« Cancel culture », blind tribunal or citizen power?

To mark five years of the #MoiAussi (#MeToo) movement, The duty offers a series of texts showing the path taken or drawing up an inventory in different cultural sectors.

Not so long ago, a Gilbert Rozon, who had already pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 1998 before obtaining an absolution, could quietly continue to make Quebec laugh without a abusing in circles raises an eyebrow.

Then, the hurricane #MeToo rose, with the power of social networks as a weapon. The wave has been blowing there for five years, multiplying the denunciations, lifting the veil on what had been erased by the culture of silence and power. Some complainants testified openly, agreed to file a complaint with the police. Many, as we know, have broken their noses over a judicial system with limited possibilities.

The relay of the judicial system

In this context, the culture of cancellation, known as cancel culture, or more simply the boycott of public figures with dubious behavior by the producers and/or by the public, seemed to take over from this demanding legal maze. Rather than waiting wisely for the aggressors to be condemned in court for acts that are often difficult to prove, public opinion, via the culture of cancellation, dictates loud and clear the limits not to be crossed. In this culture of denunciation, which particularly affects cultural circles, the public can use the power it has left, that of consumption. Today, if Gilbert Rozon has been found not guilty of new charges against him, it is conceivable that his career has been seriously put on hold by the force of the scandal.

The exercise of this kind of people’s tribunal is not done without a certain vagueness. In the ambient hubbub, the average citizen catches a rumor, reads a testimony and tries to get an idea, without proof and without a trial. Will he or will he not see the latest film starring Mariepier Morin, will he laugh as much as before at the jokes of Julien Lacroix or Philippe Bond? And until when should these stars who are accused of wrongdoing have to sleep in the dungeons of purgatory before returning to the public scene?

Although the phenomenon has grown in recent years, it is not new. « The term ‘cancel culture’ has an excessively violent charge », acknowledges Judith Lussier, journalist and author of the book Cancelled. Reflections on cancel culture.

The term appears to be a loanword from English. But the English themselves would one day have modeled it from the French word “chanceller”, she specifies in her book. According to Vox journalist Aja Romano, quoted by Judith Lussier, the expression « cancel someone » would have appeared in a 1991 film, New Jack Citywhere a gangster annoyed by his girlfriend says » Cancel that bitch, I’ll buy another one « .

What redemption?

To cancel something is to put an end to it, leaving no hope of rehabilitation. To give the runner a chance, without pun intended, it would be better to speak of a boycott. Because our judicial system is based both « on the presumption of innocence and on the notion of rehabilitation », recalls Pierre-Hugues Miller, lawyer who defends the cause of Jean-François Marquis, whose name appeared on the list of Say His Name, which was intended to publicize the names of potential attackers. As part of this lawsuit, the court required that the names of the whistleblowers be known to the person concerned, as well as the details of the information. In the case of the people on the list of Say his name, the “complainant did not even know what he was accused of”. According to him, even a court specializing in cases of harassment or sexual assault could not alter the exercise of these founding principles of law.

If a specialized court can offer a specialized prosecutor and “better support for victims, he says, the rule of law of the contradictory version will not change”.

For Sophie Gagnon, executive director of the Juripop clinic, who has set up an entire support structure for victims of sexual and psychological harassment in the cultural milieu and in the world of work, denunciations with a covered face are an indication of the precarious condition in which the victims find themselves.

« Anonymous whistleblowers show the reasons why people don’t openly report, because the consequences are too high, » she said. It would be necessary to see, she adds, « under what conditions people would agree to testify openly ». The Juripop clinic offers a support service to companies wishing to set up an investigation process when complaints are filed. But the demands abound and the resources are lacking.

For Judith Lussier, the phenomenon of cancel culture, despite its wanderings, is perhaps less ruthless than it seems. When a company relies on a public figure to sell its products in advertisements, it relies first and foremost on their acceptability, even their social desirability. It is in the order of things that it withdraws when this condition is not respected.

In some cases, that of a Michael Jackson for example, the aura of the stars is so strong that the smell of scandal does not manage to taint it permanently. But in general, the stars no longer automatically benefit from a sort of status placing them above any reprimand. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The movement has scratched off that veneer and knocked the stars off their pedestals,” she says. Our view of public figures is fairer. The stars benefited from this kind of permission, from privilege. Today, popularity ratings no longer protect them from our disgust with certain behaviors. Citizen power could have gained from this.

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