How to survive friendship(s) in times of cancel culture?https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/friendship-day-friendship-in-culture-culture-5876535/

How to survive friendship(s) in times of cancel culture?

Fighting in friendship is akin to fighting for it. It is inevitable, it is imperative.

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Cancel culture goes against the very grain of friendship. (Source: File Photo)

Like every story, every relationship ends differently. And like every story, every relationship is defined by its ending. One could lose touch and drift. One could fight bitterly and sever ties, knowing that there is nothing to save anymore. Or, one could, after fighting bitterly, reconcile. But at a time when most conversations play out on our mobile screen, an argument is mainly reduced to a furiously-typed Twitter retort and the loud thud of a door hastily closed is echoed in the swift blocking thereafter. Willful escapism has emerged as an unforeseen adversary to confrontation, nullifying any possibility of salvaging or terminating ties. It not only ensures that the door remains closed but also deafens the sound of knocking or pleas to open it. This obdurate refusal to engage and acknowledge the presence of another famously referred to as the ‘cancel culture’, has proven to be effective to turn one’s face away from artistes who have disappointed us, even invalidate the trolls that annoy us. But it has, concomitantly, also taken away an essential part from those relationships we have forged over carefully-planned meetings and shared secrets- the need to fight for it. The most frequent and severely affected casualty being friendship(s).

A romantic relationship seldom ends, it dies. People leave or are left behind. Some fall out of love. In such cases, holding on to it merely aggravates the pain, and perhaps even bitterness. A complete cessation of ties can be the first step towards healing. ‘Cancelling’ can cure. But in friendships the promises extracted differ, so does the envisioned ending. The idea is not to end up together but to stand next to your friend and witness them ending up with someone they love: the foundation based not in the hope of a shared future but of reaching out to one another when that hope seems to be fizzling out. One fights not to prove they are right but to admit that each was right in their own way. Fighting in friendship then is akin to fighting for it, a disguised attempt to retaining ties. It is inevitable, imperative. The prevalent cancel culture — with its lure of an easy solution in the form of a potential avoidance of any conflict — goes against its very grain.

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The concept is baffling and I often wonder how shows and stories that celebrate friendships, remembered for their portrayal of it would have ended if they were posited in this cancel culture. The one that comes most frequently to my mind is Sex and The City, an engaging and rather enjoyable six-season series about four women (Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte) in New York City, each mired in their own personal hassles and each holding on to the other to sail through them. There are several affecting moments highlighting their bond but the show has aged well for accounting for their disparate personalities, making space for them to disagree, to disappoint and be disappointed with each other.

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Carrie’s unfailing attraction towards Mr Big and her friends’ disapproval of it is a recurrent theme in the series. But there is one particular scene that assumes more relevance when re-watched with today’s hyper-aware lenses. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are at a thrift store when the former, after some hesitation, shares how she is planning to meet Big later. The narrative arc of the scene — a concerned friend cautioning the other and then helplessly lashing out — is repetitive, all too familiar. But it is the subsequent argument that makes it memorable. “What will you do Miranda? You will cut me off from your life like you did with Steve?” Carrie asks, preempting the cancel culture, but doing so not as an apprehended threat, rather as an outlandish affront. Carrie, being hurt, tries to hurt back. The scene reaches a fitting conclusion with the reaction it elicits from Miranda — an incredulous “What!” Her disbelief perversely gladdening Carrie.

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The series might have had ended with Carrie and Big ending up together, but it is the image of the four girls — their heads slightly tilted and laughing without a care in the world — that remains an enduring reminder of it. That is the ending we remember. Maybe, so do they.

The image of the four girls — with their heads slightly tilted and laughing without a care in the world — remains an enduring reminder of the series. (Source: File Photo)

Resolutions in fiction is an easier proposition. They are not sought for, they are manufactured. Things in real life, involving real people, run the risk of getting incredibly messy. But this also makes the friendship real, the hands held in times of need, tangible. There could hardly be a more compelling incentive to fight harder for it. I write this looking back at an unremarkable afternoon this April when a friend had come to talk with marked urgency. “Do you think I should message her?” she had asked, bashfully. The ‘her’ in question was her college friend she had exchanged unkind words with, a few months back. Blocking on social media had followed from both ends. Cancelling had happened. I am not sure what had triggered her sudden introspection, but there she was ready to give her friendship another chance. Later, she had called to inform she had messaged after all, and that they had reconciled. It was far from being dignified. More unkind words were exchanged that afternoon but amidst the mutual tirade — without deliberation or intent — familiarity had spilled.

One can always argue that not all friendships are worth fighting for. The expected and no less pertinent counter-argument remains — some are. And in those cases, a flippant cancelling can obliterate hope when there still exists some, cause a premature fissure. The trick perhaps is to remember which one is worth fighting for and which one is not, which one to open door to after an argument, and which one to lock it after. Friendship, like any other relationship, is defined by its ending. All stories do not and should not end in the same way. Likewise, all friendships which threaten to be falling apart should not to be indiscriminately cancelled.