Being obsessed with perfectionism and “purity” is an increasing trend in today’s society. The standards most people hold themselves to are outlandish, unrealistic, and unhealthy. How we should look, what we should own, the little milestones in life that scream we’ve accomplished something. In the same vein as the comparison trap, if what we “think” our lives should look like doesn’t match that ideal, it puts an immense strain on our mental wellbeing.
One study done using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale showed that college students between 1989 and 2016 described “socially prescribed perfectionism” as the most increasing trend. It had increased nearly double in relation to self-orientated and other-orientated perfectionism.
Now, it would be hard to argue that social media hasn’t played a major role in increasing social perfectionism in the younger generations. The act of curating one’s life, always being on display, and constant “ranking” of individuals seem to be major contributing factors.
A prime example of social media merging with perfectionism and purity has to be Cancel Culture.
The standards at which society holds for one another have become increasingly difficult to navigate. There is example after example of people entering the social media limelight only to come crashing back down to earth after some old Tweet has been dug up.
There’s even a meme for it.
Milkshake Duck comes from a Tweet from around 2016 that essentially sums up the not-so-helpful side of canceling someone.
The user was poking fun at social media’s tendency to pick a “new favorite” and then immediately find all their dirty little secrets and expose them.
There is a landslide of examples of “Milkshake Ducks” and the general, and slightly grim, sentiment behind it is: anyone could become a Milkshake Duck at any moment.
So, if you can be praised and held on a pedestal in the morning, and then torn down receiving death threats in the evening, what really is the point of cancel culture?
This obsession with a pure, perfectly curated online space is unhealthy. We cannot expect only “perfect” moments online because that isn’t real, human, or achievable. They simply do not exist. And when we expect a space to be like that, people can get caught in the paralyzing fear of feeling like they can’t say anything, or they never know what to say in to avoid the (dare I say) inevitable backlash.
Space needs to be created in cancel culture to make mistakes and become educated from them. That isn’t to say to coddle or gloss over someone who is being blatantly rude, oppressive (racist, homophobic, etc), or cruel-- but maybe we don’t need to send death threats to strangers on the internet over a tweet either.
Cancel culture has a habit of aiming to just remove the offender from society and that’s the end of that. But is that… really a proper punishment? They either fly under the radar and end up fine, or their entire world is destroyed. There is no “justice” or reconciliation. The offender may not even realize why they are being ostracized (people’s home lives, upbringing, and cultural differences can play a huge role in this situation). So shouldn’t the goal be to educate them or “rehabilitate” them so they can understand the why?
It circles right back into the purity obsession: getting rid of the “dirty” (the offender), brushing it under the rug, cleansing that pure space again.
The problem doesn’t really go away, it simply moves spots.
The goal should be to create a safe, non-judgemental space that grows with the individuals in society. Answering violence and ignorance with more of the same is not the way we should be going about it. And closing our space off to ensure it stays “good” and “pure” simply closes us off from the rest of the world.
Cancel culture threatens “freedom of speech” in the way that many people feel they need to filter or fear the things they want to say. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean getting a free pass to say literally anything you think of (being intentionally cruel or mean), but it should mean that you have the freedom to express your opinion in a safe way and accept that from others as well.