Cancel culture frenzy: decoding a societal phenomenon


Photo by Dan Dejesus

What comes to mind when the word “canceled” pops up? In one context it would mean a favorite television show not renewed for another season. It could also mean an event or party you were going to attend that is no longer happening. Today, however, its definition has taken on a whole new meaning.

Over the past few years, cancel culture has become a prominent tool in holding individuals accountable for behavior seen as immoral in society. There’s the MeToo movement, which held once-powerful men from the entertainment industry accountable for sexual harassment. Then videos started circulating of individuals calling police officers and displaying racial bias toward Black people, simply for engaging in everyday activities, such as barbecuing or bird-watching.

Cancel culture made those accused vilified and hated overnight. Prominent figures were shunned by the public or lost their jobs altogether. It is a way of setting boundaries on what is and isn’t acceptable. If someone failed to grasp that notion or was caught engaging in misbehavior, the cancel culture mob as some call it would be the ones to hand out their form of justice.

This brings us to a prominent tattoo shop owner based in the Bay Area, who finds himself under fire as community members express outrage over images and comments he made on social media that they perceived as racist. Dane Simms, owner of the Simms Ink tattoo shops in Napa and Hayward, posted images on his Instagram page around the time of the Kenosha protests, in which he condemned Black Lives Matter alongside a meme that featured Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old teenager charged with killing two protesters. Simms’ apparent support of Rittenhouse, and later expletive against Black Lives Matters, caused online uproars in both the Napa and Hayward communities, where his shops are located. Neither Simms nor any tattoo artists associated with his businesses responded to multiple requests for interviews from Xpress Magazine.  

Hayward resident Krystal Mcsteez initially went back and forth with Simms over his post. 

“Essentially, he was just posting some racist stuff on my friend’s Facebook page regarding Kyle Rittenhouse. He was kind of praising him,” Mcsteez said.

The back and forth escalated further when Simms shared a video of someone, later identified by Mcsteez as Simms himself, punching an unidentified man. From Mcsteez’s point of view, the video was upsetting. 

Simms only aggravated people further in his response to the criticism. 

“He actually said, ‘[expletive] Black Lives Matter.’ In reaction to people’s reaction to it, [Simms] said ‘my pockets do just fine,’ kind of saying that he didn’t really care because he is financially secure,” Napa resident Dauod Dahlia said in response to Simms’ comments. 

As the backlash continued, some of the artists working at Simms’ shops severed ties. The fallout from the controversy has led to calls of boycotting Simms and his businesses. For a time, both his shops were closed due to the controversy, but recently the Hayward location reopened. It is unknown if the Napa location is reopen or not. 

According to public outrage, Simms’ actions were unjustifiable. In a year where we have seen heightened emphasis on fixing racial tensions within the fabric of our society, engaging in racially charged behavior has become something many communities will no longer tolerate. 

Dahlia, who is a part of the Facebook group Stop Napa Hate, articulated his reason for boycotting Simms. 

“Recent events have emboldened people to think they can say things that they shouldn’t say, especially on social media. Opinions are one thing, but when you have a belief like that, it’s got no place in Napa. It’s got no place in America,” Dahlia said. 

It isn’t clear whether Simms, and others who have been canceled, should be pushed into the shadows of society. The cancellation of the accused may come swift but not the aftermath. In 2012 a business executive who did not appreciate Chick-fil-A’s president speaking out against same-sex marriage decided to take action. What transpired after was an outcome that was unexpected.

Adam Smith famously lost his position as a CFO at his company after a video he posted on YouTube of him confronting a Chick-fil-A employee went viral. The video shows Smith confronting the employee over Chick-fil-A’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights. But to many viewers, he looked like nothing more than a bully. Smith’s whole life was turned upside down. Death threats and suggestions of suicide were hurled at him. He had job offers rescinded over the video also. 

Were Smith’s actions so unthinkable that he deserved this level of harassment? Is it necessary to punish the accused to the highest degree? Has cancel culture forgotten the phrase “innocent until proven guilty?”

Cancel culture’s issue in addressing the accused is that they are human. Words can affect their mental health. In the aftermath of the incident, Smith contemplated suicide to help his children collect millions from his life insurance policy, he said in a documentary

People are looking at you and you’re representing that company. So if you own a business and you’re going out and stating things, whether you may think it’s controversial or not, if you believe in it or you’re representing your company poorly, I don’t think people should be surprised if people do decide to boycott you.

— Allison Burns

Japanese reality television star and professional wrestler Hana Kimura was reported to have endured hundreds of insults daily from users on social media over an incident involving her roommate on the Netflix show “Terrace House.” The incident in question involved Kimura slapping her roommate’s hat off his head after he mistakenly shrank her prized wrestling gear. Shortly after the incident circulated, the Japanese star was cyberbullied on her social media accounts for her actions. 

On May 23, she reportedly tweeted, “Every day, I receive nearly 100 honest opinions and I cannot deny that I get hurt.”

Hours later, Kimura, at the age of 22, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. 

For each Permit Patty and Harvey Weinstein canceled over the immoral behaviors, there’s a Kimura or Smith canceled simply for displaying the imperfections of being human. What are we truly canceling?

In 2017, British far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos had his speaking event in UC Berkeley canceled after protests erupted over his appearance on campus. 

CalTech student Salvador Gomez was a student at UC Berkeley at the time and witnessed the protests over Yiannopoulos’ appearance. While Gomez understands that Yiannopoulos’ far right views would not be warmly received by the mostly liberal student body, he also saw the ensuing protest as unnecessary. 

Gomez said he feels those protests exemplify the stereotype of the left — that people freak out over anything remotely different in views — and it serves to invalidate cancel culture.

The case of Milo Yiannopoulos shows the extremes cancel culture can go to when differing opinions clash without a chance for dialogue. It’s one thing to cancel racist views, as in the case with Simms, but causing a protest over a speaker with differing opinions prevents real opportunities to engage in civil dialogue. 

While Simms issued an apology on social media platforms, people are not willing to give him empathy for his actions. Allison Burns, a woman who has interacted with Simms in the past, felt he was careless in sharing his views. 

“People are looking at you and you’re representing that company. So if you own a business and you’re going out and stating things, whether you may think it’s controversial or not, if you believe in it or you’re representing your company poorly, I don’t think people should be surprised if people do decide to boycott you,” Burns said. [7]

Dahlia also justified the backlash toward Simms. 

“It’s not 1990 anymore. Everything is documented, everything is filmed and you’re going to go away,” Dahlia said. [8]

 The issue in using cancel culture as a viable tool to correct misbehavior is on what should be canceled. The history of the phenomenon shows that there isn’t a set criteria to follow. In the case of someone such as Permit Patty, or Simms, it is difficult to defend them or find fault with the backlash toward them.  

When you bring up a situation such as Smith or Kimura’s, that’s when we hit a gray area with cancel culture. The two made harmless mistakes that didn’t warrant the wave of harassment they endured, especially for the deceased Kimura. 

Humans make mistakes and it seems like that notion is forgotten when we start ‘canceling’ people out. Yet, we should also appreciate the way cancel culture has given society a chance to hold people accountable for engaging in behavior that is detrimental to society. 

“It’s absolutely legitimate because if you’re going to go around and say hateful things whether you’re an individual or business, that is a cancer that we have to cut out in this country,” Dahlia said.

Dahlia’s statement may sound cold-hearted to some, but to others there’s merit to what he said. There isn’t a proper outlet that can facilitate a quick response to holding bad behavior accountable. Cancel culture allows for that swift accountability that the public craves. The issue remains on what grounds people should be canceled.