Words by: Juliette Capomolla Art by: Carla J. Romana
Whether or not you believe in cancel culture; whether or not you think people, places or things should be ‘cancelled’; whether or not you are yet to find someone who’s actually been ‘cancelled’ — it’s undeniable that there are some meteorically popular sensations that are simply too big to be cancelled. Before you tell me I’m being hyperbolic, hear me out.
But first, what is cancel culture? A term popularised in the past decade, cancel culture has found itself in many a heated debate. If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s essentially the idea that something, most often a person, is cancelled in the public sphere as a result of something they’ve done. That might sound vague, but just recall the so-called cancellations of YouTuber James Charles after his alleged pedophilia, rapper DaBaby after his homophobic comments at Rolling Loud, or TV personality Ellen DeGeneres after revelations emerged about her alleged toxic workplace culture. Cancel culture is an all-encompassing term that means people no longer engage with the content of someone (or something) that has been exposed for their involvement in morally reprehensible behaviour.
Let’s ignore any potential doubts and pretend we all believe in cancel culture, the premise that somebody can be cancelled in the public eye; there are just some people or things that are ‘too big to be cancelled’. An expression coined by Dr Matt Beard, it refers to the idea that some things, perhaps even ideas, may have outgrown our ability to socially reprimand them. This could be for a few reasons; a person or company’s presence in society is too deeply ingrained to be displaced from the public conversation, or perhaps the person or thing has amassed too much social capital or monopolised such a large market that it is just too far gone.
I first heard about this idea when the whole $100 million deal between Joe Rogan and Spotify was announced. Why, despite all of his widespread criticism and hate, didn’t Spotify users cancel their subscriptions? Are we implicitly supporting Spotify’s decision to platform such a man while simultaneously providing him with an unfathomable amount of money? It comes down to this idea that Spotify is too big to be cancelled. Spotify, the ‘villain’ in this saga, is so embedded in our everyday lives that you and I, haters and critics of Joe Rogan alike, will not give up this simple amenity despite disagreeing with the company’s decision. No! Don’t take away my Spotify Wrapped!
You may like Joe Rogan, be a regular listener to his podcast, and subscribe to his free-speech mantras — but that’s besides the point. In fact, Joe Rogan isn’t even the point. The fact of the matter is we’ve allowed companies as monopolising and amenable as Spotify to dictate our moral compass. Too much of an inconvenience to cancel? Okay, they can stay.
This probably explains a lot of things in our lives — your Disney+ subscription (did someone say archetyping non-white-cis characters?), our obsession with Meta (aka Facebook) apps despite alleged election tampering, my spending spree on Amazon amidst its employees’ cries for better working conditions… is any of this ringing a bell? The fact of the matter is we simply become accustomed to accepting these companies’ toxic behaviour because of their utility and omnipresence in our lives.
Jeff Bezos knows he doesn’t have to do anything to help his employees, because we’re all still TikTok-ing our Amazon hauls on the daily.
Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp know they don’t have to pay their drivers better because we’re still ordering our next ride and cross-checking our ratings with friends.
Spotify can make a deal with whoever they bloody well want to, because they know we’re too lazy to make all of our playlists again on Apple Music (I mean, are they much better anyway?).
But what does this say about us? Well, firstly don’t be too hard on yourself — it’s not (just) you, it’s (also) me (and the other almost eight billion people in the world). Without all of us buying into these things, they wouldn’t be nearly as unfathomably large as they are today. So let’s not get too down and self-pitying. After all, we are all just as bad as each other, and there’s some comfort in that, right?
Secondly, let’s blame capitalism. There’s always got to be a bit of capitalism-hating in these scenarios, and I’ve got to say, justifiably so. Somehow, capitalism has allowed these businesses to grow to an indestructible magnitude. I could rant on about how the global economy probably wasn’t ready to safeguard us from global quasi-monopolies like Spotify, Uber and the rest, but I won’t bore you with that. Instead, we’ll just blame capitalism and move on.
Finally, should we all be hopeless and defeated? Absolutely never! I would never leave you in despair, dearest readers. Instead, I’ll leave you with some advice. None of these platforms should be able to rule your decisions or morality. In fact, they can’t, so don’t let them. They aren’t monopolies in their fields, so that means there are alternatives out there — think Didi or Ola for Uber, think Apple Music or SoundCloud for Spotify, think shopping small instead of Amazon. You can get the same, if not more, utility out of other bizzes in the biz without blindly enabling the toxic behaviour of the biggest bizzes. Nevertheless, it’s easier said than done. I mean, I still have a Spotify account. But ultimately it comes down to what matters to you most, and that’s only for you to decide.