However, as pointed out by Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic, post-cancellation apologies are usually pointless. In her article, “The New Puritans”, which examines new social codes and the punishments meted out to those who transgress them, Applebaum argues that such apologies don’t fix the problem. “More often than not, apologies will be parsed, examined for ‘sincerity’ – and then rejected,” she writes.
Which brings us to the week’s third cancellation, that of pop singer Guy Sebastian. A highly paid presenter on television show The Voice, and a successful recording artist, Sebastian is naturally seen as a leader in the Australian music scene.
Last week he posted to his Instagram account material for a campaign called #VaxTheNation. It is a pro-vaccination campaign led by the music industry, an industry decimated by the pandemic, and one that has received far too little government support. The campaign urges people to get vaccinated so they can enjoy live music again. It sounds uncontroversial enough, except on social media nothing is uncontroversial. Goodwill is in short supply and consensus is elusive.
Sebastian clearly offended some important (at least to him) people with his pro-vaccination activism, and he did a quick about-turn, apologising for the post, which he said was uploaded without his “direct involvement”. He said he would “never, ever tell people what to do when it comes to their personal health choices”.
The pop singer’s pro-vax retraction was met with a swift backlash, not least from his fellow music artists, who accused him of spinelessness. 2GB radio host Ray Hadley told Sebastian to “get the splinters out of your arse. Get off the fence.”
The whole thing was a fascinating case study in what happens when pro-vaccination stances and vaccination mandates meet cancel culture.
We can expect many more of these clashes as society opens up. Individuals, business owners and governments will be forced to choose between keeping the majority of people safe, and respecting the right of people to make personal choices about what goes into their body.
In a world where everyone has an opinion, and the weight of that opinion can affect your livelihood, how can anyone afford to take any kind of stand? In choosing the “personal choice” side of the vaccination debate, you can easily give up your right to hold personal principles, not to mention those principles themselves.
Last week the ABC’s 7.30 reported on the punishment meted out to businesses trialling a vaccination “red-light/green-light” system to choose who they allow on their premises. This is not just about keeping workers safe and respected; it’s about clientele as well, and the reputation of the business.
Would you patronise a doctor’s surgery, a chiropractic business, a hairdressing salon, which “respected the right” of its workers and clients to not get vaccinated?
We make countless small decisions and compromises to live alongside each other peacefully and safely. To think otherwise is the wannabe-libertarian fantasy of a 15-year-old who has just had a political awakening. It feels profound to him, but amounts to little more than: “I should be able to do what I want.”
The upshot of this looming conflict between social-media-charged vaccine “choicers” and social-media-charged vaccine mandators is that people will be forced to nail their colours to the mast. It might help to remind ourselves that while online consequences can be nasty, the real-life ones are usually worse.