I can’t stress enough how much the John Green debacle was an early example of how cancel culture and purity culture combine to make people feel righteously justified to engage in harassment.
John Green, during his time on tumblr, committed the heinous sins of…being neurodivergent and talking openly about it, earnestly interacting with fans in a very direct and unfiltered way, and writing about teenagers navigating first love and sexuality while he himself was an adult. The worst things he ever did were be a little cringe or misspeak, for which he was always prompt to apologize (often whether he really needed to or not).
Yet despite the former two being things tumblr claimed to love and the last one being true of 99.99% of YA authors, in this case a large segment of tumblr users steeped in the early 2010s resurgence of purity culture decided that these things were suspicious and predatory, and used that as an excuse to justify some truly awful behavior.
Which is really all that cancel culture is: the normalization and even celebration of the process of misapplying morality or ethics to dehumanize someone for the express purpose of justifying whatever pain and suffering you want to inflict upon them. Basically, deciding “this person is bad, so I am exempt from affording them basic respect and human dignity, and am allowed to cross any and all otherwise uncrossable lines in order to punish them without damaging my own moral or ethical standing.”
Contrary to popular tumblr lore, the infamous “cock monologue” was not the sum total of the harassment, or even the worst of it. Callout blogs issued long lists of “receipts” about how terrible John Green was, most if not all of which were either taken out of context or completely refutable. His works were torn to shreds by people who’d never read them, as evidenced by much of the criticism being obviously and blatantly counter to the actual contents of the books.
Not that it mattered. Once the John Green hate party reached a certain level of critical mass, it became less about who he actually was or what he’d done, and more about proving you were a good person by hating him. That’s the natural conclusion of cancel culture, after all: virtue signalling by identifying yourself in opposition to the cancelled parties. They’re bad, and I’m good, so I hate them! Or, more often: They’re bad, and I hate them, so I’m good!
Before it was over with, John Green had been accused, with no evidence, of being everything from a Nazi to a pedophile and subjected to hate mail and death threats. He eventually left the site for the sake of his own mental health, and because he no longer felt comfortable engaging directly with fans in the same way he once had.
Yet even now, with the benefit of hindsight, and even among those who ostensibly reject purity culture and condem bullying and harassment, very few on tumblr take what was done to John Green as seriously as it should be taken or condemn it as thoroughly as it should be condemned. Which I think is something we need to at least consider doing, given the increasing rise of purity and cancel culture online, and given the recent influx of professional creators eager to interact with fans on a more direct level than they have on other social media.
And my concern is not purely, or even primarily, for the Mike Flanagans and Lynda Carters of the world. I’m far more concerned, actually, for the small, independent or self-published creators in this space, and how much even a very small level of visibility gives too many people a feeling of carte blanche to engage in harassment.
I myself have less than 3k followers on here, a handful of popular posts, and zero notoriety or consequence outside of tumblr whatsoever, and I’ve been repeatedly told to kill myself for saying such innocuous things as “I don’t think censorship is the cure for the world’s evils” and “maybe learning the history of communities you want to participate in would be a good idea.”
Thankfully, all it took for me to stop the harassment that came my way was to block those few individuals. But there have been many instances over the years of small creators or just random tumblr users that got a bit popular being stalked, doxxed, swatted, and harassed to the point of leaving the site and dealing with serious mental health issues as a result. It has never been just John Green. John Green isn’t even the worst example. And tumblr has never learned its lesson.
@kvetchcore I hope you don’t mind me adding your tags, but I feel like they’re essential information:
The cock post was literally homophobic sexual harassment. A lot of people gloss over that.
God I thought I was going crazy when this was going on. Sexual harrassment as punishment for… something.
It sort of cemented for me that, after a decade of trying to wrap my stupid autistic/adhd brain around them, there aren’t actually any rules. People really are Just Like That. They’ll forget everything they stand for to attack something they hate.