Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment and the lawsuits, where he was sued for $2 million by one woman and $2.5 million by the other — even though the final amount that he paid was undisclosed — were settled out of court in 2010. However, as the accusations resurfaced, they had carried considerable weight over how Affleck was later being cancelled after his 2017 Golden Globe and Oscar wins for Best Actor for Manchester By the Sea. The internet had also since cancelled him, with critical condemnations strongly voiced by other celebrities to journalists, condemning the Academy’s nomination. The Oscar has its own track record of nominating celebrities who previously had been accused of sexual misconduct, some of whom are Roman Polanski who was arrested and pled guilty to the rape of a 13-year old girl and Woody Allen who sexually abused his adopted daughter. In politics, James Bennett, an erstwhile editorial page editor of The New York Times resigned after being called out by the public and his fellow Times colleagues for having published an op-ed article written by Tom Cotton, a Republican senator, who at the time advocated for the deployment of federal troops across U.S. cities to counter riots following the killing of George Floyddespite The New York Times’ self-proclaimed commitment to providing an open debate across the aisle.
However, I bet by going all in that you’re gambling on the fair odds that I’m going to take on exactly the same approach as those who cancelled Affleck and chastised Oscar, and those who cheered Bennett’s resignation. I , as a matter of fact, am espousing exactly the opposite point of view. As some of us gather, the cancel culture phenomenon has blurred the boundaries between one’s personal and professional life. Of course some things must be cancelled, such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Taliban’s perversion of Sharia; some people must also be cancelled, such as the already-politically cancelled Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for having authorized the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing who is responsible for Myanmar’s coup d’état.
But these days, especially in the cyberage, everyone who seems to be at odds with the conventional wisdom deserves to be cancelled: to be fired, to not be published, to not be subscribed, to not be voted for, to not be nominated. Cancelling someone differs considerably from that of calling them out. The latter requires those, who are deemed to have broken the law or have deviated from a society’s moral expectations, to be accountable. And herein lies one thing about accountability: An opportunity to answer. Those who demand answers are like constituents who call their representatives out. But the former, it entails a symptom of moral failure, if not moral discrimination, among the members of the society itself, where they are becoming more of punishers, not social controls. Those who they deem as “wrongdoers” must be impeached. And this phenomenon doesn’t have a redeeming virtue, such as presidential pardon, which makes it even worse than a corrupt legal system or a court’s wrong verdict — it is more of a moral absolutism. Therein lies the moral fallacy in being “moral” when the society feels that one must be cancelled when one can not satisfy its moral expectations. Cancelling someone not only undermines open debate, freedom of speech and expression, and gives birth to dogmatism, it shamely betrays one’s (the punisher) immorality.
If every wrongdoer were to be cancelled, every punisher must be a saint, who is not an antithesis of any convictions held by all societies. Yet how come one can be so compatible that one belongs to all — to capitalism and socialism, to democracy and authoritarianism, to moral absolutism and relativism, to religious liberalism and traditionalism, to the far-right and far-left, to economic protectionism and multilateralism, and to peace and war at the same time? And he must have never answered to anyone — to his betrayed family, to his abandoned children, to his disciples, to God, including to his own conscience, to which he answers. But everyone, at certain points in their lives, not only deviates from a society’s moral standards, one also deviates from that of his own self-imposed conviction, by not practicing their preach. Take, for one instance, a Muslim woman who quits wearing a hijab. Should she be cancelled? Should she be denied any religious rights?
In Affleck’s case, he has been legally called to account. He answered both to the law and to the two women he had harassed. Can one say that he has been held morally accountable? Is the law moral just because it is taking side of the sexually harassed? Is the fact that the two women were remedied with material compensation, moral? Does how the two women perceive the moral worth of the law matter? Any kind of sexual misconduct is indeed immoral, but is law that remedies the victim moral? Those who cancelled Affleck implicitly held that the law failed to satisfy their moral expectations. Yet one can bet that they would very much object if Affleck was legally acquitted. If those who cancelled Affleck and wanted him denied an Oscar did not see the moral value in the law, would have they agreed if Affleck were to be legally acquitted? Aren’t the laws the products of moral compromises where moralists try to meet each other halfway, to produce “legal entities” as remedies for conducts which we deem as immoral? The products themselves manifest themselves in various forms, from material compensation to prison sentences. If these products don’t satisfy the society’s moral expectation, would enacting legislation regulating celebrities who are alleged of sexual misconduct to be denied any awards, be enough, in a moral manner?
Cancelling someone fails to right the wrong, and it betrays the society’s moral standards. In cancelling what they deem as “unforgivable sinners” and in defending any causes they deem worthwhile to defend, what values do these members of such societies hold? Because it can’t be forgiveness nor tolerance. And the irony is that only a few have condemned the culture and realized its moral fallacy, thus giving the “punishers” some kind of “the consent of the silent”. But cancel culture is not within the confines of the involvement between the wrongdoer and the punisher. As Hervé Saint-Louis argued, it takes a third party: the parties who have authority. Government, businesses, employers, board of directors, publishers, producers are the agents who actually legitimize the cancellation. Another irony is that the culture has penetrated nearly every society, from religious liberals and religious traditionalists to elites and marginalized communities. It has penetrated nearly every community to the point that it is compatible with every ideology — which gives birth to ideological factionalism, one that is tolerant and one that is dogmatic.
This opinion piece, however, has yet to answer these two questions: does our moral obligation extend to question and punish every single element of one’s life that is actually an independent variable from the part which we’re calling out? And if, as John Locke argued in his Second Treatise of Government, that men cannot be judges in their own cases; can men really be judges in others’ cases?
Editor: Ruthana Bitia
Ilustrasi oleh Saffana Putri Andriana