Many consumers shop according to not only their needs but also their values. The marketing departments of most major corporations understand this and play right into it. They advertise their products or services with images of family, freedom, prestige or whatever values are common among their target audiences, even if these concepts have very little to do with what they're actually selling. If their values don't match their markets, however, they run the risk of boycotts or experience the consequences of cancel culture.
The Definition of Cancel Culture
Cancel culture is a popular buzzword, and a lot of its controversy comes from its hazy definition. Americans vary widely on what exactly cancel culture means:
- Natural consequences
The prevalence of social media makes it easier than ever before to track the behavior of organizations that are in the public eye. Watchdog groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Sustainable Business Council no longer just have access to the inboxes of people who intentionally follow their work. Their posts can be shared in seconds, and if the scoop is juicy enough, it's only a matter of time before everyone knows what's going on and has a bandwagon to jump on. Some people see this as a more convenient way to hold corporations accountable for their actions; others see it as unnecessary scrutiny against which no company can hope to stand.
The Role of Fear
For many people, cancel culture seems to be a serious attack on personal freedom. They find the concept so egregious that others who wish to express their dissatisfaction with a company or organization by abstaining from supporting it may not even be able to finish the sentence, "We try not to shop there because..." without the opinion being immediately labeled as cancel culture and thus summarily dismissed as foolish. This can be frustrating, particularly when you are trying to have a conversation about values that are important to you.
It may be helpful, however, to try to understand the place from which this strong reaction likely stems. Most want to believe that they are generally good people, and they want to be seen that way by others. When there is a call for a boycott of a company they support, the fear that others will judge them for continuing to shop there can be intense, particularly if they sympathize with the opinion or practice that prompted the outrage. If their friends feel so strongly about the grievance that the company loses their business, could those who don't abstain lose their friendships next? Even if the answer to that question is no, the possibility is so scary that their first reaction is to lash out with some outrage of their own. No one wants to be considered unethical or irrelevant.
A Reframe of Cancellation
There isn't often an easy solution on an issue that seems so divisive, particularly along party lines. However, people of faith can find hope in changing the conversation. While there are many corporations that have business practices that don't reflect your values, chances are that there are several that operate responsibly. For example, if green initiatives are important to you, a quick internet search can help you find a list of companies that excel in this area. If tensions get high about why you don't shop at certain places, try talking instead about those that you do support and why you respect the way they do business. Just a small change in focus can make a difficult conversation more productive.
Cancel culture may have negative connotations in some circles, but keeping companies accountable to consumers isn't a bad idea. Finding hopeful, tangible ways to express your values is an important part of this process.