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Call-in Culture: An Alternative, Not The Opposite

In recent times, discourse about cancel culture has been plaguing the internet. Users from across the world hold discussions about its potential harm, the validity of its existence, and the questioning surrounding who gets canceled and why. Congressmen, actors, and business moguls specifically have come out in opposition to cancel culture. While there are legitimate critiques to cancel culture, it is best to interrogate the reasons why they vehemently oppose cancel culture. 

It would be a disservice to not acknowledge their privilege. The word ‘privilege’ is commonly seen as a buzzword rather than an important term in discussing harmful hierarchies that exist in the world. In this discussion, it is their privilege that bars them from ever being held accountable or truly canceled. Instead of accepting good-faith criticism and working to rectify the harm they cause, we have seen time and time again how people in power divert their attention to assuming the worst of their critics without acknowledging the criticism at hand. 

While readers may sympathize with this feeling of frustration as it pertains to celebrities and politicians, what happens when the perpetrator is someone within your community: a cherished friend, a dependable family member, or a trusted teacher? Would they be punished with just as much vitriol or would they be confronted in a private setting? Would a private intervention be as insidious as it is treated? Where is the line between holding someone accountable privately and protecting from being held accountable? By addressing these valuable concerns, people will be better equipped with handling an array of interpersonal issues: from conflict resolution to reducing abuse in a community. 

In a response to criticisms of cancel culture, writers, activists, and content creators have considered pivoting to call-in culture. As writer Ngọc Loan Trần asserts, call-in culture is not a replacement for cancel culture. There are individuals, accomplices, and systems that need to be exposed and disposed of because of their continued prioritization of harming others over creating safe, equitable communities for themselves and others. On the contrary, call-in culture requires people in a close-knit community to rectify any harm committed without disposing of someone, especially if they can rectify the harm caused and thus grow from the situation becoming better people for themselves and their community. 

To truly understand why call-in culture does not operate in opposition to cancel culture, there needs to be an accurate reading of the origins of cancel culture and how it grew into a phenomenon that dominated the late 2010s into the current decade. The earliest references to cancel culture can be traced back to the 1991 classic New Jack City; however the reality television show Love and Hip Hop: New York featured a scene where the term was used during a dispute between two significant others. In both cases, canceling did not mean forceful disposal of an individual but rather playfully divesting from a situation. As a result of cultural appropriation of AAVE as well as being conflated with call-out culture which finds its roots in

online fandom, cancel culture has become one of the latest additions to ongoing culture wars in the West. 

In efforts to evade responsibility, conservative politicians alongside some of their liberal counterparts have blamed cancel culture for being held accountable for their words and actions. From former Governor Andrew Cuomo to Senator Josh Hawley, politicians failed to admit and rectify the harm they committed or contributed to, instead blaming “cancel culture” and thus, framing it as a hysteric reaction to their crimes. To undermine the severity of their actions and discredit worthy criticism, politicians and other people in power frame critics both loud and quiet as anything from “haters” to “threats to free speech” which may seem immature. Nonetheless, this disregard is ultimately dangerous as people in power have no one to answer to other than their like-minded peers. 

What about the everyday person and their peers? While call-out culture still holds relevance, call-in culture could be the remedy to breaking generational curses, righting wrongs, and preventing future instances of abuse, exploitation, and marginalization in a smaller community. Asam Ahmad writes about a compassionate counterpart that acknowledges the perpetrator’s humanity. They may have the power to harm but just like their victim, they do not have access to the resources that people in power do. As a result of their closer proximity to the community, it makes it easier to hold harm-doers accountable without making a spectacle of the situation. 


There are certain apprehensions about fully accepting call-in culture. The person doing the calling must discern genuine remorse from half-hearted apologies and continued abuse. Calling in may look like a one-time conversation but realistically, it requires continuous check-ins to ensure that the issue is resolved and both parties feel and do better. It is important to stress that call-in culture may not be the best way to hold people accountable but in interpersonal relationships, it is best to rule with compassion, acknowledging the humanity of everyone involved while making sure that the harmful party is reprimanded and leaves the situation with having rectified the harm they have done. Call-in culture may not be the end-all solution that we hope for, but it is a step in the right direction. Pivoting from only participating in the carceral, performative nature of calling people out and accepting a more compassionate and understanding approach to resolving harmful situations.

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