“Gen Y speaks: This is why I don’t want to be woke. Don’t cancel me for it.” Ok but don’t conflate criticism with cancellation.

Dana Teoh Jia Yi writes:

Though Dana has a point in that we can be kinder to each other, her framing of the JK Rowling controversy mischaracterises this as an isolated incident in which she seems to have committed nothing but an honest error. In actual fact, this isn’t the worst of Rowling’s tweets, and she has consistently exhibited a blatant disregard for the issues transgender people face, instead choosing to not only misrepresent what trans activists are saying, but also make claims that inflict harm upon a demographic that has no trouble attracting scrutiny and hate crimes in a transphobic world.

Trans YouTuber Contrapoints has an excellent response to the whole JK Rowling issue, which I highly recommend, and would even go so far as to say it is required viewing for anyone who thinks they have something to say on the matter.

Dana Teoh writes:

Though Dana’s self-reflexivity in admitting her lack of knowledge around trans issues is commendable—even going so far as to openly admit to her transphobic perception of “post-op bodies”—one wishes that this self-reflexivity could have gone so far as to leading Dana to take a step back and centering the voices of trans people. As she writes, we are all still learning about this phenomenon, which, though she describes as “fairly new,” has actually been openly discussed around the world for decades now.

Dana’s fear of being misconstrued as being “unsupporting of ‘the cause’, and thus, offensive” is by no means unfounded. While some commentators might opine that there isn’t any truth to the notion of cancel culture, I have personally seen anonymous social media accounts engaging in activities which can be taken as heckling, from both ends of the political spectrum.

However, in my experience, trans people are often amenable to being asked about their lived experiences in an amiable setting, although it must be pointed out that trans people don’t owe it to cisgender folks to explain themselves and their experiences.

That being said, Google is literally free.

Regrettably, Dana instead opts to reduce the trans community to a talking point in her article — a pawn in her argument, if you will, as she continues to mischaracterise trans people and their allies as being an intolerant mob with all-or-nothing thinking, further going to the extent of purporting to care about “help[ing] the trans community at all.”

These questions are perfectly fine to have. In fact, it’s great to have questions about a community you don’t have knowledge about, since curiosity can be the first step towards awareness. Fortunately for us, even if we don’t know trans individuals personally, the Internet has provided us with access to their narratives and their accounts of what being trans means.

A simple Google search is all it takes to find that the ‘detransition’ narrative is, in itself, part of a larger misinformation campaign fuelled by transphobia. While there may certainly be individuals who regret their transition at some point, these instances are often portrayed to be a lot more common than they actually are. Furthermore, any trans individual will tell you how many barriers there are to actually gaining access to transition.

At this point, I see less value in responding to every single one of Dana’s claims on such a granular level (especially as the remainder of the commentary piece merely rehashes tired tropes about ‘cancel culture’) than in taking a step back from the matter and asking ourselves how we have gotten to where we are. By which, I mean: how have we gotten to a place where a group of people appear to inordinately fear the repercussions of what they deem ‘cancel culture’, rather than address the systemic injustices that have been brought to the forefront in light of increasing democratisation of public discourse with channels made available by social media, which detract from the monopoly traditionally held by official media companies, and give more voice to those who would otherwise have had their views been prevented from being aired?

As a final-year Communications and New Media student, Dana is, I’m sure, no stranger to the concept of the Spiral of Silence theory, conceptualised by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974, which states that any given social group might exclude members with contrary points of view; in turn, individuals might remain silent about an opinion which they perceive as possibly being contradictory to what is held as true by the dominant group in which the individual is situated. This is due to a fear of isolation that individuals have, thereby disincentivizing them from vocalising their opinion.

When people talk about ‘cancel culture’, it is often the case that they treat it uncritically, either leaving it unchallenged and denigrating the prevalence of an increasingly intolerant ‘social justice warrior’ mob, or disregarding it completely and saying there is no such thing as ‘cancel culture’. While I think there is certainly truth and cause for concern around how the current milieu of participatory discourse in our society might not encourage charitable reading, self-reflexivity, or sincere dialogue, to completely paint this as a phenomenon with an alarmist label that reduces this to a ‘culture’—inherent, self-sustaining, and unstoppable—would be to miss the mark completely.

When people criticise ‘cancel culture’, a huge focus is often placed around the silencing effect that it has, which reminds us of Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence theory.

When I was a teaching assistant for an introductory course to Communications and New Media last semester, I found that the Spiral of Silence theory was a concept that, though pretty straightforward in terms of definition and mechanism, was a little confusing for some students. I later found that the source of confusion was around the fact that what is considered the ‘dominant group’ is not always immediately apparent.

For instance, the fact that Dana surmised that she would feel silenced in a “room full of woke people” and therefore be disinclined to raise her questions suggests that, at that given time, the ‘dominant group’ is the aforementioned room full of ‘woke’ people. Yet, the fact that she would go on to write a commentary on Today Online suggests two possibilities: one, either that she found her reflections so important that they had to be shared on a national news provider even if it raised the possibility of ostracisation, or two, that she was enabled by what Noelle-Neumann calls a ‘quasi-statistical organ’ to find that her opinions would have enough support from another ‘dominant group’ of people who, though silent, are sizeable enough to lend her support for her views. The silent majority, if you will.

The ‘silent majority’ rhetoric is by no means new. Before there was ‘cancel culture,’ ‘outrage culture,’ and ‘callout culture,’ there were ‘silent majority’ and its complementary sibling, ‘vocal minority’. The phrase ‘silent majority,’ made popular by former US President Richard Nixon, has long been used by right-wing figures to manufacture a sense of solidarity among groups of people who are fine with the status quo, rallying them against those vocal in their advocacy for change and progress in the arenas of anti-racism, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ acceptance.

It is no surprise, then, that the notion of the ‘silent majority’ has been mobilised by critics of ‘cancel culture’ such as Xiaxue, as well as religious chauvinist groups such as the women who led the infamous AWARE takeover in 2009.

Critics of ‘cancel culture’ often claim that ‘cancel culture’ has been imported from the West. What is ironic, however, is that it seems that the scapegoating of social issues and progressive politics under the banner of ‘cancel culture,’ is, in itself, a Western import. And it is a pity that public figures and politicians alike appear to have been the main brokers of this import without giving much critical thought around the concept.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s