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Column: Tweet, cancel, fire: What’s a bad decision?

Kim Shute
Kim Shute

I think it’s about time to put an end to cancel culture.

I’m all for consequences for one’s actions, but the notion that any human error or foible in today’s world is cause for an immediate public outcry is simply too much for me.

Sure it’s human nature to sometimes find joy in the misfortune of others. The Germans with all their extra consonants and implied yelling have the perfect word for it — schadenfreude. But what we have now is far beyond that. It’s a public burning at the stake of anyone who says something disagreeable, unpopular or offensive. What started with celebrities and high powered people has trickled down to regular folks just like any other trend.

One of the proverbial straws for me was Carson King. I’m sure you’re familiar. The guy just wanted to replenish his Busch lattes and a stroke of fortune turned his game-day sign into a viral sensation, putting millions into his Venmo account. Soon after the donations started coming in, King made it clear the money was earmarked for University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. He became an overnight sensation and corporate donors, including Anheiser Busch promised to match his donations.

A reporter started digging into King, finding a couple questionable tweets from when he was 16. The backlash was immediate, the Anheiser Busch pulled their support (and the cans with King’s likeness) immediately and the campaign to cancel him was on.

I don’t condone the sentiment in the tweets, which were retweets from a comedian, but is there anyone in the world who wants to be permanently held to the standards of their 16-year-old self? The guy was doing something admirable that will undoubtedly make a difference in many lives and one person’s instinct was to dig into him to see if he ever did anything wrong. Of course, in the process, the reporter’s own questionable tweets were uncovered and he was fired. The public canceled the paper where he worked and no one was the winner. The whole thing became too meta to even bear.

So where do we draw the line?

We teach our kids to be careful of their online footprint because we know bad decisions will come back to haunt them. But what constitutes a bad decision vs. simple immaturity or naivete? Do we need to vet everything we say and do before a personal committee of judges to make sure no one could misinterpret or be offended by what we say, or do we as a society need to get over ourselves and stop being offended by everything? There has to be a point in which we become exhausted by outrage. And digging deeper, why are we so excited to see someone’s downfall play out in real time?

Last week Kmart faced a pubic shaming (am I the only one who thought Kmart no longer existed btw?) for selling a children’s bride costume for Halloween. The public got out its pitchforks because the idea of a child bride is no joke. Well, no duh. Nobody ever implied it was. How does a little girl, or little boy for that matter, dressing as a bride on Halloween constitute a societal crisis? White girls are being told they can’t dress as Moana because it’s cultural appropriation. The thing is, I very much doubt a 7- year-old is trying to appropriate Hawaiian culture. I bet she liked the movie and wants to dress up as its heroine. I was a devil for Halloween when I was 7 and I had no intentions of ruling the underworld. ( Ask me now though, and I might consider it.)

I don’t see this trend burning out any time soon. Social media, a 24/7 news cycle and influencer culture has us exposing every facet of ourselves to the open scrutiny of the public so it is inevitible all our screw-ups will continue to be out there for all to dissect.

Just remember, when you’re gleefully discussing the downfall of whomever is inevitably next, all eyes are on you, and your turn may be coming soon.

Kim Shute can be reached at (815) 879-5200 or kshute@shawmedia.com Follow her on Twitter at NT_Princeton2

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