What is the one thing that links Johnny Depp, Ivanka Trump and The Simpsons ’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon ? No, it’s not that one plays cartoon-like characters, one comes across as a cartoon villain and the other is a literal cartoon. Rather, at some point in their existence, all three have been cancelled. You may have heard the term “ cancel culture ”; barely a day goes by without some prominent person falling victim to it. It has become something of a cottage industry, particularly when it comes to fashion, beauty and celeb-stalking social media accounts. There are whole Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to calling out people and companies, notably beauty Instagramers Estée Laundry and the new fashion police Diet Prada (those rapscallions who got Dolce & Gabbana cancelled, momentarily, in China for that execrable chopsticks video and ensuing racist comments from designer Stefano Gabbana). Just like the phrases “triggered”, “snowflake” and “safe space”, being cancelledis an unwanted gift from the social media age – the very reason we can’t have nice things like the internet without ruining it. But for the uninitiated, cancel culture is when the public (or at least a motivated minority with big social media followings) withdraws its support for a person, group or company over objectionable behaviour, comments or even outfits. If that sounds a bit arbitrary, it is. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the weak and powerless holding the rich and powerful to account, which not too long ago was the basis of cancel culture. If anything we need more of that. It was once good and righteous. Nowadays, I am more just sick of where we have ended up with cancelling, and how performative and meaningless it has become and how it adds yet more grist to the outrage mill online. Heck, cancelling has become such a joke that I am constantly cancelling friends and family over WhatsApp in the name of humour. Admittedly, they rarely speak to me these days, but they are busy as it has been a roller-coaster start to 2020. Probably. What triggered (ha!) my recent antipathy to cancel culture was the supposed cancelling of actor Vince Vaughn. He hasn’t done anything illegal or terrible – aside from Delivery Man (2013) and Unfinished Business (2015) – but he made the news a few weeks ago for shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with Donald and Melania Trump at a college-football game. To read the stories about this incident on sites such as CNN.com, you’d think Vaughn was the latest bête noire , but take it from someone who is “very online”, the reality is no one, besides a few always angry yahoos, cared. Unlike most Hollywood stars, Vaughn is a staunch libertarian and that fact is well known, and who cares if he is? So Vaughn briefly acknowledging Trump isn’t news. But because a few Twitter wags made the entirely obvious meta joke, “Sorry, but Vince Vaughn is cancelled”, off to the outrage races we went. Pretty soon there was a right-wing pundit pile-on about cancel culture going too far and an entirely fabricated bad-faith narrative about how conservatives were being persecuted, all based on joke tweets. Yes, the very people who complain about others being “triggered” were themselves triggered by, at best, a pretty weak joke. It. Was. All. So. Dumb. The problem is that the masses who don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter have no idea it was all just hot garbage. So when ordinary people read the “news” reports, they think it’s true that Vaughn is persona non grata and it’s all silly and getting out of hand. And thus things become even more meaningless and stupid. To reiterate, I am annoyed about the conversation around cancelling rather than the notion of cancelling itself. The people who have genuinely been cancelled, if we must use that word – the likes of Bill Cosby , Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly – are facing criminal allegations. These people haven’t merely been cancelled, they have been arrested and charged. To boycott their output so they no longer profit seems to me an entirely fine and moral thing to do. What the Vaughn incident does is conflate things and cheapen the concept. Alas, because social media algorithms reward outrage, bad faith and surface-level understanding, this is only likely to get worse. Cancelling, once a noble endeavour, will become just another weapon in the mindless culture war we all have to suffer. If only we could cancel the fake cancellers who have made us want to cancel cancel culture, maybe we could get back to holding the powerful to account. Also, Vince Vaughn, make some funny movies again, I’m not going to cancel you but my patience is wearing thin, buddy.