Cancel culture can be a touchy subject. Depending on whom you ask, it can mean holding people accountable or censorship. And some people just don’t comprehend the phrase at all, as evidenced by “The Real Housewives of New York” star Ramona Singer confidently asking, “Why would you want to cancel culture?”

But a survey from Pew Research shows that American adults are most likely to associate cancel culture with accountability

Of the more than 10,000 American adults surveyed, 44% said they had heard at least a fair amount about cancel culture, and around half said “it describes actions people take to hold others accountable.”

A majority also said cancel culture is basically used for good.

“Overall, 58% of adults said that in general, when people publicly call others out on social media for posting content that might be considered offensive, they are more likely to hold people accountable,” the survey found.

The term “cancel culture” — along with “woke” — has become politicized in the last several years. The Pew survey found that conservative Republicans or those who identify as “Republican leaning” were more likely than any other group to associate cancel culture with “censorship of speech or history.”

The term has become a buzzword and a talking point for many right-of-center politicians and their aligned media. It’s often used to deflect, or redirect, criticism. Michael van der Veen, serving as an attorney for then-President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, blasted the proceedings as “constitutional cancel culture.” And former Trump adviser Jason Miller even launched a social-media platform with the stated goal of “fighting cancel culture.” 

Read more: Ex–Trump adviser creates new social-media platform GETTR — will Trump join?

While cancel culture is most often lambasted from the right, former President Barack Obama, left-of-center Democrat, had little stomach for it, either. 

“I think that a lot of the dangers of cancel culture and, you know, we’re just going to be condemning people all the time, at least among my daughters, they’ll acknowledge that sometimes among their peer group or on college campuses, you’ll see folks going overboard,” the former president said in a CNN interview earlier this year. “We don’t expect everybody to be perfect. We don’t expect everybody to be politically correct all the time.”

Still, he said, calling out institutions for wrongdoing is important. 

Canceling means withdrawing “support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media,” according to Merriam-Webster. “Cancel culture” describes an atmosphere of mass cancellation.  

But there are different degrees of “canceling.” Chris Harrison, longtime host of “The Bachelor,” exited the franchise after defending contestant Rachel Kirkconnell for attending an “Old South” party and criticizing the “woke police.”

Ellen DeGeneres was culturally canceled after allegations surfaced that she ran a toxic workplace. Soon after, she announced she would be ending her long-running talk show.

Reality TV stars Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute were fired from “Vanderpump Rules” for reporting a Black co-worker to the police for a crime with which she had nothing to do.

See: Simon & Schuster cancels upcoming book by Sen. Josh Hawley after Capitol siege

Other public figures have been “canceled” for insensitive comments or actions. They didn’t necessarily lose their jobs but were widely criticized for their behavior and potentially lost some fans.

Vogue magazine’s legendary editor, Anna Wintour, was said to have been canceled in 2020 when people criticized her for not elevating Black creators or employees. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling was labeled canceled after her anti-trans comments. And actor Chris Pratt was called canceled over his membership in an anti-LGTBQ church.

Celebrities are learning to bounce back from cancellation.

Kevin Hart, “canceled” in 2018 after homophobic tweets resurfaced, is a prime example. Though the comedian did step down from hosting the Oscars that year, his career continues. Most recently, Hart put out a six-part docuseries on Netflix
titled “Don’t F—k This Up,” wherein he addresses his cancellation.

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