Cancel Culture: Should the past be used to destroy your future?

The Flash -- "Godspeed" -- Image Number: FLA518c_0001b.jpg -- Pictured: Hartley Sawyer as Dibney -- Photo: The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved
The Flash -- "Godspeed" -- Image Number: FLA518c_0001b.jpg -- Pictured: Hartley Sawyer as Dibney -- Photo: The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved /

Cancel Culture comes for The Flash actor Hartley Sawyer

You might have heard that The Flash star Hartley Sawyer has been fired from his series regular role and obviously won’t return for the CW show’s upcoming Season 7. Though you may not think much of it at first, this is yet another example of a growing Cancel Culture trend which could have dire consequences for everyone.

Introduced in the fourth season as Ralph Dibny/Elongated Man, Sawyer has been a source of comedy and off-kilter adventure on The Flash. Unfortunately, social media stupidity has cut that adventure short. A series of offensive joke tweets made between 2012 and 2014 have since resurfaced, causing Sawyer to be swiftly fired and The Flash producer Eric Wallace to issue a statement condemning the actor’s words. The star has since apologized.

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Sound familiar? It should since we’ve witnessed this same song and dance happen several times within the past few years. Roseanne Barr made an ignorant remark about Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett and got kicked off her own show, leading the sitcom Roseanne to be redubbed The Conners.

Kevin Hart’s old homophobic jokes were dug up by Twitter. Pressured for an apology, he subsequently dropped out of hosting the Oscars.

More notoriously, however, Disney saw James Gunn’s pedophilia jokes from yesteryear and banned him from writing/directing a third Guardians of the Galaxy film. Eventually, though, outcry from both fans and cast members resulted in his rehiring.

The Flash flood of Cancel Culture

These are just a few examples of the Cancel Culture that’s sweeping the entertainment industry. We’ve reached a point where you can dig into someone’s distant past, find a stupid comment that they shortsightedly posted on social media or said in an interview, and weaponize it to destroy their jobs. Considering how much controversy and depravity come out of Hollywood every other day, it’s probably safe to assume that most celebrities are subject to being “canceled,” including the cast and crew of The Flash.

To be fair, Sawyer’s tweets are hardly flattering. They’re wildly immature and utterly tasteless, and you’d be forgiven for thinking he is the most despicable human being imaginable. Plus, in the wake of the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, it is quite possibly one of the worst times to be associated with any kind of racism.

Looking at someone’s online presence is hardly a new practice. Employers often do this with potential job candidates, and it can be an effective method of gauging what type of person you are dealing with. Are they confrontational with other users? What do they get up to in their daily lives? Will that potentially impede their ability to fulfill their duties?

On the other hand, it’s often impossible to know the context of a specific post, including Sawyer’s, and this muddies the waters of Cancel Culture. A person could be having a juvenile chat with friends or be under the influence of something when they make a spontaneous tweet for kicks. A bad joke is a far cry from actually performing a hateful act.

The Flash — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved /

How can we really judge the quality of one’s character or how they would behave in a professional environment from such ambiguous circumstances? For all we know, Sawyer could have been a consistently civil coworker on the set of The Flash.

Of course, any behavior that’s racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory is clearly repugnant, and you could easily make the argument that inklings of such behavior are worth an inquiry at the very least.

However, when you have people who openly express their regret, apologize for their offense, and assert that they are not the people they used to be, should companies simply write them off as unworthy of forgiveness or redemption? After all, they hired these individuals in the first place.

Unleashing an online Flash mob

Some might argue that putting such remarks on social media might encourage readers to adopt prejudicial attitudes toward the groups being joked about. Considering that celebrities like The Flash cast have millions of followers, this is a valid concern. Some uninformed and tasteless fans might view a discriminatory tweet as carte blanche to harass an individual or members of a minority group, either physically or online. As palpable a concern as this is, though, it also comes with a frightening implication.

Punishing people for such outcomes sends a message that we are responsible for the actions of our social media followers. In essence, we should be held accountable for what others do as a result of what we’ve said. In a world where everyone interprets things differently and should individually know right from wrong, it’s hard to see this as a viable option.

What does this all mean?

Whatever the case, the controversy surrounding Sawyer’s firing is part of a larger slippery slope in the entertainment industry and the rest of society. If anything, Cancel Culture hammers home how careful you should be when posting something online.

Moreover, it raises a slew of questions regarding accountability, tolerance, forgiveness, and integrity. Everyone has done or said something that he/she might regret. In this modern age of social media, you can dig up dirt on virtually anyone and use it to cripple his/her career or reputation.

Differences are part of what define us as a species, and we should naturally work to spread acceptance of those differences. If we’re not careful, however, we could create an atmosphere where no one is safe. You can’t change what you’ve done in the past; you can only learn from it in order to forge a better future.

Next. Batwoman needs a new star—but not as soon as you'd think. dark

Do you want to see where that journey leads? What do you think about The Flash firing? Do you have a different perspective? Do the advantages of Cancel Culture outweigh the disadvantages?

The Flash airs on The CW and is available to stream on Netflix.