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Photo: Chris Rock
In this age of information, the lives of people everywhere have become largely more open to public view and knowledge. The court of public opinion has been nothing if not completely entitled and certain that any preconceived notions that it comes to, are certain to be fact. The lives of celebrities and known figures in society are especially prone to public criticism and examination, now more than ever! The internet can be credited with the creation of this collective mind. While the widespread dissemination of information has been inarguably one of the most beneficial inventions for the common person, the vast sea of opinions have begun to serve as judge, jury, and executioner concerning any topic that turns controversial.
The internet allows the ability for anyone to share their thoughts, instantly, with little to no backlash or consequence. Voices in real life that would normally consider the weight of their words, now type angry responses that are sometimes just as extreme as the actions reflected by others. With social media companies serving as the rulers of this digital collective, their decisions regarding censorship and the determination of what can belong and what must be driven out has recently come into public question. If everyone is entitled to the freedom of thought, who are private companies to say which ideas can stay and which ones must go?
Are Will Smith’s Actions Indicative of Cancel Culture?
The events that took place at the Academy Awards last month, will now live forever in infamy. Will Smith, without a doubt, must certainly regret his tasteless, and reprehensible actions. Though, the actions of this famous actor now serve as a symbol for the culture that we now live in. That culture being one to act quickly, without consideration for the full weight of its reaction. Late-night host, Bill Maher, likened the slap by Smith to “cancel” culture. He stated, “It was sort of like cancel culture encapsulated… He was like the Twitter mob come alive.” The actions by Will Smith are reflective of the online activity of the public. With enough frustration and anger built up, the reaction can often overshadow the very cause of the backlash.
Will Smith is now suffering from the effects of his unjustifiable and regrettable decision to use violence, with many major film companies and production studios placing his upcoming films on pause. This in turn has the public polarized about whether or not the consequences for his actions are fitting. “Twitter users have been quick to react to the news of Smith’s latest projects falling through by questioning if he is facing a punishment greater than the severity of his actions.” With Chris Rock so far unwilling to press charges against Smith, the events of the Oscars have now completely turned to the court of public opinion. Whether to say Smith has paid enough for his actions, has now transformed into a situation where everyone has a thought, although none will have any effect in the legal system or court of law, similarly to many cases of “canceling.”
Though, often enough when one side of the view is deemed the “correct” form of thought, it provides little room for nuance. Director and writer, David Mahmet, a guest on Bill Maher’s show, in the same episode where the discussion of Will Smith’s actions took place, stated, “We have to have free speech. Without it, we have nothing, and it doesn’t matter which group it is… When it is not acceptable to have an opposing view, we’ll end up with a totalitarian state.” Coincidentally, or not, on the same social media applications where “cancel” culture exists, so too does the suppression and censorship of certain ideas by the corporations and companies that control this digital collective.
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Is This The Beginning of An Age of Censorship?
With any information accessible at peoples’ fingertips through the click of a button, the problem of the constant inundation of misinformation is a growing epidemic. To combat that misinformation, social media companies have taken it upon themselves to deem what is true and what isn’t. These preventative measures may seem like they are in the greater interest of everyone, and yet when a single entity is allowed to determine what is factual and what is false, this places an unfair and corruptible amount of power in the hands of that entity (corporation). A new bill to dispel this very corruption has been introduced into the Arizona legislature. “The bill, known as House Bill 2280, provides that an owner or operator of a social media website may not intentionally delete or censor the social media users’ religious or political speech or use an algorithm to censor the users’ speech.”
While this bill has been introduced to curb the monopoly on free speech that social media companies currently possess, it is not without its flaws. These words or guidelines that the bill could operate under may be misconstrued to mean any number of things and could allow for the greater spread of misinformation. The legislature of Arizona may not intend to propagate the spread of misinformation, but in the age of the sporadic and uncontrollable surge of technology combined with the varying opinions of individuals, this, unfortunately, could be the case. “Twitter and other social media platforms have imposed policies against posting misinformation on their websites.” Twitter went on to state, “You may not share synthetic, manipulated, or out-of-context media that may deceive or confuse people and lead to harm (“misleading media”).”
By social companies being considered platforms and not publishers, they are allowed different protections under the law. Andrew Selepak, a professor at the University of Florida, describes this differentiation between platforms and publishers by saying, “It kind of gives them a free rein in terms of allowing whatever they want on their platforms, or whatever they don’t want on their platforms.” The power that major social media platforms now hold is not something that should be taken lightly. The amount of individuals that utilize the marvels of the connection and relation to an entire worldwide community of people is astounding.
What is incredibly important at this time is that rules and laws be established to not only limit the censoring powers of these private companies but also ensure that further lies and misinformation are not continually spread. The influence of this technology is depicted in not only the spread of ideas, but people’s conception and understanding of important parts of actual life. If this technological aspect of life cannot be controlled and safely moderated, the severity of peoples’ reactions to societal events could lead to violence as reflected in Smith’s actions.
Should Comedians Be Free To Joke About Whatever They Want, Or Is There A Line That They Should Not Cross?
With the alarming pace of adoption and integration of the internet and social media applications into peoples’ daily lives, the trajectory of human existence has never been more unpredictable. Technology has become a huge part of most humans’ lives. With the availability and the ability for instant communication, now peoples’ actions are held under an even more intense level of scrutiny. With all of their blessings and benefits, the internet and social media platforms have now made content and information more accessible than ever. That is why comedians as a whole, now seem to be a dying breed. Comedians, because of the very nature of their work, are required to test the limits of discussing what is acceptable and what is not.
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Although, with all information everywhere at once, comments aimed at an individual or particular group of people could elicit a powerful response or backlash. A prime example of someone that causes a divide between those that love him and many that deplore him is Dave Chapelle. There have been times in the past few years where Dave Chapelle has made comments that have made people extremely angry, and believe that he is insensitive as well as detestable. Chapelle has always stood by his words and for that many people believe him to be honest to himself and his own beliefs, and therefore admire him. Whether or not people like or dislike him, Chapelle has made living off of speaking his mind, unfiltered, and without remorse.
Though with the strong reactions that “cancel” culture has had against many people, and with Will Smith overreacting and assaulting Chris Rock over a joke, it makes it incredibly difficult for comedians to speak honestly and from the heart, without fear of physical or mental repercussions. Admittedly there is always a line that comedians shouldn’t cross with respect to the law or common moral decency, but in a world where comics are in constant fear for their own safety, will society quickly lose its sense of humor?
By Thomas Jacobs
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I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”
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Thomas Jacobs is an avid writer, Cinema aficionado, and filmmaker. He graduated with Dean’s Honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a major in Film and Digital Media. His passion is directly tied to the appreciation and creation of film and television, and this fact is reflected in his intent to be a writer for the acclaimed entertainment journal, The Hollywood Insider. His beliefs mirror the core goals and mission statement of The Hollywood Insider by sharing an admiration for quality entertainment as well as bolstering a sense of positivity and equality among all humans. Thomas believes that Cinema is an advantageous promoter of civil and social empowerment, and he shares a mutual societal view with The Hollywood Insider, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.