Cancel culture complaints cut to ribbons

By Lindsay Slogrove Time of article published Apr 3, 2021

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Cancel culture can’t be neatly tied in a bow.

One day, my good friend Illa and I popped in to what was then a large chain store where she wanted to buy a few metres of ribbon.

The assistant carefully measured out the requested length from a nearly finished reel, and Illa was pleased there was enough on the roll.

The woman snipped off the remainder, and Illa and I looked at each other, speechless.

The tiny bit at the end was no longer than 15cm. The woman tossed it in the trash, looked at us and asked if we needed anything else.

It was utterly flabbergasting: a few centimetres in the rubbish and the loss of two customers for life.

Granted, our little outraged boycott probably did not contribute much to the decline the store has suffered over the decades, but imagine if every customer experienced this petty, ridiculous, wasteful and spiteful service.

If the woman had considered the pettiness of her actions, and left the bit at the end, the store would have had forever customers, not because of a giant freebie, but for a kind little gesture.

We never darkened its doorstep again, and harrumphed at family and friends who shopped there.

The incident came back to me while I was considering the rumpus that has been going on for a while about cancel culture.

When did a good old-fashioned boycott become the maligned cancel culture?

And why is there such a backlash against “cancelling” something/someone?

It has long been a powerful tool in and against South African politics, culture and business to bring about vital change and awareness to sensitivities. Boycotts (or sanctions) altered the course of our history, contributing to the collapse of the hated old regime.

It’s kind of democratic, too. It’s a way to bring about change without resorting to violence, but it works only if you have that critical mass, if there are enough people who agree there’s a need to act and join in.

Of course, the cancelled are going to be shocked and angered by the cancellers. If you, your business or your country has done something bad enough to be cancelled, you probably don’t get it, until it is clearly and simply explained to you why so many find it offensive.

If you knew your action/s would offend that many citizens or customers, perhaps you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. But some might think they’re too big to fall.

Once the offence has been identified, and perhaps understood, the next step is taking a shot at redemption.

This is the most difficult part. The cancellers are clearly very cross with you, and have decided they will do without your service, supply, TV show or twitter feed.

Good luck to you in getting them back.

As a counter-argument, there is an unhealthy, go-to, knee-jerk reaction ‒ online outrage ‒ to many things that are too ridiculous to generate the numbers to effectively begin a boycott. Those don’t count because it’s way too tiresome to be outraged on your own.

Unless, of course, it’s a little piece of ribbon. Our little boycott has lasted about three decades. The store doesn’t even know about it. But we sure feel better and that’s what boycotts should do ‒ lead to better.

  • Lindsay Slogrove is the News Editor of the Independent on Saturday.

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