Chloe Combi

My thoughts of ‘cancel’ and ‘woke’ culture…

6th November 2019

After Barack Obama’s recent interesting comments on his discomfort with where cancel and woke culture was taking us, and how it was placing real limitations on progress – my thoughts from a few weeks ago….

In Week Two of our deep dive into Generation Z lives and culture, we look at two big issues – cancel culture, and careers. There will be a special bonus at the weekend looking at HBO’s new ‘teen’ show Euphoria, they gave us an exclusive preview of.

We took a more in-depth look at these issues because they both require real consideration – with cancel culture tripping up some of the globe’s biggest and most stable brands and companies. Cancel culture pertains to an environment where language and messaging are more important than ever. Moreover, when language and messaging do go wrong – the response to the reaction is absolutely critical. Chloe Combi has worked with some major brands, helping to manage and ameliorate crisis – and it’s crucial for everyone working in any field in the 21stcentury to understand this modern minefield.

The ‘new careers and economy’ section is a tiny insight into this huge topic. The way we work, train, employ people and are employed is changing fast, and this impacts young people entering the work-place for the first time most of all. Here we explore some of the key changes in the rapidly changing employment landscape – and some of the biggest fears and challenges Generation Z are facing.

Cancel Culture:

“Getting cancelled” is a (relatively speaking) new and very Gen-Z orientated trend that is just as terrifying as it sounds. If someone – and this can be an individual, a group, company, brand, political movement etc. – commits an offence that outrages/scandalises/infuriates the masses, they can ‘get cancelled.’ The terms and conditions of these offences and what tends to trigger the mob are long, complex and indeterminate – sometimes can be entirely justified, and sometimes seem like an unjustified overreaction to someone making a poorly expressed comment or a misjudged action. The cancel culture punishment is swift and harsh usually involving social media and/or traditional media campaign where much ire is directed at the cancel-ee in the form of articles, YouTube videos, angry tweets, and also, inevitably, threats aimed at the sinner in the virtual stocks. Recent examples of people/organisations that have come under the cancel hammer have been Harvey Weinstein, film-maker, (exposed for serial sexual harassment and abuse), James Charles, YouTuber (inappropriate behaviour, accusations of homophobia and racism), Kanye West, rapper and designer (expressing support for Trump and expressing some very ignorant opinions on slavery), Dove, brand (making an eye-wateringly poor taste advert with some very dodgy racial connotations), Taylor Swift, singer, (for various crimes related to “snakiness’ though she’s recently been uncancelled for getting off the cultural fence), Lena Dunham, actor and producer (for constantly seeming to have her foot out of her mouth), models who blackfish, various (white models and influencers who appropriate black beauty and aesthetic for personal gain.) This is of course a miniscule representation of all the people and things that have been cancelled, and whilst there is a vast differences in the reasons for getting cancelled, the unifying factor seems to be the accused causing offence that reverberates and accumulates through the media and social-media eco-system creating a wave that comes back to wash over the accused. Naturally, in such divided and binary times, the politics of cancel culture and the effects it has on people is divisive. Some believe it acts as a far more effective judge and jury than actual judges and juries – powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey had suffered few consequences for decades of systematic abuse until the wheels of CC set in motion ensuring there was finally some proper attention judgement. Others think that cancel-culture is a form of global bullying, where the masses appoint themselves as the executors of punishment for infractions that haven’t always been clearly defined as infractions in the first place. Getting caught up in the cancel culture fray is undoubtedly terrifying – but, and this particularly applies to companies and brands – it’s important remember the ire didn’t come from nowhere. Making the mistake of telling the accusers they are wrong, or woke, liberal snowflakes is stupid in the extreme – and is only going to further entrench parties on both sides. Listen to the reasons people are upset and take into serious consideration what has upset them so much – particularly if the upset comes from a group who don’t look, live or have the same perspective as you. An apology – a simple, genuine “I’m sorry” is often not just sensible but necessary, but more than that talk and listen. Try to figure out what it was you did, said or represented was so wrong or offensive – because ultimately that’s the only way of getting it right next time.