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If social media spurs the ostracism that comes with being “canceled,” Twitter is arguably its most powerful court.
Many people have Twitter accounts for the sole purpose of tracking such phenomena. Of its 70 million U.S. users, less than half actually tweet. However, more than 80 percent of Twitter users check their Twitter feeds at least weekly, according to Statista.
Such numbers highlight the importance of Twitter trends. A recent event that set Twitter ablaze concerned NBC’s “The Office.”
The reason? Comedy Central pulled a beloved episode titled “Diversity Day” from a weekend marathon. The incident underscores the importance of media and content sharing in our increasingly polarized society.
“Diversity Day” remains popular, though it aired in 2005 at the start of the first season. A few months ago, fans still ranked it as their fifth favorite episode of all time in a Collider poll.
The episode’s popularity may lie in its relatability. The manager, Michael Scott, played by Steve Carrell, is of European descent. He’s not a great boss, and he relies on microaggressions, lazy stereotypes and outdated biases to relate to his staff.
Michael needs diversity training. However, the episode starts with him wresting control from the corporate trainer (played by Larry Wilmore, who is of African American descent).
Michael blunders through several “oh, no” moments, such as forcing a board game-style race-guessing exercise. For me, the cringiest part is Michael’s impersonation of comedian Chris Rock explaining “different kinds of Black people.”
It’s tough to watch Michael, largely because I laugh at most of his attempts to foster understanding among his staff. I laugh because I have had similar experiences in the workplace and my personal life.
If each of us consumes only that with which we are comfortable, what goes missing?
The elements of the Michael Scott character that make us squirm while we laugh fell on the side of cancel culture, in Comedy Central’s estimation. That decision sparked a campaign against the network from those who insist we’re all in on the joke.
It was a tough call. If even one person saw inclusion of the episode as affirmation of Michael’s actions, perhaps the network would be accused of promoting racist ideas.
Carrell has said his famed character would be banned from today’s TV lineup. How does any platform or creator share content these days without someone taking disagreement to cancellation?
Conscious consumers create those safe spaces for free expression. We must not cancel with capricious abandon. We must insist our increasingly specific content feeds are open to information we consider disagreeable, unsavory and offensive. We must agree to be annoyed and even challenged by the ideas of others.
The alternative is that we’ll inadvertently and unintentionally cancel important voices in our culture. In addition, our heavily monitored choices and browsing preferences will continue to narrow the content that reaches us; we’ll only see what we wanted to see before. We won’t necessarily know what else is out there.
That seems like a sort of science fiction idea, but is it?
U.S. adults increased their media consumption by 20 percent during the past decade, according to Visual Capitalist research. This includes mobile, desktop, television and radio platforms. On average, we spend 4 hours and 12 minutes per day on mobile devices alone.
Note that older forms of media didn’t make the list. In addition, the newest platforms are vastly different from their iterations of even 2008 to 2010. Instead, since 2011, businesses have increased efforts to collect and utilize data related to consumer choices and preferences, then push out new options similar to those selections.
Current media consumption includes mobile and desktop internet use that includes newsfeeds and internet searches — fed by preference aggregators. It includes television viewing composed primarily of digital video recordings and streaming services, which also use previous selections to suggest new content. It also includes radio content created by a small group of conglomerates and subscription services.
Since 2011, innovations in tracking technology have increased the specificity of content pushed out to individual consumers. If you so choose, you need not interact with anything outside your comfort zone.
On the surface, that seems fine. Why should I have to consume information that doesn’t make me comfortable? Isn’t it easier for me if someone else culls content for me?
There’s a certain amount of sense to that line of reasoning, and there’s not. It’s the sort of reasoning that makes a network self-conscious about a sitcom episode.
On a deeper level, it removes voices from a bigger conversation. If each of us consumes only that with which we are comfortable, what goes missing? How does comfort numb our ability to solve problems and work with others? How does it dull our ability to discern fact from belief?
The problem starts with the content we might consider to be relatively insignificant. When we censor people, books, movies, television shows — especially content from the past — we don’t truly kill the idea. We push dissent to the shadows, where it can fester.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com