Let’s Talk About The Feelings Ignored In Cancel Culture
Feelings, those messy things
Feelings, those messy thingsFit/Erum Gour

Let’s Talk About The Feelings Ignored In Cancel Culture

I'm gonna start by asking you a question.

Shivangi is an undergraduate student studying English Honours in a Delhi university. She is also an active Twitter user who's cancelled quite a few people in the past.

"Henry Cavill was the most difficult to cancel," she laughs. Cavill had joked about the MeToo movement in an interview to GQ Australia.

But why cancel someone you like so much, some might think? Here's Shivangi's simple explanation.

For me, at this point, to ignore the problematic aspects of a celebrity is as difficult as it is for me to ignore the problematic aspect of a friend. I don’t want this person on my timeline as I don’t want to be trigerred anymore.
Shivangi, 20

"You follow a person, idealise them, and only then cancel them," Shivangi says as she explains the emotional graph of a canceling.

For the 20-year-old, who has cancelled a lot of public figures and friends, canceling one woman was particularly difficult.

It was difficult for me to cancel Rega Jha.

Shivangi's relationship with Jha is a mixed bag. While she is grateful to her for making feminism palatable to millions of youngsters struggling with a short attention span, over time, she began to be critical of her. And seeing Instagram stories of hers attending the Nh7 weekender this year (the founder of OML was accused of harassment) was the last straw for her. For Shivangi to cancel someone she adored and aspired to be like has not been easy.

It comes at a slight mental cost, because to really go out and cancel somebody, you need to be attached to someone.

The hurt feelings, though, can sometimes be at both ends. Which brings me to question no 2.

I reached out to many artists who were 'canceled' last year. None responded.

However, I did ask counsellors what it could possibly feel like, to be cancelled.

"I am of a Romani and OBC lineage/background and a survivor of domestic violence and we have been harmed by these belief systems for eons while being unheard and invisibilized so I don’t oppose calling out fascism or racism or misogyny," says Scherezade Siobhan, a psychologist and author. But adds, "However, lets all be mindful of how easy it is to turn into a cyber version of the Animal Farm."

"I can speak from personal experience of having been subjected to a reprehensible smear campaign based on hearsay that false allegations can have severe psychological as well as physical repercussions. In my case, I have chronic illness and complex PTSD. I was retraumatized so severely, I experienced lower body paralysis and couldn’t get out of bed for days," says Shioban.

But Shioban believes it's important to call out people to build better communities.

Canceling, historically, has been an important tool for women, queer folks and DBA folks to 'hold power in some arena where they can point out widespread oppression,' says Sioban. And canceling is still being done all over the world to chuck powerful people out of their dens of power, which are built over the tears of oppression.

To cancel a persistently problematic individual with patterns of behavior that go unchanged over a period in time is important in breaking away from regressive traditionalism and establishing how we want to build communities both digitally and irl.
Scherezade Siobhan

As a journalist, Khalid was called out severely two years back for a reporting assignment. Friends, batchmates, seniors - everyone had severely criticised him. Many had canceled him from his college. He quit the profession soon after. I asked him what it felt like.

You know it’s about learning from your mistakes. Some people want to learn from their mistakes while others refuse to grow up. I practise the former. I have, since that incident, wanted to apologise for my actions. And I think deep down I have said many apologies for becoming that person

Khalid is not against calling out people on facts; in fact, he says calling out is the nature of all academic arguments, but he says he now refrains from attacking people personally.

I know what it feels like being called out. Next time when you are calling out someone, you know the red lines.

Explaining the psychological impact of a calling out, Dr Kamna, a clinical psychologist explains

If you are in the public forum, to have your public persona, which is a part of you, thrown around like that is very hard to deal with and can be traumatic
Dr Kamna Chibber, Psychologist

There's another panicking thought - that everybody knows. And Dr. Nivedita Singh, counsellor and psychotherapist who is also the Founder of CoCreate Change says there could be a lot of shame associated with this.

There’s a lot of shame associated with ‘everybody knows’. Also, it has a global component to it. If somebody messages you on Instagram, or a friend from another country reaches out, you begin to develop this notion that everybody knows. It’s not local anymore.
Dr. Nivedita

In severe cases, there could be physically uncomfortable conditions too.

There must be a lot of post-traumatic stress disorders. There must be panic attacks. There must be anxiety. There’d also be psychosomatic physiological triggers, trembling and sweating.. and lack of sleep. Even personal relationships could get messed up.
Dr. Nivedita
Here'e the thing, cancel culture, by its nature, is supposed to be binary. But the binaries seem to completely reject human anxieties that are hovering around it. Which is why, my final question is this.

For Japleen Pasricha, founder of Feminism in India, this is a very tricky topic.

Seeing it (canceling) on Twitter, I try to alienate myself from it because I feel it’s very detrimental to my mental health... but again, not everybody has that kind of option. And a lot of women have to go public because that is the only option for them. Even I went public during MeToo, and only when a group of women came out alongside me, was the man fired
Japleen Pasricha

For the spectator too, it gets exhausting to see cancelling becoming a daily spectacle.

One is the feeling of being let down, and the other is a questioning of how is it that I perceive these people who were role models to me now? Because somewhere, you may have also chosen to shape up certain aspects of your own life around what you perceive they have done or may do
Dr. Kamna

For those who fear being canceled by friends, or on social media, but are generally empathetic people (and not horrible people doing horrible things), Dr. Nivedita says it's important to understand that there will always be a gap between our real self and our idealised self, and that we need to be comfortable with that.

It’s a constant struggle for all of us to actually try and bridge the gap as much as we can.
Dr. Nivedita

For the rest of us, it's important to understand that for people, and friends of those called out, it's important to let them be for a while.

These are not situations where you have a step by step process. A lot of these are new phenomena so there are new ways in which people are responding to situations and it’s hard to navigate them
Dr. Kamna

Another difficult question to answer, really, is if our cop logic really is helping us?

Carceral/cop logic is not useful if we want to build engaged, supportive and thriving communities where we make our healing more important than our harm
Scherezade Siobhan

Meanwhile, Khalid says he still finds it hard to believe how the same people who were abusing him in public at the time he was called out, could also send messages of support in DMs. "You don't know what to take at face value," he says. But adds he has forgotten everything. "I guess it's my own amnesia," he wryly says. What he is sure of though is what the experience taught him. 'It helped me realise why it's important to be cautious about every small step you take.'

'"What I have learnt is that being civil is a fundamental of any conversation. If you’re not being civil in your disagreements with others then you have no moral right to call them out no matter how problematic their views are," he believes.

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