Review, ridicule create culture of ‘canceling’

Art+by+Lorelei+Dohm.

Art by Lorelei Dohm.

Sarah Ding

Before June 5, people knew Fairlife (stylized as fa!rlife) as a milk brand that provided “humane and compassionate treatment” to its animals, as advertised by the company. The company celebrated its eco-friendly methods, such as turning cow manure into biofuel for its trucks, along with its ethical raising of dairy cows.

The “ultra-filtered” lactose-free milk, boasting 50 percent more protein and 30 percent more calcium than other dairy milks, costs about twice as much as brands such as Horizon Organic or generic grocery store milk. The hefty price, however, is not what people most criticize the company for now.

After Animal Recovery Mission, a nonprofit animal rights group, released a video of calf abuse at Fair Oaks Farms, a major Fairlife-owned property in Indiana, backlash poured in from social media users and upset customers. One Fairlife consumer filed a class-action lawsuit for fraud for the company’s promotion of the “extraordinary care and comfort” of its cows on bottle labels. Retailers cited disagreement with brand practices and pulled the company’s products from their shelves, leaving its parent company, Coca-Cola, to scramble as its flagship brand continued to lose popularity.

Social media users shared the footage of employees “slapping, kicking, punching, pushing, throwing and slamming calves” to call out the brand. Twitter user @aubreystrobel said, “No longer buying or consuming @fairlife #FairLife products after seeing the investigation and the abuse occurring at their farms. Please consider researching and doing the same.”

By boycotting Fairlife milk, former customers and retailers “canceled” the company by destroying the validity and effectiveness of Fairlife’s products. Junior Bet Menen, a politically outspoken student who participates in clubs such as Young Democrats and Students Demand Action, said certain aspects of social media promote cancel culture. Cancel culture is a form of boycott where a person or company says or does something controversial and is called out for it on social media.

“I think social media makes cancel culture dangerous because it leads to defamation of one’s character, especially if they made a mistake in their past and they’ve grown from it,” Menen said, “since social media never forgets anything that you say or do.”

Plenty of incidents similar to Fairlife’s have happened to other companies, charities, associations, celebrities or government officials, according to CNN. “Canceling” has recently become a prominent way on social media to publicly shame well-known figures regarding past or present controversies, Menen said.

“Cancel culture is a modern version of mob culture, in my opinion,” Menen said. “People come together based on something arbitrary, and then everyone jumps on board a hate train.”

This phenomenon is one that has worked its way into various aspects of American culture. “Saturday Night Live” fired comedian Shane Gillis in September after past racist jokes resurfaced from deleted episodes of his podcast, “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast.” A year earlier nearly half the Senate called for U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s impeachment following sexual misconduct allegations from his high school days. Figures such as these have faced some sort of “canceling” from those opposed to them on social media. Sociology and psychology teacher Timothy Dickmeyer said there is not one concrete definition of cancel culture; in fact, there are many schools of thought on the topic. 

“To me cancel culture seems to be something that different authors and sociologists kind of write about differently,” Dickmeyer said. “I guess from my perspective, it’s tied to immediate outrage. . . Usually someone famous or infamous says something, and then there’s a swell of social media outrage that kind of filters out.”

One example of differing opinions influencing customer decisions involves the fast food company Chick-fil-A, which donated significant amounts of money to the National Christian Foundation, an anti-LGBTQ group. Its 2010 donation of $247,500 to this foundation along with the company’s ties to other anti-LGBTQ groups sparked backlash. Aware of this information, some former customers, including senior Sadia Moumita, boycott the franchise. 

“There are many companies that I try to avoid on a day-to-day basis, but one of the more notable ones is Chick-fil-A,” Moumita said. “In recent years numerous reports have come up detailing the CEO’s questionable, and occasionally downright discriminatory business practices. . . Some of the organizations to which he has donated have attempted to practice downright conversion therapy.” 

Although people who share Moumita’s views have revoked support and business from Chick-fil-A, the fast-food franchise continues to grow. Sales increased by 16.7 percent in 2018, catapulting the brand to the third-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., according to “Business Insider.” Whether it is right for people to keep supporting something they don’t agree with is subjective, Dickmeyer said.

“I guess I think there are categorical imperatives — rape, murder, genocide — that we should be able to put these in a universally bad box,” Dickmeyer said. “But when you’re dealing with human behavior, it’s so nuanced to the situation and the individuals involved that I don’t know that it’s necessarily easy to put them in these good [or] bad, black and white boxes when the majority of everything is a shade of gray.”

How does cancel culture impact your life? Let us know in the comments below.