Wait, I Thought We Were Mad at Ellen?
Proverbial "cancel culture" is not new, but it reached its zenith in 2020.
Everything was fodder for canceling and nobody was safe. People had the time to comb through old tweets and Instagram posts, while new content was prolific from every celebrity whose projects and vacations were paused.
From irresponsible pandemic comments and behavior to more serious unearthings of racism, 2020's cancellations ran a wide range when it came to who and why.
But it was never boring. Every week, another scandalous revelation emerged about a prominent artists for people to finger wag on the internet about, then promptly forget.
A huge industry upset was when Ellen Degeneres quickly turned from a fan favorite to a monster in the public eye. When rumors spread that Ellen was maybe … awful … and that the set of her show was a "toxic work environment," former employees and even other celebrities rushed to speak out against the TV personality. People also combed through old interviews and came to the conclusion that maybe she's been a little terrible this whole time?
Ellen's response initially came in the form of a tweet, then an apology video-turned-meme, then a monologue on her still-airing show — none of which showed her taking any real responsibility for literally anything.
Then she caught COVID-19, and the general eye-roll tapered out as her media attention did.
And as a summer defined by the idea of "racial reckoning" turned to winter and has now become a new year, what has been reckoned with, I start to wonder?
Much of the talk about accountability seems now to have been what I expected: a misdirect away from the frightening concept of being "canceled."
But why is "cancel culture" so scary when nobody seems to actually get canceled? Maybe because it's associated with Black people and women. Maybe because celebrities rely so much on the illusory images of themselves that they panic at the thought of the veneer being shattered.
After the rush from the high horse, it seems that many of the people shaming a celebrity are people with privilege, usually white people, participating in an exercise of self righteousness for as long as it serves them.
After the fact, celebrities mostly get to revel in their increased name recognition and move on. This has been true since before 2020 and even before the dawn of "cancel culture," and it will continue as long as people in power, and those of us watching them, let it.
Even when it seemed like the industry had turned on Ellen and it was her turn to make an apology video and put on the crocodile tears with her cone of shame, the stakes were low. Some of her staff quit, but they were quickly replaced. Her show was not canceled despite the talk that she was, high caliber guests were booked the same as before, and every week people tune in just as they used to.
The 2021 premiere of her game show, Ellen's Game of Games, aired with high ratings, and everyone seems to have forgotten how mad they were just months ago.
The new year brings the same habits it seems — not forgiveness, but forgetting: caring more about the luster of celebrity than the harm certain personalities may have caused.
But Ellen is not alone. Here are 5 other celebrities who were canceled in 2020 (or long before then) but are doing just fine anyway.
Maskless Kendall Jenner blowing out her birthday candles onto an essential worker at her massive pandemic birthday party
Is it worth even saying at this point?
The Kardashians rose to prominence in the midst of controversy and have kept the same energy ever since. Did they even do anything in 2020? Probably.
Their response to pandemic guidelines has been less than ideal. There was Kim Kardashian's laughably naive island getaway, Kendall Jenner's birthday/halloween party, and their frequent trips outside the state.
There was also the lackluster response to BLM protests in the summer, which mostly amounted to generic platitudes and no acknowledgment of their profiting from Black aesthetics, cultural appropriation, and their penchant to treat their Black friends and significant others like props rather than people. ("Hoopers" and "Rappers" are the two types of Black, it seems).
I won't even get into their implication in the Kanye2020 campaign, but every year we think we've had enough and still there is more. Though this season of their reality show will be the last, they are already in talks for a new show so, here's to more of them in 2021.
Actually, I will get into it.
Kanye's campaign for president was dangerous and reckless. What started as a joke at an award show in 2015 unfolded into a frightening threat to the election. Rightfully so, much of the internet banded together to urge people not to vote for Kanye as a joke (though the most true thing he said on his campaign was in response to Jennifer Aniston, telling her "Friends wasn't funny").
For many, Kanye's inflammatory comment and Trump endorsement, followed by his own campaign, were enough. This is fair.
But while many white people were gleefully shaming Black people for still listening to his music (they don't remember the "George Bush doesn't care about Black people" day), some were still donning Yeezys and playing whitesplaining MBDTF for clout points.
With Kanye, his "canceling" seemed to happen in waves - disgust at out-of-context soundbites or interpretations of quotes they'd half said from something Kanye half-meant, followed by a pat on the back for doing pretty much nothing.
And now that the election is over, even more Yeezys are out and people feel kind of safe playing Kanye out loud. But who knows how long it will be until the tables turn again?
Meanwhile, Kanye has been spending his time fairly under the radar (depending on what rumors you pay attention to), so we don't know how he's doing like, emotionally, but we do know he's still rich, famous, and Kanye West.
From Jordan Firstman's Impressions seriesvia Backstage
The funniest thing Jordan Firstman did this year was get canceled ... kind of (okay, the second funniest thing was the banana bread one).
After becoming the darling of Instagram comedy during the pandemic, Firstman's impressions series was everywhere. He made the rounds on Late Night television shows in interviews by Katie Couric, Jimmy Kimmel and more, appeared in magazine profiles, and was the subject of many a year in review saying he "saved" 2020.
Firstman had been a writer and comedian for years with minor success, but his viral Instagram series skyrocketed his career. It was only a matter of time until someone unearthed old, racist tweets from when he was 20 years old. The comedian followed up with a standard acknowledgement of what he had said (I never understand these … didn't we all see the tweets), and most (read: white) people moved on. After all, if everybody got canceled for racist things they said when they were full adults, we wouldn't have anyone left.
Firstman's career is still moving faster than it ever has, so his "cancellation" can't have done much harm. And this is my impression of someone jaded and unsurprised.
Lana Del Rey
Everything went wrong when Lana Del Rey started dating a cop.
We should have known then (ACAB) but for Lana, like any toxic relationship, we closed our eyes to the glaring red flag. So on the fateful morning when Lana woke up and chose chaos, we were disappointed but, somewhere inside, not surprised.
It is yet to be uncovered why Lana decided to, unprompted, post a rant on Instagram claiming she had received unfair and targeted criticism for the thematics of her music. No one had uttered a word, and there had been a cacophony of praise for her Grammy-nominated last album. The precipitating factor for her "incomprehensibly clueless" rant seemed to be the success of Black women.
"There has to be a place in feminism for women who look and act like me," said the white woman after Doja Cat, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, and Megan Thee Stallion achieved the historic mantle of the first four Black women to top the charts at the same time.
In pursuit of her white narrative, Lana went on to dismiss the disparagement Black women have always received for how they express their sexuality in music. It is not clear what she hoped to accomplish, but not long after she was trending on Twitter … as #LanaDelReycist.
Her refusal to acknowledge the problematic aspect of her post was the final nail in the coffin, but the whole thing has come loose now. Lana seems to be prepping for the release of her album unbothered and uncanceled I guess, while Azealia Banks and fashion blogger Aimee Song fight in the DMs about Lana — it's complex. At least her new fiance isn't a cop.
Doja Cat in the Say So music video
Doja's tumultuous year is also complex.
She was at her heights at the beginning of the year. First "Say So" became a TikTok hit and made the early months of 2020 sound happy and whimsical. Then her collaboration with Nicki Minaj reached number #1, knocking off Beyonce and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage Remix," another viral hit-turned-commercial success.
No one could have predicted then that one of the top-selling Black female rappers would be accused of racism? And that it would kind of be valid?
While Black people can't technically be racist, Doja Cat was engaging in some blatant white supremacy. After a comprehensive look at her controversial past and a teary but confusing Instagram Live apology, Doja Cat was thrown out of favor.
Yet, it seems she has bounced back. "Say So" was heavily nominated at the Grammys. Either way, it's not the first time Doja Cat has been canceled, and it won't be the last.
For any of these celebrities, there will be more controversy for people to get self-righteously vitriolic about and then forget. But there won't be the change unless we examine the systems that make the persistence of this cycle possible.