Call-out culture: Are we too harsh when shaming celebs who make mistakes?
On January 2nd, people on social media understandably slammed YouTube star Logan Paul for posting a video that trivialized and mocked suicide. Many declared that he was “canceled” and should have his YouTube channel taken away. Given that he apologized, others weren’t so sure that his mistake should be career ending, which brings up an important point: What should we do when a celebrity messes up? When can we accept their apology and move on and when do we #cancel them completely?
It’s an interesting question that goes far beyond Logan Paul. It’s also the elephant in the room when it comes to sexual harassment allegations, with many people feeling, for example, that men with “lesser” offenses should be let off with a strict warning as long as they’re outed, apologize, and do better going forward. And do we cancel Lena Dunham for victim-blaming? Do we cancel Dave Chappelle because of his takes on transgender people and sexual assault?
Chrissy Teigen was thinking about this idea of public shaming and what the path forward looks like for people who apologize when she tweeted about Logan Paul.
She tweeted, “Re: Logan Paul, something I always think about is when people make…ethical mistakes, as in, not-illegal, should we really be trying I ruin their lives and end their careers or accept the apology, personally make a choice to stop watching, and move on.”
The conversation went on for the better part of the day, with some people agreeing with Teigen that call-out culture and public shaming has possibly gone too far. Others reminded her that this is not the first time Paul has been called out for his sensational videos. This one might have been the last straw.
Here’s some of the conversation, which went on all day.
At the end of the conversation on social media, a lot of fans recommended that Teigen read Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (which we also totally recommend if this sort of thing interests you). In it, Ronson tells the story of a handful of people who made major mistakes — like Justine Sacco, who tweeted that she was going to Africa and might “get AIDS,” or author Jonah Lehrer who was accused of plagiarism — and how their lives were “ruined” afterwards. If he could update the book, it might also include people like Rachel Dolezal or Kathy Griffin, whose names have been so tarnished by their actions that they’ve experienced difficulty finding work in the aftermath.
Teigen wasn’t quite defending Paul or people who’ve been in his position since she acknowledged that what he did was gross and wrong. But she, like Ronson, was more concerned with what they see as a digital lynch mob, who won’t listen to apologies and don’t care about the psychological and IRL effects of public shaming in the digital age. As most of us know, things live on Google forever unless you have a lot of money. Bad actions aren’t easy to forget, especially when they’re as offensive as joking over a dead body in front of a young audience or being glibly racist.
Bullying a celebrity on or offline is never right, and Teigen has been targeted by trolls recently online, so it’s understandable that she feels sympathy for people trashing someone who’s taking some heat, even if they did something wrong.
But it’s worth remembering what we’re “taking” from people who get “canceled,” and it’s something they were never entitled to in the first place. Being famous or rich isn’t a right.
People in the public eye are human, for sure, and they make mistakes. Just because their jobs are higher profile or they make more money than the rest of us doesn’t mean they cannot or should not be held accountable for their actions.
If you said something racist at work, you’d likely be fired. If you made a suicide joke, you might be put on notice. Celebs, because of their massive platforms, just have more people weighing in. Because their image is how they make money, they’re also quicker to beg for forgiveness, when maybe they should stop and think about what they’re putting out into the world instead. With great power, right?
We also shouldn’t conflate “career ending” with “facing consequences for your bad actions.”
Organizations have the right to terminate people they no longer want to work for bad behavior. Fans have the right to call for platforms to take someone’s privileges away when they abuse them, as Paul did with this most recent video. If a celebrity apology sounds hollow and self-serving, or if it’s the tenth time they’ve had to issue one, we really can decide to collectively stop caring about them. That’s not “ending someone” — that’s a reasonable way to react to toxic messaging in your life. They ended themselves.
What’s frustrating is that the public isn’t always fair — an accused sexual predator is in the White House, while other men have lost their careers and reputations for sexual misconduct. Kathy Griffin was fired from CNN and Dave Chappelle keeps making Netflix specials with the same questionable jokes.
Maybe it’s a conversation we all should start having with ourselves when we hop on Twitter to criticize someone. It’s worth waiting before you tweet and considering whether that person needs your shaming or if you can accomplish the same thing by just taking a personal stand against them and not buying their next album or following them on social media. It’s also worth noticing who you cancel and who you don’t — our own personal interests and privilege might be making us prejudiced against some people and not others.
But if something is offensive to you or people you care about, you don’t have to accept an apology that doesn’t work for you. If that person makes a comeback one day and makes good on their word, so be it. But how much attention and forgiveness you give a person in power who f*cks up is a choice that’s up to you to decide for yourself.