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The Margin: This is what most Americans say ‘cancel culture’ really means

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Cancel culture can be a touchy subject. Depending on who you ask, it can mean holding people accountable — or censorship. And some people just don’t understand the phrase at all, as evidenced by “The Real Housewives of New York” star Ramona Singer confidently asking “why would you want to cancel culture?”

But a survey out from Pew Research shows that American adults are most likely to associate cancel culture with accountability

Of the more than 10,000 American adults surveyed, 44% said they had heard at least a fair amount about cancel culture, and around half said “it describes actions people take to hold others accountable.”

A majority also said cancel culture is basically used for good.

“Overall, 58% of adults said that in general, when people publicly call others out on social media for posting content that might be considered offensive, they are more likely to hold people accountable,” the survey found.

The term “cancel culture” — along with “woke” — has become rather politicized in the last several years. The Pew survey found that Conservative Republicans or those who identify as “Republican leaning” were more likely than any other group to associate cancel culture with “censorship of speech or history.”

The term has become a buzzword for many politicians and their teams to deflect criticism. Former President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen blasted his second impeachment proceeding as “constitutional cancel culture.” And former Trump advisor Jason Miller even launched a social media platform with the stated goal of “fighting cancel culture.” 

Read more: Ex–Trump adviser creates new social-media platform GETTR — will Trump join?

While it’s often lambasted by the right, former President Barack Obama had some criticism for it too. 

“I think that a lot of the dangers of cancel culture and, you know, we’re just going to be condemning people all the time, at least among my daughters, they’ll acknowledge that sometimes among their peer group or on college campuses, you’ll see folks going overboard,” the former president said in a CNN interview earlier this year. “We don’t expect everybody to be perfect. We don’t expect everybody to be politically correct all the time.”

Still, he said, calling out institutions for wrongdoing is important. 

Cancelling means withdrawing “support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. “Cancel culture” is the practice of engaging in mass canceling.  

But there are different degrees of “canceling.” Chris Harrison, longtime host of “The Bachelor” franchise, exited from the franchise after defending contestant Rachel Kirkconnell for attending an “Old South” party and criticizing the “woke police.”

Ellen DeGeneres was culturally canceled after allegations surfaced that she ran a toxic workplace. Soon after, she announced she would be ending her long-running talk show.

Reality TV stars Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute were fired from “Vanderpump Rules” for reporting their Black co-worker to the police for a crime with which she had nothing to do.

Other public figures have been “canceled” for insensitive comments or actions, but not to the same extent. They didn’t necessarily lose their job, but were widely criticized for their behavior and potentially lost some fans.

Anna Wintour was canceled in 2020 after people criticized her for not elevating Black creators or employees. J.K. Rowling was canceled for making anti-trans comments. And Chris Pratt was canceled for belonging to an anti-LGTBQ church.

Celebrities are learning to bounce back from cancellation.

Kevin Hart, who was canceled in 2018 after homophobic tweets resurfaced, is a prime example. Though the comedian did step down from hosting the Oscars that year, his career continues to flourish. Most recently, Hart put out a six-part docu-series on Netflix
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titled “Don’t F–k This Up,” where he addresses his cancellation.

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