‘he ain’t never gonna be shit’ : Cancel culture and the role of hashtags #IsCanceled and #IsOverParty



Year of publication 2020
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Commonly associated with the proliferation of (digital) celebrities, social media have also been found to play a very important role in mediating their defamation. One of the most recent and possibly most malicious cases of online shaming concerns James Charles, a famous beauty YouTuber, and its magnitude brought to the fore the discussions of cancel culture. To shed more light on this phenomenon sweeping through social media, this work takes as its object of analysis the tweets posted in the aftermath of Charles’s two latest controversies (May 2019 and January 2020), which contain the then trending hashtags #jamescharlesiscanceled and #jamescharlesisoverparty. Focusing on their function, the present study argues that the two hashtags are strategically used in the collected tweets to perform the act of canceling someone (i.e. ‘You are hereby canceled’), while garnering attention of social media users and thus amplifying the hashtags’ illocutionary force. With the help of these hashtags, Twitter users are shown to engage in ambient affiliation (Zappavigna, 2011) and bond around a shared goal – to boycott Charles and unfollow his social media accounts – which is reflected in their face-aggravating behavior (Bousfield & Locher, 2008; Culpeper, 2011). The analysis not only demonstrates that their posts are therefore distinctly impolite, but also explores the diverse roles of the accompanying visual or audio-visual element. At the same time, as the two hashtags are also found in tweets devoted to different topics – often as the result of ‘hashtag hijacking’ – this study aims to define the felicity conditions necessary for the performance of cancelling someone in the social media environment (Austin, 1962). It is argued that when these conditions are satisfied, hashtags constructed according to the format #nameiscanceled or #nameisoverparty function as performatives (cf. Matley, 2018) and thus represent the most powerful and largely available tool for cancelling someone online. References: Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford Clarendon Press. Culpeper, J. (2011). Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Cambridge University Press. Bousfield, D. & Locher, M. A. (Eds.) (2008). Impoliteness in language: Studies on its interplay with power in theory and practice. Mouton de Gruyter. Matley, D. (2018). “This is NOT a #humblebrag, this is just a #brag”: The pragmatics of self-praise, hashtags and politeness in Instagram posts. Discourse, Context & Media, 22, 30-38. Zappavigna, M. (2011). Ambient affiliation: A linguistic perspective on Twitter. New Media & Society, 13(5), 788-806.
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