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One of the most important things to remember when thinking about communication is the goal of rhetoric: change. When examining the rhetorical situation, it’s important to keep in mind what could actually change in the situation; this often leads to an important follow-up question: Who has the power to change it? Often the response is someone with political or economic power. However, it seems that there is also power in numbers, as evidenced by social movements throughout world history.

A current controversy in public debate surrounds the idea of cancel culture or call-out culture. These terms describe a trend in which celebrities are publicly shamed for their behavior by the mass public (often primarily online). A common criticism of cancel culture is that people have become too sensitive and it is stifling to creators/celebrities/politicians/etc. However, some authors, like Shamira Ibrahim (Links to an external site.), explain that this new trend is simply the only way people without economic or political power can exert influence on society. Ibrahim quotes Camonghne Felix who says, “cancellation isn’t personal but a way for marginalized communities to publicly assert their value systems through pop culture. Other authors, like Dave Holmes (Links to an external site.), respond to critics of cancel culture by arguing that cancel culture doesn’t have real victims; most of the people who have been “canceled” have continued to work in their industry without real changes to their income or success.

Please answer some of the following questions about power/rhetoric and cancel culture:

1. Do you think internet activism can create social change? Why or why not?

2. How important is popular culture to shaping society? Do you think celebrities have a real influence over the beliefs or behaviors of their fans? Do you think fans have the ability to shape the beliefs or behaviors of celebrities?

3. Can you think of an example of an effective social movement that worked due to power in numbers rather than economic or political power of one or a few people (contemporary or historical)? Why do you think that was an effective movement?

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