'Cancel culture' that saw JK Rowling face fury on social media explored by Northamptonshire student

She looked at the phenomenon that can trace its origins back to bible

Friday, 19th March 2021, 2:16 pm
Joanne Rowling (top) and Caroline Flack (bottom) (Images: Getty) and Grace Duval (right) (Image: Birmingham City University)
Joanne Rowling (top) and Caroline Flack (bottom) (Images: Getty) and Grace Duval (right) (Image: Birmingham City University)

The origins of ‘cancel culture’ and its increasing presence in society are the focus of a final year project by a student at Birmingham City University.

Grace Duval, who is from Islip in East Northamptonshire, delved into the topic for her undergraduate dissertation after some of her idols fell victim to the social media trend, regarded as promotion of the ‘cancelling’ of people or brands as the result of an offensive or controversial incident.

“In 2020 a lot of the figures I looked up to such as JK Rowling and Caroline Flack were cancelled,” explained Grace, who studies Fashion Business and Promotion and is a former Northampton College student.

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“It was fascinating to read online articles and social media commentary focused upon what they were said to have done wrong and whether the people conducting the cancelling were in the right for doing so. Growing up I had never seen celebrities or figures being cancelled for what they are now, so I was interested to see how social media particularly plays a part in cancel culture.”

As part of Grace’s study, she researched well-known figures considered as being cancelled at times in the last ten years, including British fashion designer John Galliano who was found guilty of racist and anti-Semitic abuse in 2011.

Thousands of people called for Harry Potter author JK Rowling to be 'cancelled' after a series of tweets and essays detailing why she believes biological sex is real and why men cannot turn into women. Rowling was backed by thousands of gender critical feminists and high-profile people including Jonathan Ross and Piers Morgan but her comments were condemned by some of the actors she made famous including Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson.

Caroline Flack, who later killed herself, stepped down from her Love Island presenting role after facing a barrage of criticism when she was accused of violence against her partner.

Grace added: "I researched many papers and conducted surveys and interviews to understand how different generations perceive cancel culture.”

Grace found that cancel culture is increasingly resulting in people feeling fearful of telling their truths and that the trend can be traced back to before Christ.

“The earliest signs of cancel culture can be found within the origins of the bible, with authors of chapters being sent into purgatory,” said Grace.

“Extreme forms of cancel culture can be seen within the past 200 years with the suffragettes being cancelled for fighting social norms.

“Today, social media is seen as the catalyst for the rise in cancel culture and those I spoke to found it to be leading society into one with no free speech, with people being afraid to speak out for what they believe in for fear of being cancelled.”

Grace found cancel culture mostly being tied to attacks on minorities, such as acts of racism, homophobia and transphobia.