL Cool J’s Lip Sync Battle, both Teigen and Marbles are self-made creators on the platforms where they are most popular and where the incident occurred. They did not have employers who could have made the decision for them to remove themselves from the platform. They also paired their apologies with their announcement that they are stepping away from their platforms, thus following the apology with instant action. On the whole, Teigen and Marbles are rare examples of cancel culture working- they were made aware of their mistakes and made the independent decision to apologize and follow that apology with action.

However, while they both have in the past posted undeniably insensitive content, I don’t believe Teigen and Marbles are the real target of the cancel culture movement. They are not the dangerous, power-wielding, toxic culture-creating celebrities that we can’t seem to affect no matter how hard we try. While much of this falls to the celebrities themselves who refuse to make real change or step out from behind their superficial apology, it is also unclear within the movement what consequences we expect to befall those that we expose.

Some, like Shia LaBeouf, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby, and many others, have committed crimes and should face the consequences of the law just as anyone without their status would. Others, however, like Chris Harrison, have done something wrong without breaking the law. By drawing attention to these incidents and vaguely demanding some kind of action, the cancel culture movement is becoming its own justice system for the morality of celebrities’ behavior, and it is quite an ambiguous one. Without a clear communication of the change that we want to see, it is difficult to have a collective expectation of appropriate behavior following an event like Chris Harrison’s. Cancel culture has made great progress, but the movement was born from the notion that celebrities will not own or alter their behavior on their own- hence why it needed to be exposed in the first place. With that same idea in mind, there may be work yet to be done on our part in achieving true accountability for public figures.

Categories
politics punk

Pop Culture Punk

Over the past several decades we have seen multiple iterations of anti-establishment counterculture from the hippies to the punks and so on, each reacting to or growing out of the last. However, since the turn of the new century, it has gotten increasingly hard to see the remnants of the beliefs of the original counterculture in its new iterations. LA punk’s anti-consumerist anti-mainstream ideals have long since been replaced by the Emo Scene of the 2000s, who not only appropriated mainstream imagery but also were known for fashion emerging from shopping at chain stores you could find at any mall. Has our society since moved past the days of true anti-consumerist counter-culture? What has caused such a change?

The shift from LA punk to emo is especially surprising since emo is a direct descendant of its 70s counterpart. As Los Angeles punk and its angry, anti-consumerist, and anti-establishment ideology started to move east, it found itself split. The anger that the culture was based on made many of its get-togethers end in fights, police intervention, and often attracted skinheads and other highly politicized, hyper-masculine participants with lots of repressed rage. This caused the culture to be extremely alienating to those outside of it as well as to some inside of it. By the time the movement hit Washington, D.C., a series of bands decided to split off from the original group. Their music focused more on emotions and less on the establishment and politics.  They were more interested in social alienation rather than a societal one and focused more on teenage angst and romantic relationships. This new form of punk became known as emocore punk as the old more aggressive version became hardcore punk.

The emocore punk movement slowly became more and more of its own subculture through the 90s, becoming known solely as emo. Emo culture, however, did not fully take form until the turn of the century as it took on a very different shape as well as gained a much larger and more significant following, to the point that it could have even been considered a “mainstream subculture” at the beginning of the 2000s. This iteration of the culture took its roots of punk but appropriated a lot, if not a majority, of its iconography from other subcultures of the 90s.  They took some of the grunge and the slightly longer hair of indie-rock. They took quite heavily from goth as well as their punk roots; heavily leaning towards black with occasional neon accents, skull iconography, and stripes. Emos often sported dyed hair, eyeliner for both men and women, and an overall androgynous look. They also were known for incorporating pop iconography into their outfits, which was an acceptance of the mainstream that its predecessors would have never dreamed of.

So what led to this major change in the culture and this incorporation of the mainstream that would have been unheard of years before? Two events shook the country leading to a major increase in patriotism and fear of those who are different.  The Columbine High School Shooting took place on April 20th, 1999 leaving 20+ wounded and 13 dead. It was a national tragedy and the first of its kind.  It put a spotlight on mental health as well as increasing fear of those who might be expressing it differently. Those who were outwardly different were now met with fear that they too could become similar monsters. Teen goths whose parents were once supportive were no longer met with the acceptance of their self-expression that they once were. Emos also being a largely teenage subculture were met with similar responses so mainstream-ification and leaning more into consumer culture allowed them to tread the line between subculture and mainstream acceptance.

Only a little more than two years later the 9/11 attacks just further ingrained patriotism and fear of those who are different into the country as a whole. Not only were subcultures seen as something different to be feared at this point but also being anti-establishment and non-conformist made you extremely unpatriotic in a time where the country was healing. It is in many ways similar to the Red Scare of the 1950s causing the country to try and appear as cookie cutter and “normal” as possible as to not appear un-American, but now there is a national tragedy that has taken place on American soil that you have to reckon with as well.

Due to all of this emo found a way to neither go against the mainstream culture nor society but rather found a way to express different values within them. So, instead of following the deviant route of their predecessors they rather try to find “collective individuality” within their society. Through this, they are much more comfortable with consumerism than the punks of the past.  They have taken the lack of politics of the emocore punks and have taken it all the way to removing politics entirely. The subculture is far more interested in expressing themselves and achieving a specific look rather than where they are getting it from. So, when teenage emos are looking for clothing that can accurately express themselves and their culture and they are able to find it all easily at Hot Topic, a store that was established to cater to that exact audience, they will buy it no questions asked because it is a self-statement rather than a political one.

So does emos adapting to the world this way mean that we will never see true authentic punks ever again? It is safe to say that it may be a good long while before we can ever truly see an anti-establishment movement again and it will have to be in a drastically different form. Not only are we as a country still healing from the tragedies that made the emos into what they are today but the country itself is becoming increasingly more politicized as each day passes. Political radicalism is no longer radical.  “The Left” and “The Right” are moving farther and farther apart and it feels as if there is no room for a middle. Half of the country was vocally and excruciatingly against the American president from 2017-2021 if literally half the population is a part of it can it be counted as radical or counterculture? Then after that, some select people from the other side of it performed an insurrection on the capital to try and stop the transfer of power. Is that counterculture because it is a smaller population? But hasn’t that been a part of the culture of the past four years?  All of this begs the question; who determines the culture? The leader and chief of the country? The adults? Does that make the young people counterculture by default? The young people? What’s trending on Twitter? Are the niches of content on TikTok subcultures or are they mainstream since they are popular on TikTok?

In the time and place, we are in counterculture feels to be all of us. We may be mainstream to us but we are counter to them and while the internet puts us in conversation with them it more often creates echo chambers and increased politicization. Can countercultures exist ever again? Maybe very far down the line.  For now, we are all subcultures of the mainstream, very similar to how emo was. Subcultures that are much more focused on self-expression and self-identification than with bringing down the system because it is becoming increasingly clear that in many ways most of us want to bring down the system. We are all a part of subcultures that catch steam on the internet and become mainstream. Is that so bad? Everyone trying to express themselves and questioning the system in which they live. I don’t think so.

Categories
cancelculture film politics

Conservative Creatives: An Untapped Market or a Greater Social Divide?

The recent firing of Gina Carano rekindled the ongoing conversation on conservative creatives in Hollywood. Fellow actors and creators such as Jon Voight and Nick Loeb have not been shy about their opinions, which have led to recurring criticism from the rest of the entertainment industry. Many believe that outspoken conservatives don’t really have a spot in Hollywood and are either shut down or fired to avoid discourse. Yet, the question of missed profits and markets has been raised.

The results of the recent election proved that there is a potentially large market for content created by conservative creatives as well as the response from the release of multiple films that would fall under that category. Big names like Ben Shapiro are willingly giving creators the platform they need to distribute and it’s only a matter of time before they make their way onto streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. While this may make it seem like there is a strong need for more of this content, will it ultimately just widen the political divide that is already so vast? 

Gina Carano has quickly gone from being a part of one of the biggest TV shows to what most would consider blacklisted in Hollywood. She was fired a little over a month ago for a string of social media posts in which she gave her viewpoint on certain topics. These included posts in which she compared being conservative in America to being Jewish in Nazi Germany and tweeting about needing to “fix the system” amid claims the election was rigged which can be found in an article by Lee Brown. Now, the only places you can find news on her are directly from her Twitter account, fan-based blogs, or more conservative-leaning websites like Deseret.com.

Many speculate that Disney will not rehire the actress, which has influenced other companies to turn their backs as well. Some have been critical of the company’s decision due to their “uncanceling” of other controversial creators in the past. Regardless, this decision appears to be more final. Rather than receding into the shadows, Carano has instead chosen to become a content creator. Hollywood Reporter article dives into the budding partnership between her and Ben Shapiro, head of The Daily Wire, and has agreed to help produce it. While it’s unclear what it’ll be about, the other projects that have been acquired or backed by the platform can help to give viewers a good idea of the direction it might take. 

Recently, The Daily Wire distributed the film Run Hide Fight (2020), which focuses on a teen girl who tries to survive a shooting at her high school (ironically, this is the same slogan used by the government to educate people about what to do if they are part of an active shooter event). The film premiered at Venice Film Festival in 2020 and is now available for free on the platform. The Daily Wire claims that it had a successful launch but it’s curious to see if the projects they distribute will be exclusive to the platform or attempt to go elsewhere. This speculation is based on the content of the film as well as the people behind it. An article from The Daily Beast goes into the torrid pasts of the producers for the film who have either been arrested for sexual assault or knowingly turned a blind eye. Due to this, it doesn’t seem as if this project is the best one to help The Daily Wire break into distribution in modern Hollywood. Yet, the question is, is modern Hollywood their target? 

 In Siegel’s article, she comments about how various sources have said that Amazon will most likely push back against this type of content being shown through its streaming service. Regardless of this, other films mentioned in the article, The Plot Against the President and Roe v. Wade, are currently available to stream through the platform. Nick Loeb in Siegel’s article touches on taboo topics by saying, There’s only two things you cannot be in Hollywood: pro-Trump and pro-life.” Each movie focuses on one of the two. All three films didn’t have the biggest marketing campaigns which might have meant that they either expected the backlash or just wanted to reach directly to their target audience. On the other hand, a film like The Hunt could be considered just as controversial but for different reasons. 

The Hunt (2020) caused quite a stir when it first released trailers which in turn caused its release date to be canceled and rescheduled. The film is about a group of wealthy elites who kidnap and hunt down others for fun. An article written by Rachel Greenspan for Time goes into the layers of controversy that surround the film, the main one being that it seems to pit the political right against the political left. In the main trailer that dropped, the wealthy “elites” are being portrayed to come off as liberals while those being hunted are seemingly normal people. Yet, an earlier Hollywood Reporter article leaks lines from the screenplay that calls them “deplorables” which was a term coined by Hillary Clinton when describing those who were voting for Trump. This was one of the two reasons the movie was highly talked about. The other being that the trailers debuted right after several mass shootings took place in El Paso and Dayton. When comparing this film to the earlier ones, it seems as if this one was purposely trying to make a splash. If this is the case, is the more liberal side of Hollywood worried about what the conservative side could try to create?

Just to play devil’s advocate, there is a possible place for media created by conservative creatives. While our country is moving toward becoming a more progressive union, there is an argument for Hollywood to try to be accepting of the fact that 70 million people voted for Trump at the last election. While this may seem like an outlandish idea, there is seemingly a market that is both creating and wanting to see these films put out there. Countless creators have seemingly been “canceled” by most but have found a new home where they can freely express their thoughts and still be in films and on tv. The “quieter” marketing techniques of Nick Loeb’s and The Daily Wire’s distribution help to keep each of these films from blowing up on social media and creating the same stir that The Hunt did. This in turn helps to keep the political divide from getting any bigger than it needs to be. Regardless, the opportunities for these films should not create a safe haven for those who should be held accountable like the producers for Run Fight Hide

Gina Carano has found a new home with Ben Shapiro and maybe other “fallen stars” will gravitate in that same direction.  Will this “new” type of media seep into the mainstream or stay in front of the audience it was intended for? Will the ideas for these project become more political and edgy if these creatives are allowed that? Rather than closing the general political divide, will this create a new one within Hollywood? It will be interesting to see what Gina Carano creates and if this event turns the tides when it comes to the type of content coming out of Hollywood.

Categories
film politics voting

Hollywood vs. The State of Georgia

The Hollywood Reporter has been following the entertainment industry’s response to the recent voting laws passed in Georgia. They’ve reported that Hollywood heavyweights like ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia, and even Amazon’s entertainment division have criticized the Georgia state-government for passing strict voting laws which strongly disenfranchise Black voters. On April 7th 2021, The Hollywood Reporter followed up with news that the Directors Guild of America is also denouncing the Georgia voting laws. The DGA’s President and National Executive Director, Thomas Schlamme and Russell Hollander respectively, have written a letter directly to Georgia governor Brian Kemp. The letter goes into detail about how the entertainment industry was able to bring billions of dollars of wages into Georgians’ pockets, but those wages require long working hours and frequent weekend work. The letter states, “Because of our arduous work schedules, our members have a particular need to avail themselves of early and absentee voting. And they will be particularly at risk of the new law’s limitations on ballot drop boxes, early voting in run-offs, and absentee voting.”

Hollywood isn’t the only industry taking on Georgia’s state government. Georgia based companies such as Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, powerful companies within their respective industries, have openly denounced the state laws. Their statements have even brought the attention of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatens the corporations to “stay out of politics.” Even Major League Baseball has moved its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado in response to the voting laws. But companies like Delta, Coca-Cola, and MLB don’t have a huge stake in Georgia. Delta and Coca-Cola are companies that go beyond the borders of the United States, and the MLB’s All-Star Game chooses a different host city every season. But Hollywood and the entertainment industry is in a very different situation. Yes, American films and television shows are shot all over the world; they’re just as global as Delta and Coca-Cola. However, the American film industry concentrates a lot of its big hitters in the state of Georgia. Marvel blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame, a film that grossed a worldwide total of over $3 billion at the box office, was shot there alongside other major Marvel blockbusters and popular TV shows like Stranger Things and The Walking Dead. So the question arises of why Hollywood doesn’t take a stronger stance on the voting issue as the MLB did with their All-Star Game? What does that mean for Hollywood’s relationship with Georgia?

Hollywood is arguably as two-faced as the Georgia state government. Despite the state government rejecting the Trump administration’s constant lies of voter fraud in Georgia, they passed restrictive voting laws in response to voter fraud. While Hollywood appears to be one of the leading industries with liberal influence, they benefit from the GOP as much as any industry. The entertainment industry has a lot of individuals working as artists first and employees second, but it’s still a business nonetheless. Despite all the media attention regarding the GOP’s effort to employ Jim Crow tactics in voter suppression, Georgia seems to be the only state that everybody’s paying attention to. There are 24 other states that are employing restrictive voting laws, but not a lot of attention seems to be given to them.

If Hollywood is as liberal as they claim to be, why haven’t they brought attention to the other states, including those that helped Joe Biden win the 2020 Election, as much as they did Georgia? Well like how Delta, Coca-Cola, and MLB responded, it appears strictly reactionary. Hollywood’s huge presence in Georgia is strictly due to the states’ tax incentives. You can argue that their only stake in Georgia is purely money based, and the recent press releases by organizations like the DGA and ViacomCBS are just to save face. With that being said, this could still be a turning point. As much as Hollywood profits off Georgia, the relationship is very much mutual. As mentioned from the DGA’s letter, the entertainment industry contributes so much to Georgia’s economy that them leaving can make a huge impact. There’s a strong chance that Hollywood can threaten Georgia with a “we’ll take out business elsewhere” strategy.

In the same article, The Hollywood Reporter mentions that Ford v. Ferrari and Logan director James Mangold will never film another movie in Georgia. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, is using his influence to pull business out of Georgia. A small portion of Hollywood seems to fight the GOP with money instead of satire or artistic criticism, but the fight appears only popular with the artists of the industry, not the business moguls. Even though WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS criticized the voting laws, they never implied any financial threat to Georgia’s state government. That being said, if Hollywood’s participation in the battle against Georgia’s voting laws escalates in the upcoming future, this could be a new chapter in Hollywood’s history with politics. For years, big industries and corporations have always sided with Republicans, but a big industry like Hollywood could possibly change that. They could potentially be the first industry to seriously influence Washington to the left, and this Georgia voting law event could be the turning point. If CEOs of the major Hollywood Studios were to threaten Georgia financially over their right-wing policies, like the restrictive voting laws, then the GOP would really be in trouble. I wouldn’t say that Hollywood pulling its presence out of Georgia is going to be the death of the Republican party, but if it were to happen, I would argue it would be the first domino to fall among many others.