Thinky Post: “Cancel Culture” versus “Boycott Culture”, US versus India

First, NO POLITICS!!!! Which is going to be hard, because basically all social media campaigns in India are supported by paid political agents. That’s not me being paranoid, that is a fact, and it is why no intelligent person should treat social media opinions on Indian issues seriously. Make up your own mind without regard to what social media is saying. But I am going to frame this discussion in a more general way, which allows for a bigger debate beyond politics. Mostly. (oh, and thank you Courtney for the idea!)

“Cancel Culture” in the US refers to a particular cycle driven by social media which has become more and more common lately. Something comes out about some public figure, s/he said something racist 5 years ago, or a woman comes forward and says they had an uncomfortable interaction with them once, it becomes a big push on social media, and then the corporate overlords that control them “cancel” their products.

What’s interesting about this to me is the final step, the “cancel” part of it. That is so fast! And so simple! Most entertainment/public figures in the US only have one main product they are remembered for. You just have to convince whoever owns the rights to that product to cancel it, and your job is done. The power is with the corporations, not the artists, the corporations can actually “cancel” a whole person.

Bill Cosby - Show, Age & Wife - Biography
Bill Cosby, his tour slowed down and ended, but it was the corporations pulling the reruns of his show from all sources, very very quickly, that truly killed his legacy.

The other part of this is how little it matters to most corporations if they need to “cancel” a person. Roseanne Barr, for example, a brilliant artist and extremely difficult to work with. It was time for her to leave the show that was named after her, so she left, the show was renamed, the world kept spinning. Heck, even if the show itself dropped in the ratings, the corporation behind it had more than enough money to keep plugging along, they didn’t care. One woman had no effect on their bottomline, cut her loose and move on.

This can be a good thing, this can be a bad thing. In the past, terrible behavior on the part of artists was tolerated because they were so necessary. I mean, Roseanne was hardly a bed of roses in years past, but her show was so successful, everyone just put up with it. Along those same lines, social media can act as a giant megaphone to make people see the terrible behavior that previously was only experienced by those close to it. So, good! Bad people are being called out for their bad behavior, and they no longer have the power needed to survive it.

But then there is the flip side. Artistic freedom and power is increasingly eroded as individual artists are constantly replaced. And corporations escape scrutiny by pushing artists and other public figures forward, making the conversation about them instead of about larger social injustices that benefit the corporations.

It’s good, it’s bad, it is reality now in the west. I am sure there is an easy algorithm someone has written for when it becomes cost effective to bow to public pressure and “cancel” a person, and corporations are using it all the time. And people know that, even if you don’t say it outloud, when you join (or organize) a social media campaign, you know that if you push hard enough you can tip the scales, and “win” once the person is canceled. If they are more famous, you have to push harder.

That '70s Show' Actor Danny Masterson Charged With Raping 3 Women ...
Danny Masterson was a super easy decision, accused not just of racism or harassment but of rape, and just a supporting player in a Netflix series. Pulled from the show immediately, everyone moves forward and maintains profitability

But how does this work in India’s far more defuse media climate? Not well! The thing is, there is no end to it. Artists are like water, they flow from one media to another, no one can really be fully “canceled”. So the campaigns against them just continue, into infinity, fighting the war on new fronts with new battles again and again.

“Cancel culture” can be very damaging, but I think “boycott” culture creates for more longterm damage, mostly because of the collateral damage. If you fire one person from their TV show, using your All Power as a corporation, that one person’s life is ruined. But everyone else on the show still has work. If you boycott a TV show because of the actions of one person on it, then everyone on the show is out of work. Worse than that, everyone on the show ends up being painted with the same brush and will have a hard time getting work in future because of the controversy attached to them. The Art itself is put on trial, not the creator.

Art should be put on trial, of course, artistic objects can do bad things and have bad messages. But if the issue is that one artist involved in his personal life did something bad, that should not effect the eventual product which involved many many people. “Boycott” means it does.

Let’s look at Gunjan Saxena for an example. It stars an actress that people do not like. Okay, fine. But there is no one major corporate power that you can appeal to in order to “cancel” her. And there is no clear cost-benefit analysis to cover the cost of removing her. So “cancel” is off the table, instead you are left with “boycott” in some sort of ill-defined battle with no goal. But if you boycott the movie Gunjan Saxena, you are deeply damaging the careers of so many other artists! Who had nothing to do with casting the particular actress you don’t like!

Sharan Sharma movies, filmography, biography and songs -
Sharan Sharma, director of Gunjan Saxena, worked for years to get this chance, and now his career could be ended with a flop because of things unrelated to himself.

In a larger way, boycotting movies hurts movies. “Movies” meaning the larger art form/cultural concept. The effects spread out in all directions. Cancel culture hurts art too of course, removing workers from the world, but it is an attack on individuals, while a boycott is an attack on a whole community. I guess it is the difference between shooting a single person, and setting fire to the building where that person is living and driving them and their neighbors onto the street. In the first, you kill a person, but at least it is quick and easy and contained. In the second, that person is still alive but with less places to hide. To keep this going a little further, if you set one building on fire to drive them out into the open, if they find another building to hide in, you have to set another fire. It’s never ending, until there are no buildings left and thousands of people wander the streets in collateral damage.

But does this mean boycott culture is less or more effective than Cancel culture? If you accept that an entire system is corrupt, than a series of boycott battles will eventually kill the whole system, while Cancel culture will let the system flourish as a series of small tumors are removed, and then replaced by new ones. Neither of them will have the result of a new clean pure healthy system, but I honestly don’t know if that is even possible. Structural change is really really hard.

That’s what I got! The main original thought is to suggest we should use the phrase “boycott culture” for Indian social media pop culture campaigns, versus “cancel culture” in the West. And then I jumped off to considering the different causes, and different effects, of the two.

UPDATE: Courtney in the comments just posted an excellent thoughtful well-researched article on how the platforms themselves encourage “cancel culture” and meaningless debate, along with a quick note that “cancel culture” only works thanks to an economy with no employment security. It’s long, which makes it even better of course. Oh boy! Go read a long in depth thought provoking piece of writing with no easy answers! It’s The Best Thing!

22 thoughts on “Thinky Post: “Cancel Culture” versus “Boycott Culture”, US versus India

  1. This is so true!! Never thought of the differences until you explained it so clearly!

    I think one reason why Indians have to “boycott” is because the higher-ups/powerful don’t really care to “cancel” their friends. Loyalty/friendships/campism is so strong in Indian culture…its hard to cancel your friend even if he is accused of rape or whatever…the impulse is to defend him…aka Ranbir Kapoor defending Raju Hirani…or the whole industry defending Sanjay Dutt in the 90s despite the hard facts that he got guns from the Mafia!

    So, today if I want to support the Me too movement..I want Vikas Bahl/Hirani out of the industry…but as the industry has shown they don’t really care and the production companies are not going to cancel them…stars will still work with them…the only choice left for the audience is to boycott…


    • Just to point out, that part of this is “the industry” is a majority collective, but there is a minority that DOES care. The Vinod Chopras and Anurag Kashyap put their careers and reputation on the line against Vikas Bahl/Hirani. But they were just one production house, one few voices, the majority still flowed into the path of least resistance.


  2. The Hollywood male culture of the “casting couch”and the MeToo boycott movement are now inexorably intwined and rightfully so. I was thinking of this the other day when reading about Ashley Judd and her career being stalled when she refused to play along. And then there’s Woody Allen, whose career seemingly is still going strong, but I see subtle signs that he, too, has been affected.


    • Woody Allen is an interesting case, because he has largely managed to be independent. There are few people who can “cancel” him. The exception to that being his Netflix show, which was canceled eventually. But so long as he can find his own funding sources and get his films accepted at festivals and reviewed, no one can stop him from doing anything he wants to do. There is no higher power with control over him. Which, I think, is the closest to how Indian popular culture workers, film by film funding and release with no higher total power. It’s a very different situation from someone who just shows up and does their job like any other employee and can be fired.

      On Mon, Aug 17, 2020 at 2:55 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. …i just realized i commented on the wrong post about GS *facepalms*

    I think boycott culture might be a bit more viable in certain countries with certain economic systems than others. Also, I think cancel culture is in fact leading to a boycott culture, where people are voting with their wallets (or their eyes/attention, I suppose). So boycott culture as mentioned here is different, but I can see it being another part of the cycle of cancel culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe Cancel Culture is out of fear of a Boycott Culture taking control? But not an organized one, more a disorganized naturally occurring one. As a person’s miss-deeds are more and more widely publicized, the audience will start to associate those bad things with the product they are attached to and drift away from the product. The key is containment, attack the problem hard and immediately and remove it.

      But “cancel” isn’t an option for an industry that is made up of many small products, and so it has morphed into Boycott Culture.

      On Mon, Aug 17, 2020 at 3:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you said, boycott culture doesn’t really work even if does long term damage as a whole. For instance, the Sadak trailer has more than 11 million dislikes. Is that going to really change anything? It would if people started dropping Alia from future movies but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. BW is made up of clans – friends and family. It would be easy for corporates to dump anyone that seems like a liability but are friends going to do that? Not really. They also know within the industry that if you keep giving the audience one movie after another with Alia in it, they will eventually watch. If you are given broccoli everyday, you will eventually eat it because you’re hungry. They just have to be persistent and stick with it. Eventually people will get tired or they will find something new to outrage about.

    Once you’ve made it, you’re going to stick around forever. Sanjay Dutt is still around, Salman Khan is still around and so are lesser known people like Vikas Bahl and Raju Hirani. They just have to lay low for a while and soon everyone forgets and moves on.


    • Is Alia’s “crime” simply of being an actress from a famous Bollywood family? She’s not my favorite actress, but she’s damn talented. Why is it okay to come from a family of doctors or lawyers or engineers, but acting/creative genes don’t get passed down?

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s three “crimes”

        1. She is part of the larger film culture, and was mentored by Karan Johar, in addition to being from a film family. She isn’t an “outsider”

        2. Nepotism is a one size fits all crime that is used as a weapon against those who go against the conservatives in power. They have a massive budget for online robo attacks, they can set their army of hired social media agents on any target they want, supported by Kangana their mad attack dog, and so “nepotism” is most often used as a slur against people who don’t fit in with what the ultra-right likes. No one is saying that out loud, but I am sick of pretending. Karan Johar is the most often attacked, to the point that he has left social media, and he is also an openly gay man. Alia comes from a mixed religious background and a famously liberal family, on top of being a working woman with a romantic history outside of marriage. If you are connected to Karan Johar, and are not Hindu Conservative, you will get attacked.

        3. Hindi film culture is welcoming to love marriages, minority religions, different sexual identities, and outspoken intelligent liberal people, everything scary to conservatives. There is a larger campaign to drive it into hiding, to make people ashamed of being who they are, to turn it into a tool for the ultra right in which everyone is Hindu, Uppercaste, and Conservative. The Internet is full of angry screeds about what is wrong with Hindi film, and very little about what might be right.

        There is a reasonable argument to make that Alia got some roles by connections instead of because she was objectively the best for the part, and the film suffered because of it. But at this point we are so far beyond reasonable arguments and into the realm of witch hunts that I will no longer pay even lip service to the supposed reasoning behind it.

        It’s like McCarthyism, at a certain point it is so far beyond whether or not there really were Communist spies and why that matters that to even pretend it is about Communism feels wrong.

        On Wed, Aug 19, 2020 at 11:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


        Liked by 1 person

        • Karan is a tough cookie. He’s literally crawled his way up to the top by a 1. Recognizing those who have real/reel talent and using his own talent to make movies with them, 2. Situated himself as everyone’s gossipy gay best friend – no one can resist sharing the dirt in the film industry (so long as it’s “fun” dirt, I think it works.) 3. Lives his life in India like he’s set up somewhere in Manhattan – he pretends not to give a single f – although I’m sure he does. He was a fat, closeted kid with a broke dad who made awful financial decisions who probably shouldn’t have been running a studio. The Dharma opening song – from KKHH, yeah? – was the very first Hindi film brand my kids recognized. They’d hear it come on, and holler downstairs to ask which movie I was watching.
          If Karan is the poster child for nepotism, then there is much good to be derived from it. If the “outsiders” are smart, the need to be talented and learn to network, just like any other industry. Is breaking in to Bollywood (specifically, vs other Indian film) supposed to be easy? Is anything ever particularly easy?
          Also, is Kangana and “outsider”? ‘Cause she has soured me on everything she touches. She’s an attention whore like no one else I’ve seen in Mumbai. Bat. Shi*t. Crazy. Oh … and I have questions about Sushant …

          Liked by 1 person

          • Agree with all of this. Karan had friendships when he started, but truly NOTHING else. No family, no money, no security to fall back on. He was also super talented, and part of that talent was a vision for who he could use. Not “use” like befriend and dispose, but “use” like spotting someone and knowing they would be perfect for a certain role and he should promote them.

            And yes, networking is part of a job, any job. I challenge anyone in the world to say they owe their career entirely to merit, no personality. Even me, I have my current job largely because my boss and I get along so well. He trusts me, he likes working with me, and it has lead to me being promoted and working closely with him and so on. If I did my real “work” equally well or better, but didn’t click as well with him, I wouldn’t have the place I now have. And that’s, like, totally okay. We have to work closely, it’s easier to do if you get along. Why should a director or producer work with an actor they don’t get along with, any more than anyone else should?

            On Fri, Aug 21, 2020 at 9:35 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  5. The thing with boycott culture is that while it has more damaging potential than cancel culture, it can also backfire. As you have stated, in cancel culture it’s really the corporate power that is cancelling the individual and then blacklisting them for future projects. So let’s say a actor said some stupid things in his youth (college days) and he was cancelled. Someone like me would think “I don’t condone what he said, but I am willing to give him a second chance. He was young. Young people say stupid things” However, I am not really in a position to support him and his projects since he isn’t getting that many offers from other filmmakers. With boycott culture, the power lies in the people. This means that even though people are boycotting a particular actress, filmmakers are still casting that actress in roles. So, since I disagree with the people who want to boycott Janhvi Kapoor, I can still show my support by watching her films. This is why Gunjan Saxena trends on Netflix India’s Top 10. I had no intention of watching Sadak 2, but the literal abuse thrown at Alia Bhatt (DEATH THREATS!) as made me inclined to watch the film. I genuinely do believe Sadat 2 will be viewed by many people. Just look at how many disliked he trailer received. Even if it’s hate-watching, you are still watching and giving filmmakers free publicity which could turn into money.


  6. Boycott culture is just insanity and is not going to affect the individuals.People riling up for a short while and then forgetting everything is much tamer,not to say inconsequential than literal virtue signalling when media all over paints you as a criminal.Media as in reputed journalists slamming you left and right on public platform,not just anyone with an account.A few dislikes(on a Youtube site that is especially prone to spam and bots) is much different from being branded as a problem by the media.Much like how Depp literally lost projects due to a case with faults from both sides.Fortunately with boycott it is only a particular faction of public not the entire media publishing long articles about the history of an actor,and literally branding anyone who supports them as complicit and parts of problem.Which is the biggest difference- between the boycott is called for from only a small section of audience while cancelling literally pulls you out of shows,lined projects and existing works.
    And the two are not mutually exclusive in either country.Let’s take the case of GS,turned out different from what anyone was expecting and apart from a shaky performance at times(she is young,needs a smidge more experience)was generally good(except when we got a stereotypical misogynist chacracter which looked tried and tested instead of treating it from the perspective of the protagonist,so a few parts did look filmy and jarring,and the bit of quick-wrap-up-fit-in-everything-good ending)so the calls for boycott didn’t work.Besides with boycott people can continue to use the product and not talk about it,but cancelling is essentially what happened with ADHM.The media labels you as a problem,you are wrong,anyone who supports you doesn’t deserve the platform.Like if they decide to pull down Dostana,which did leave a bad taste at least in my mouth the way it treated the subject matter and it was naturally a product of its time that aged like milk,but that is something that should be watched with an open mind and actors cannot be judged for it today.But boycott is like like Sadak 2,where most neutral observers didn’t get the cult part of the trailor,and may just give it a watch if a friend of a friend tells them that it was not that complicated.People just watch whatever they feel has maximum coverage on a holiday.Basically no one outright refuses to watch a movie unless the review from critics is extremely negative(critics,not trade analysts.They are another breed entirely and one that shouldn’t exist).It is rare to have have sleeper hits like Khurrana.
    Shockingly one has been taken over by extreme left,and one by extreme right.Atleast boycotting leaves others to enjoy it(especially the ones without social media presence,arguably the biggest box office draw that everyone forgets)while cancelling literally ends you.People can call out mob mentality but are helpless when it comes to unfair media trial.No one can help when productions refuse to keep you.Screenings get cancelled because one supporting actor says something unacceptable.Most people who support cancel culture would call themselves “progressive liberals”whereas media went both ways.Same with people affiliated to a political faction.
    Boycotting is like rage quitting-3 months and people are back to line,ignoring very real problems in the industry and showbiz that almost never get called out.Cancelling is a taint that you have to bear as you supposedly did something supposedly wrong,atleast in the eyes of media even if it was not a big deal(and cue rants for being part of the problem by not considering it a big deal).


    • Agree with everything you say. I would just add two things.

      First, boycotts are effective in a different way when a movie is in theaters, because then it involves having to cross a literal picket line to watch the film, right? It’s already been proven true that they are far less effective against digital content, the digital numbers for boycotted theatrical releases tend to be very high, if no one is watching people will throw aside their scruples and just see what they want to see, as you describe. Boycotts, I think, are a large part of what is driving the OTT market. Or maybe it is the other way around? People are more likely to support a boycott if they think “well, I won’t see it in theaters, but I can always catch it streaming, so sure! I’ll boycott!”

      Second, I would say that your “rage quitting” is a great comparison. The issue being that from one side it is this rage quitting forgettable thing, but from the other side it has long term financial consequences. Theaters close because their big movie was boycotted, or production houses go out of business, or just generally ticket prices drop. The movies that tend to attract the boycotts are the bigger films, which means they are also the films that have a lot riding on them in terms of investment and expected return. So the audience decides not to buy a ticket in an impulsive angry gesture and then forgets about it two weeks later, and meanwhile the theater has gone out of business forever.


  7. Cosby may have fallen from grace, but he will still influence comedians for a long time to come. He was groundbreaking, and funny, without swearing or making people uncomfortable, he was hilarious. His comedy is and always will be inspiring. Comedians have, and will continue to share his audio tapes, and watch his shows, even if the general public backs away. Do I want to give a serial rapist money? No. So if he were younger and, well, still making shows, I suppose I would be part of the boycott culture. But there wasn’t much to cancel from him, he was pretty much done.


    • I agree. And of course, he should have been younger. That is, these stories were around for decades but he was powerful and famous and no one took them seriously, until suddenly they did. Counter-example, Weinstein. No one is “canceling” or “boycotting” his products, because they don’t feel like his products, he just produced them he isn’t onscreen. I’m not sure what to do about that, I don’t want to take away all the Oscars from the artists who earned them, but if I watch 12 Years a Slave, am I giving money to a rapist?

      On Tue, Aug 18, 2020 at 12:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  8. Maybe, those two very different dealings with “personas non grata” have a lot to do with how the respective movie industry works and the place the respective audience gives to movies.
    Like you wrote, “cancel” a person/persons does not change the system, not even affects it at the whole…just a cut or a death…it’s like solving a medical or mathematic/logical problem – those in power (i.e. corporations) decide in view of their money. There is a lot of (moral) hypocrisy behind the decisions corporations are doing (like “as long as this persons fits u s we go along with him/her”)…and “canceling” is the easiest and the most cost/time-effective to do. The individual (artist) is replacable or thrown away. So “cancel” is a ‘clinical process’, I think.

    T h a t, one cannot – on a public scale – do in a culture where emotions, social liaisons and personal relations intertwine like one can experience in the Indian movie culture. Certainly, ‘minor’ people are “cancelled”, too, but the way, Indian movies are a part of Indian life, cutting out a well-known person is a long process (except if you drive him/her to suicide or make him/her kill). Indian filmindustry – as you often point out – still isn’t a “corporate thing” like in the West…there still is a lot of very personal involvement in the creative process of those who founded the production house and own it, it’s still somehow like a “family”-thing, at least in the head of people/the audience.
    “Boycott” gives the power to a mass movement and those with a very precise agenda know it. India has a very, very long tradition with mass movements (sadly the violent ones are more kept alive than the positive ones) and social media has become an additional, very inhuman propaganda tool to cause pressure. And like you wrote, it damages the life of many, many people.

    If a corporation “cancels” you, you may have the possibility to contest it or to build a new life…if you are boycotted, one wishes to destroy either you or a system (or both) one doesn’t want. And there are not many options to counter a boycott.

    I think, there still will be a different celebrity culture in India for a while but eventually the star-system as we know it, will become more and more the one where corporations can “cancel” a famous person…

    Just as an example :
    There was a (believable or not) report about ShahRukh and a (plannend) YRF movie with him (Pathan).
    Meanwhile, an “Official movie trailer” of Pathan went viral on YouTube where people extensively use the dislike button thus creating a new wave of an anti-ShahRukh/anti-YRF movement.


  9. `
    One thing that has always kind of bothered me . . .

    When the boycott or cancel or strike achievs its goal, and the person/company/industry changes its ways for the better, there seems to be this residual negative against the entity. I can remember boycotting grapes in support of a farm-workers strike. The strike was successful and, arguably, we should have all started buying lots of grapes so that the workers could go back to their now-impoved jobs and that the owners would see it’s good for business to do the right thing. But instead, I always felt uncomfortable buying grapes and bought less.

    It’s confusing.


    • Yes, and this is a major issue with boycotting of films. If the idea is to “punish” films by boycotting the ones with people you disaprove of, then you should also be celebrating films you accept. Instead, what I am seeing is that while some movies go down, no movies go up. The boycott is succeeding in killing the things it doesn’t like but not in replacing them with things it does like.

      On Tue, Aug 18, 2020 at 7:49 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • Isn’t that something going with a mass-movement. There may have been a valuable reason in the first way to initiate a boycott and/or to support it. But much too often it becomes a tool for interests of which you yourself becomes a (easy?) prey and the initial motivation gets blurred or vanishes completely in abandoning inhibitions or rational thinking.


  10. I never commented on this cuz I didn’t have anything interesting to contribute, but I just found this Buzzfeed article about how social media developers are more responsible for “cancel culture” rather than users, and that’s such an interesting take.


    • That is an amazing article! Thank you! I encourage everyone to read it, and I will embed the link in my post.

      It is a perfect partner to all my posts on this topic, I think, and why people on DCIB have been talking about why they are on DCIB and nowhere else. You just can’t talk, or think, the way you want on certain platforms.

      On a personal note, this is why I stay on WordPress and stopped being on Quora, it is a matter of the underlying structure of the site supporting a kind of behavior. On Quora, I could write long form answers and get interesting comments. But then I got a troll, and I reported him, and the site did nothing. I also got plagiarized several times, and again they did nothing. They want the “trolls”, they want the over the top opinions and conflicting long posts, and they don’t really care of the posts are original or not. It’s not about getting the best most accurate answer, it’s about getting the answer that has the most views. More than that, it is not about supporting the content creators AT ALL. I was bringing in thousands of views a day for them, but they did not care if I felt safe on the site, they wanted my content without paying for it. So I left, and probably most thoughtful informed caring people also leave eventually, which is why Quora tends towards extremism now, since that is the behavior they support.

      On the other hand, WordPress has excellent spam filters, simple tools to let me block a commenter for all time, responds to my concerns immediately, generally puts the content providers first with a goal of creating safe supportive communities. None of this is necessarily part of their advertising or mission statement or surface appearance, but when you are heavily using the site, the underlying message of the kind of community they want comes through.

      On Thu, Aug 20, 2020 at 1:02 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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