How does one go from being “canceled” to returning to the public square, or even just your neighborhood coffeehouse? For that to happen, not only does the canceled person need to reflect on their actions – but so does the group that’s doing the canceling: the social media mob.
“We talk about the Twitter mob as if it’s not us,” Joan Ball, a marketing professor at St. John’s University who also consults social influencers said during TheWrap’s final “Conversations on Cancel Culture” roundtable. “But the Twitter mob is us. Right? Every retweet. Any ‘Can you believe that this happened?’ And so it may not be us in one circumstance, but it’s us in another circumstance.”
The path to reconciliation in the current cancel culture environment was the central topic debated by Ball and other panelists — communications professor Gabrielle Gambrell (New York University), crisis PR manager Matthew Hiltzik (Hiltzik Strategies) and pop culture expert Dax Holt (Hollywood Raw podcast) — during the “Coming Back From Being Canceled: Is There a Way?” panel moderated by TheWrap’s Deputy Editor Lawrence Yee.
Ball continued: “What does it mean to just be a citizen in social? And how do we operate as citizens in social? And what is it that people get from spending a day retweeting things, and being in community with one another, as they are canceling?”
The discussion looked at cases of celebrities who had been dropped from “canceled” — figuratively and literally from their shows — after what was deemed bad behavior.
Gambrell was part of the CBS Entertainment communications team in early 2011 when their top sitcom “Two and a Half Men” went on hiatus to accommodate star Charlie Sheen’s rehab. Sheen later badmouthed show creator Chuck Lorre as a “maggot” and “loser,” leading the season to be canceled and Sheen’s dismissal. Around the same time, Sheen’s children with then-wife Brooke Mueller were removed from his home (He was previously arrested in late 2009 for assaulting her).
“That was a huge opportunity for some people to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Gambrell recalled. “Is there a mental health issue going on? Is there something personal going on? And then other people were perhaps on the cancel train, [saying] ‘He perhaps does not deserve to have this illustrious position, his high paid profile position on the show.”
Sheen’s behavior continued to spiral; despite public declarations of “winning,” he continued to struggle with substance abuse, martial woes, prostitutes and employment. More than four years after after he was fired from the show, Sheen disclosed his HIV-positive status on “Today.”
“‘Here’s what I’ve been going through, here’s what I’ve been dealing with. And I own my truth,'” Gambrell paraphrased. “And I do think that was phenomenal for him. And very courageous of him to do that interview on ‘The Today Show and own his truth.’
Of course, self-reflection and owning one’s truth takes time — often with the help of crisis managers. Social media may demand an immediate reaction, but that may only make things worse.
“You don’t want to just win the moment, you want to make sure that you’re being responsible over a longer-term period,” said Hiltzik, who has worked with athletes and celebrities on rehabilitating their image after a public gaffe. “In general, I prefer to take a more deliberate approach because I think one thing that is needed in the moment, the passion is there, the intensity of the responses on social and digital are way stronger than they are if you let it dissipate a little bit. And very often, if you understand sort of what cards you have to play, if you play them too quickly, they’re not gonna necessarily be that effective, because a lot of time no one wants to hear it.”
Holt saw this play out with one of his podcast guests, Kristen Doute. Doute had been fired from the reality show “Vanderpump Rules” after reporting a Black castmate to police for a crime she did not commit. Doute appeared on Holt’s “Hollywood Raw” podcast after a time of self-reflection.
“We said, ‘Okay, come on the podcast, and let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the conversations that you’ve been having what you’ve actually learned, and have you learned anything,'” Holt explained. “And it was a really great conversation to the point where I noticed a shift in, in the dynamics. So once we released it, and people started listening to it, hearing the full interview, people going, ‘Okay, I hear that she has learned and whether some of her answers may have been thought out, either way, they could hear the genuine feelings behind it.”
In the end, the panel agreed that individuals non-criminal transgressions should get the chance to take accountability for their actions and redeem themselves, or as Yee put it, be afforded “grace and space.”
Check out the full roundtable discussion about coming back from being canceled above. And join us on Clubhouse Friday, June 18 at 4pm PT for an encore and follow-up discussion.