Instagram’s Cancel Culture and The Death of The Fence

02.05.19

Two things in the media caught my eye this week.

The first was a quote posted on Instagram account @digitalf33ls which read, “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world.” The second thing was something journalist Pandora Sykes said on her podcast, The High Low. Sykes and her co-host Dolly Alderton were discussing the controversial ban on prostitution recently proposed in Spain. The government party seeking to enforce the ban have said that prostitution is one of the cruelest forms of the feminisation of poverty – a very divisive statement to make when there would be legions of people who believe the exact opposite to be true. Sykes admitted that she didn’t have an opinion on the issue yet, she could see both sides of the argument and thus had decided to park herself on the fence, “I think both sides of the argument are really valid, I’m absolutely on the fence and I implore other people to come and join me there.”

It was so refreshing to hear her say that. Our generation hates the fence. We’ve languished it in barbed wire, made it ten feet tall, and deemed it impossible to climb and reside on. In 2019 you are either on this side of the fence or that side, and by God you better make sure you’re on the right one. We’ve come to associate the fence with stupidity and a complete lack of insight. How shallow do you have to be to have no opinion at all? We think to ourselves when someone implies their indifference. It is more acceptable to pick a side – usually the one most popular on Instagram or Twitter – and then build a brick wall around yourself, claim your stake and vow never to budge.

The death of the fence is the reason Instagram’s “cancel culture” has taken off with such fervour. Social media continues to perpetuate the idea that all public figures are only one mistake or uneducated error away from being cancelled forever. And as consumers we’ve jumped onto this bandwagon despite knowing how toxic and unhelpful it is. Instagram was swift to cancel Jordyn Woods when she was caught kissing Khloe Kardashian’s baby daddy Tristan Thompson in February this year. I remember how shocked my girlfriends and I were at how vicious the Internet was towards Woods, mostly because we’ve also been 21 and drunk, and committed sins far worse, but also because Thompson had cheated on Khloe multiple times already, Thompson was the one to initiate the kiss, and it was Thompson who invited Woods to a house party HE ORGANISED. Or cast your mind back to 2016 when pop culture changed forever with a #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag. Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris’s amicable break-up quickly turned sour when the singer revealed she was the writer behind Harris’s new hit ‘This Is What You Came For’. This caused the DJ to spout off a tirade of tweets not only confirming that Taylor had written it but that actually it was Taylor’s idea to keep her involvement a secret – suggesting she had only revealed it as a way to hurt him. Harris tweeted his ex, “I know you’re off from tour and need someone new to try and bury like Katy Perry, but I’m not that guy sorry. I won’t allow it.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, two weeks later Kim Kardashian leaked a video of Taylor talking to Kanye West on the phone about his upcoming song reference to her – a conversation Taylor had previously denied ever happening. The drama started when West rapped the lyrics, “I made the bitch famous”, and Tay was like, “I would like to be excluded from this narrative blah blah blah…”. So for Kim to reveal that Taylor knew about the lyrics all along was illuminating to say the least. Twitter receipts flew, snake emojis trolled the comments section, and #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty circulated once more. The internet vowed to cancel “racist” Gigi Hadid when she was filmed squinting her eyes and laughing while holding what appeared to be a Buddha. The Internet vowed to cancel Selena Gomez when she tweeted, “Why can’t people use their voice for something that fucking matters?”, before her followers pointed out that she had failed to use her huge platform to speak out on…well anything. Not Black Lives Matters, not voter suppression, not climate change, not gun control, not LGBTQ rights.

The question isn’t whether Jordyn, Taylor, Gigi or Selena are wrong, the question is why we’ve decided that these people should not be afforded a shot at redemption. Redemption is an option to those who have been given the grace of the fence by people like us who say, “I’m going to try and see this thing the way you saw it.” 

Pandora Sykes didn’t choose the fence on Spain’s prostitution ban because she isn’t intelligent enough to distinguish between the two sides and determine which is best, it’s because of her intelligence, coupled with her empathy, that she chose to reside in the middle. She knows that everything has two sides. Clouds are both a welcome respite on a scorching hot day and a sign of bad weather to come. As the quote on @digitalf33ls reminds us, “Empathy requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world.” 

Or, as Dolly Alderton said in support of Pandora’s confession, “Maybe we just need a quiet fence where everyone can sit down and fucking listen.”


Header image via Tumblr