Creative freedom versus cancel culture: The dangers of censorship

creative freedom cancel culture

“You have complete creative freedom, just don’t mention this, this, or this”. Unfortunately, restrictions are becoming more and more common for those working in the creative fields of publishing, filmmaking, influencing, and even fashion design.

Many people are choosing to self-censor to avoid the hassle and possible job loss that can come with saying, doing, or supporting anything that might rock the boat. We will discuss how cancel culture has negatively impacted the creative process and the dangers of allowing censorship to grow in society. If you are one of these people, then keep reading. 

creative freedom cancel culture

Cancel culture

Cancel culture, or call-out culture as it is sometimes referred to, has been the bane of many professionals and artists’ lives in recent years. According to Urban Dictionary, it is defined as being when a person is ejected from fame and influence. The cancellation of a person will usually begin with an accusation, whether it has merit or not, followed by swift condemnation from the masses, who are quick to judge and slow to question, before the person is forcibly ousted from the social circle. 

Much like COVID-19, when a person or their work has been cancelled, online social distancing is taken to the extreme, with former friends and associates fighting to condemn the person first and put as much distance between themselves and the person who has been chosen as the social sacrifice. 

Yes, so far there have been a number of high-profile writers, celebrities, and singers that have felt the wrath of social justice warriors. With Ellen deGeneres, Lana Del Rey, and even beloved singer, Billie Eilish, finding themselves cancelled or called out, and their reputations thoroughly tarnished. Not that all cancellations are uncalled for, but it does beg the question as to who is really deciding what is appropriate or not anymore and where this will end?

creative freedom cancel culture

Creative freedom

On the other side of this social minefield, you have creative freedom and artistic expression. Creative freedom is important for many reasons. For one, it ties in with our freedom of speech and is a sign of a healthy society. To be able to openly debate and agree to disagree shows a level of civility and intelligence. Take, for example, art. Long has it been used as a tool by those who want to poke fun at the establishment, and to share important and otherwise unknown information. It shows itself in many forms, such as satire, stories, paintings, songs, poetry, films, and even fashion design.

The problem with cancel culture today is that creative works are often over-interpreted as being hateful as opposed to simply critical, and that artists who have been inspired by other cultures find themselves accused of “cultural appropriation”. An example of this can be found in the literary world with Jordan Peterson, J.K. Rowling, and many other writers facing cancellation or having their work left unpublished altogether.

For the lesser-known writers, trying to find a balance between writing about difficult topics with respect and trying to avoid the online mob, means that they risk having to dilute the message of their work. And so, if you can’t write anything that has a strong opinion or perspective, then what’s the point of writing at all. As Stephen King tweeted when Woody Allen’s controversial book was dropped by its publishers, “I don’t give a damn about Mr. Allen. It’s who gets muzzled next that worries me”. 

creative freedom cancel culture

The apology

For those that plow ahead with their creative decisions, it isn’t long before their work has been passed through the censors, and, shortly afterwards, come the teary-eyed apologies on Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. “I regret my actions; I wholeheartedly apologise; I’m ashamed of who I was back then; my behaviour was inexcusable; I’ve let you all down”. These are just some of the most common phrases that you have no doubt heard from the mouths of those whom society has deemed “cancelled”. It has taken lip service to another level entirely with many people seeming to apologise without actually meaning it or perhaps doing it because of the pressure that is placed upon them. 

An example of this and of how cancel culture has gone to extremes, was when the singer, Winston Marshall, from the band Mumford and Sons, was cancelled after expressing his support for the book, Unmasked. His support for the book, which ironically decries the leftist group Antifa, meant that he felt forced to leave so as not to further damage the band’s reputation. This shows the menacing aspect to cancel culture, as not only the cancelled person is under threat, but their friends and family can also be harmed through a “guilty by association” mentality. 


The creative pushback

Common groups, speakers, and celebrities have pushed back against cancel culture with political media host, Ben Shapiro, frequently responding with “the facts don’t care about your feelings”. Another person who refused to be cancelled was the writer, J.K.Rowling, who penned an open letter, signed by other celebrities, which criticised the dangers of this censorship. In response to this pushback, people have often been labelled as far-right extremists, but, again, there comes the debate as to who decides what, and how do we stop personal bias from getting in the way of remaining fair and impartial. 


The long term dangers of cancel culture

With regards to creative freedom and censorship, there are serious concerns over how this will affect the messages being shared by creatives. As censorship tightens its stranglehold on creativity, it puts a stop to innovation and risks boxing artists into an echo chamber of sorts. It has also shown how hurt feelings have now become a sufficient excuse for extreme brutality. An example of censorship that was taken too far was the Charlie Hebdo attack in 2015. After cartoons were published depicting the prophet Muhammad, eight journalists from the editorial team were brutally murdered. 

Actions like these also instill fear into those who would think about expressing an unpopular opinion and show that what people are forced to say in public is not really what they think in private. This is dangerous for two reasons: the first being that censorship has been accepted as a new way of life, and, secondly, that by silencing even moderate opinions that seek only to question and are not motivated by hate, they are pushing people into the arms of more extreme groups. It breeds resentment and allows for hate and prejudice to fester as healthy dialogue is pushed aside in favour of conformity. 

There is also a certain hypocrisy to “cancel culture”, as the people that say we need to be open, kind, and encouraging to each other, are the same people that thrust celebrities and writers from the social sphere and tell them to go kill themselves because of an old tweet from 2007. 


With the rise of tech giants, social media platforms, and the constant sharing of opinions and ideas, it is safe to say that creative freedom is under attack and will remain so for the foreseeable future until we, society, decide to cancel our own toxic cancel culture. However, if this behaviour is allowed to continue, it could mean that we will see art and literature enter a new era of socialist realism, one that is devoid of opinion or perspective but is accepted because it is “appropriate”. 

If you agree or disagree with anything in this article please share in the comments below.


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Grace Duffy

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