Cancel culture or call-out culture is a contemporary phrase used to refer to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”.


VOCABULARY: ostracism, thrust, professional circles

Within the turbulent past few years, the idea that a person can be “canceled” — in other words, culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career — has become a polarizing topic of debate. The rise of “cancel culture” and the idea of canceling someone coincides with a familiar pattern: A celebrity or other public figure does or says something offensive. A public backlash, often fueled by politically progressive social media, ensues.

VOCABULARY: turbulent, blocked, prominent, polarizing, coincides, familiar, backlash, fueled, ensues

Then come the calls to cancel the person — that is, to effectively end their career or revoke their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer.

VOCABULARY:  revoke, cultural cachet, disciplinary

To many people, this process of publicly calling for accountability, and boycotting if nothing else seems to work, has become an important tool of social justice — a way of combatting, through collective action, some of the huge power imbalances that often exist between public figures with far-reaching platforms and audiences, and the people and communities their words and actions may harm.

VOCABULARY: accountability, tool, social justice, combatting, huge, imbalances, far-reaching, harm

But conservative politicians and pundits have increasingly embraced the argument that cancel culture, rather than being a way of speaking truth to power, has spun out of control and become a senseless form of social media mob rule. At the 2020 Republican National Convention, for example, numerous speakers, including President Trump, addressed cancel culture directly, and one delegate resolution even explicitly targeted the phenomenon, describing it as having “grown into erasing of history, encouraging lawlessness, muting citizens, and violating free exchange of ideas, thoughts, and speech.”

VOCABULARY:  pundits, embraced, rather than, spun, senseless, mob-rule, addressed, resolution, explicity targeted, erasing, lawlessness, muting, violating, speech

Actually ending someone’s career through the power of public backlash is difficult. Few entertainers or other public figures have truly been canceled — that is, while they may have faced considerable negative criticism and calls to be held accountable for their statements and actions, very few of them have truly experienced career-ending repercussions.

VOCABULARY:  backlash, faced, criticism, repercussions

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, for example, has faced intense criticism from her own fans since she began to voice transphobic beliefs, making her one of the most prominently “canceled” individuals at the center of the cancel culture debate. But following Rowling’s publication, in June 2020, of a transphobic manifesto, sales of the author’s books actually increased tremendously in her home country of Great Britain.

VOCABULARY:  faced intense criticism, to voice, transphobic, prominemtly, debate, manifesto, tremendously

Writing exercise:

In 200 words describe an example of cancel culture you have seen or learned about.

In your writing include one of each of the following grammar constructs:

  1. Present perfect progressive
  2. Past perfect progressive
  3. Future perfect progressive


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