Being Cancelled by an (Online) Culture

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A memoir of an experience in 2018 that taught me first hand about what the term cancel culture means.

Submitted: January 07, 2020

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Submitted: January 07, 2020

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Being Cancelled by an (Online) Culture

It began on an early Sunday morning in November 2018. The private decision, the implementation of a personal boundary and how that decision lead to being bullied online. Cancel culture is about boycotting and discarding. It is real, hurtful and reputation destroying. Me stuck in a former friend’s home in Fitzroy Melbourne, spending a second weekend being kept awake by his drunken antics and the rowdiness of his friends and partner. I am a guest; that entails responsibilities and respect that I am here as a privilege, especially as I was offered free lodging. Yet I did not deserve the vitriol and threats his friends gave me and the lack of reconciliation. But why is it important to put this in a short story? Because it is not about appropriating blame or bringing people down, but rather our online worlds where we share have been a part of our lives for 40 years. Our private domain is exposed and over shared, yet someone out there is going through the same thing I did; discarded and rejected by those they thought were their friends.

In early 2018 I was captivated by some amusing posts of my host on Facebook. He seemed to be the type of friend I liked; brash, loud, sensitive, caring. Goes to show how much we buy into the illusions of Facebook. The sharing of his life was open, especially his challenging relationships with his mother and father. I knew he had a partner but I was captivated. He lived in other city and thought, this is the sort of person I wanted to have a friendship with. Our Facebook friends vary, but we often do regard them as real even if they were living in the North Pole. His passion for politics and social justice was appealing too, even though I did not always agree with the message delivery.  Male to male friendships are tricky; I tend to get on better with females. His online presence was one of bringing joy to many. Consequently, he had many Facebook and real life friends.

My soft spot for Melbourne was born from early years spent there. After nine trips, the urge to go there again was intoxicating. He lived in an expensive vertical apartment. It was famous for being a confectionary factory, though that was long ago. How to describe Fitzroy where the apartment was? Trendy, run down yet elegant, alternative, but the wealthy and professionals lived there because it was close to the central business district. The trams were noisy, operating almost 24 hours on some days. The apartment was cosy, old in places, a small outdoor area four stories up overlooked the burgeoning skyscraper landscape of Melbourne.  He and his partner had so much interesting artwork. What I do remember were the stairs, virtual injury traps if not negotiated carefully. Still, it felt like a home and I was welcomed, even if some unease on my part was sensed on the first day of meeting the hosts in person.

So what complicated the situation that lead to the cancel culture experience? When we guest, we have a responsible role to keep things clean and respect the privacy of our hosts.  What had not been counted on their desire to entertain others. My hosts liked to drink; lots. What also was an interesting observation was his constant use of technologies, namely Netflix, the cell phone and smart watch. Sleeping in the spare room, loud music greeted me. In a groggy haze, laughing filtered from the top floor, the music shaking the guest room with its intensity, punctured by clear, loud conversations, I moved towards the closed large white doors of the guest room to investigate.

The host’s guest was loud and drunk, greeted me oddly and tried to take a ring off my finger. As the late evening lights began to appear, against the hot Melbourne backdrop, sleep again beckoned me. I was so happy to be part of these peoples’ lives. Yet my host’s drinking brought an unease, that the illusions of friendship and fun were just that. His bragging became annoying. Already the rumblings that I had made a bad decision were brewing. It did not occur to move out; that would be rude and we do not do that to hosts. Or do we? Should we? What as to come was a further seven days of masochism.

That night noises came through the quiet air as the trams moved through the streets near the apartment. What has going on upstairs? I placed my ear against the cold white timber of the door. My host’s guest had brought home someone. I went downstairs and found a cell phone. Was this an omen? The person’s name on the mobile was the exact same name as one of the hosts. Hours, until the fading streaks of dawn arrived, I was kept awake by their noises. I caught them going down the stairs. His smirk as he and his companion made their way to the downstairs shower. More degradation; I had to let the guest out as my host’s friend made fun of my concerns.

One of my hosts was furious at the guest. I received a text message saying the person was spoken to. My other host was not concerned remarking, somewhat snidely, he had been asleep during the whole incident. Another drink he took while explaining to me his response to the incident. Did I feel I was held in contempt? That I didn’t matter? Was I selfish. It was their place not mine. Yet I was kept awake by their antics and that was discarded as a concern.

Days of my host drinking followed as did unease, wondering what to say, how to act. When he was drunk I was his best friend. Sobering up, the awkward silence, the sense I was not really welcome. But why? Yet when I would come back from a day out he seemed friendly enough. Indulging in his red wine all day. Do we see our Facebook friends as perfect and idealised? Seems that is truth. Bitter truth. No one is perfect, but how do you behave without violating the guest ethics codes? You put them first and stay out of their way. Such is the mantra of not rocking the boat.

So on Friday she arrives. A good friend of my hosts, she seemed enough. Her demeanour was friendly but she had eyes for my host. That was not my business. What she made clear was although he was partnered, he was hers and I was in the way. On the Saturday night one of my hosts arrived back from Adelaide. On the couch we talked about his trip. She kept interrupting, putting her red fingernails on his jeans leg. He then said we are going out but said to me you don’t want to come with us, right? That was a command, an order. Fair enough. I stayed and listened to the radio and turned in for the night. Dejected, wondered if I had done something wrong.

She and my main host came back late. Her catty comment was where was I? My host snorted a thank god. Both drunk they continued drinking, turning their stereo up loud with the sounds of Lady Gaga’s voice. Is it reasonable not to like her music? She is talented. But at 3 AM in the morning is that considerate?  The loud music and the conversation that lasted until beyond 5 AM was too much. Assertiveness does not always work. I remember once she had gone to bed I quietly stepped out of the guest room looking down from the top of the stairs at him.  My so called friend. How could I have put someone on a pedestal? I felt unsafe. Unsafe, such a cliché always used in society today, the staying that you have to feel safe. I did not feel safe, so I decided to pack up and leave.

The streets of Fitzroy early morning are cold and frosty despite the Australian summer being present. I did sneak out. I could hear the snoring of one of my hosts. No, won’t wake him up he’s been working this week and dealing with an issue with one of his former friends. Considerate of me not to bother them? I was to find out much later it was not a good idea to not tell your hosts you have left. They were asleep. She had done her work and managed to turn my host against me. Her goal achieved; it was obvious that was her aim.

The Uber car was running late. I stood under the first floor balcony hoping no one would wake up. Driving me across town I panicked and blocked my hosts on Facebook. My conscious told me otherwise and I unblocked them later.  Another friend of mine and I were to meet up and attend a function that afternoon. Yet my Facebook messenger had quite a few messages, which was odd. I decided to open them and read; a mistake.

The messages came fast. My host publically posted that I had left but I did not see what he typed, yet knew it painted me as someone who had taken advantage of hospitality. Judging from the responses from his friends, his post was written to make him look like the victim and me some sort of ungrateful person. Did he not mention the wine I brought him, how I was there when his friend had that issue, that I stopped their house being burgled, paid for their house keys and helped the poor pigeon that was trapped?  No. These flying monkeys not only came at me with accusations and name-calling, but refused to hear my side.

Some can just dismiss online abuse as just words on a screen; after all it’s just virtual isn’t it? The next day I went to the St Kilda Gardens. The emotions flooded me like a tidal wave. Self-blame, even if justified, is like a blanket suffocating the mind. What was particularly distressing was the discarding, the rejection and the refusing by my hosts to hear me out as to why I removed myself from their apartment. I left the city on a plane to go home. Thoughts at 30 000 feet were rougher than the little air tubulance that hit the plane on the flight home. It bothered me for many reasons that  victims of narcissism would identify with. I was being cancelled by my culture. Friends who pretended to be loving and caring, but showed their nature when I put up a boundary. Narcissists take delight in by portraying you as the guilty party. My host succeeded.

A year later, same November month, I was invited to come to Melbourne by my boss to do some work for him. It was a healing experience. Where I stayed was near the confectionary factory apartments where 12 months ago I was discarded. To get to where I stayed I needed to pass through the street where they lived. It was my right to do so. I stopped, looked up thinking about a year ago and took a photo of me in front of the building. Selfishly perhaps, it was my symbol of victory, of clawing back my esteem and realising people may never want to talk to you again. That’s not your fault especially if you examine your intentions and behaviour and they will not.

Why would I be writing this short story for a site when it may be better served as a blog post or on social media? Because since the incident, I have researched and now better understand narcissism, a term thrown around a lot and is complex to diagnose. Perhaps many do not understand the correct psychological criteria and just disclose their relationship issues to others as being victims of narcissists.  It is valuable to critically read the subject so as to learn what it is and how to recognise it. The resolution is still not there, but being able to understand why something happened eases the mind. Cancel culture can arise online when you are misunderstood, when others will not say sorry for how they treated you. The supporters, or flying monkeys in narcissism terms, take the side and believe the gas lighting and lies that the narcissist does to shape their character as being the victim. You believe things are not true, especially that you are totally to blame for what happened.

In writing this personal story, if anything is taken away from reading it, is realising that our world relies on electronic communication like it is a third arm for us to function in this world. I did not write this to be believed, but to show how a cancel culture and its aftermath is something that is exhausting and erodes the human spirit. Yet it does not have to be a negative experience as old metaphors and clichés that we live by and tell ourselves about relationships have a ring of truth about them. When you are feeling down you know who your friends are, the ones that take what you are going through seriously and don't discard your feelings. Truth. They listen, they may not help always, but they listen. Resolution of relationship problems is something that may not happen. Yes sharing such stories and reflecting on our experiences with relationships is a springboard to seeing how narcissists operate. The benefit is your senses attune to the signs that possibly your friend or romantic partner may be one. Run.

Playwright Shakespeare wrote in his play Henry V, Part 2, words that reflect that human nature may not have changed despite our increased communication devices that many in the world can afford and use daily. This is what my experience was, for cancel culture is a sting that wounds. Yet it may not in the future when you learn to stand up to those that do that to you:

“Hide not thy poison with such sugar’d words; Lay not thy hands on me; forebear I say!

Their touch affrights me as a serpents’ sting.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 michaeln. All rights reserved.

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