In recent years, celebrities have adapted to an increasingly politicised world by themselves becoming more outspoken and vigilant on the issues. On various chat shows and through social media outlets, they’ll let their opinion ring out, regardless of research, originality, or grammar to attain that seal of approval needed to go on working in the industry without being seen as problematic.
So what’s the problem then?
On the surface, it’s not that evident. Celebrities should be entitled to their opinions. They don’t necessarily have to play ball with any mandate. You can simply scroll by if you don’t like what Whoopi Goldberg or Matt Damon has to say. Big whoop!
Well, the problem is that this politicisation has begun to affect the art itself and the culture surrounding it. For example, the other day I decided to punish myself by watching 10 minutes of the Video Music Awards (VMAs) to see what was what with the youths of today. They had a category for “Best Video With A Message” which was delivered to Billie Eilish for her (unusually) unremarkable song “Your Power”. She proceeded to offer vague insistences of people using their power responsibly or recognising privilege. I wasn’t able to pay attention, really. I was transfixed on the fact that this was an actual category at the VMAs- the dumbest awards’ ceremony ever created. After she had finished her speech, several performances then followed featuring twerking and lyrics about haters being haters and speaking one’s truth or something equally embarrassing. But back to the category. When did this vapid, moronic ceremony feel the need to pay tribute to ambiguous social issues? When did these issues, furthermore, become so commercialised?
If one has something genuine to say about race, mental health, addiction, or inequality, you shouldn’t bemoan or ridicule them necessarily. Sometimes, even celebrities can offer nuggets of wisdom with first-hand experience or a good depth of knowledge. Nowadays however, it’s enough to just hitch your ride to this wagon for the sake of trending on Twitter or getting a few, click bait likes. (It’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s career plan.) What was once seen as pandering and distasteful is now seen as courageous and important. (One has to wonder, on a side note, how courageous it is to say something you know will go down well?)
It happens in the music industry with many of the top-charting songs today addressing empowerment on a fundamentally basic level, in literature (with an increasing number of novels tackling issues and story/plot trailing behind as a casualty), and in TV/movies. With regards the latter, this problem is most evident. On press junkets, actors will often be asked to elaborate on an issue or theme in their work (better suited to a director or doctorate student) that their PR has clearly tapped them on. When they don’t answer quite convincingly, it can elicit a Twitter storm. For example, Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood garnered negative reactions from those who sought to make a sexist out of Quentin Tarantino (ignoring Jackie Brown and Kill Bill) when he refused to pander and answer the question. (Poor Margot wasn’t quite sure what to say but felt she’d been given a good opportunity.)
Hollywood has always been a predominantly liberal market. This is nothing new. Politics have aggressively come to the fore in recent years however, as evident with the movies put up for major awards that lack general popularity or remote commercial appeal (Nomadland) and an increased emphasis on ideology over art. Too often now, I see reviews focusing on the importance of the subject rather than the quality of the project itself, e.g. Black Panther. Similarly, many of the reviews for the Star Wars sequel trilogy were built around subverting expectations and the promotion of a female lead rather than the nonsense stories roughly hewn together without a plan (not even my analysis; J.J. Abrams confirmed it would’ve been better with a plan).
This trail of thought can go a little awry though so it should be stated that diversity is, in fact, a good thing in cinema and TV. It gives an increased number of actors, writers, and directors an opportunity. It promotes a wealth of stories, not seen before. And it attracts a wider net of audiences.
It can’t be the be-all and end-all of creating art however. Problems arise when producers think it’s enough and don’t do the proper work involved in actualising the reality of the stories represented by various cultures. For example, the female-reboot of Ghostbusters was widely ridiculed because it felt, from the offset, like a cheap cash-grab. By ridiculed, it is worth noting, I mean by audiences. Critics are a different matter.
As aforementioned with the Star Wars sequels, reviews can be skewed. Social media dictates a lot of what we’re willing to say today which is why any Marvel criticism can cause a stir online or why super popular figures are beyond criticism in their camps (Beyoncé, Obama, Oprah, etc.) With the politicisation of entertainment, it’s only become a tougher job to give an honest critique of a musical performance (lest you undermine how women are perceived by criticising Little Mix) or a movie like Nomadland (which said a lot about America without the distraction of remote entertainment or story). It takes tact to be a successful critic, these days.
We live in a time when politicians try to grab the public’s attention with the flair or a celebrity and when celebrities speak with the calculations of a politician. For all the good that’s come of these last years, opening the floodgates for diversity and tackling subjects previously not remarked on, we’ve somehow permitted political correctness to infect the arts. If history has taught us anything, it’s that many of the great pieces of literature (Huckleberry Finn), film (Citizen Kane), and TV (The Sopranos) were not created in a space of orthodoxy and permissiveness. Simply stated, the problem lies in thinking we can mandate artistic relevance and excellence.
“Speak[ing] your truth” has become an incessantly annoying phrase in recent years. Once the mantra of the truly oppressed, used for good cause in shedding light on issues like sexism and racism, it’s become a cliche adopted by anyone and everyone. You see it in magazine articles, on inane Instagram posts, in every Oprah interview, and even in ad campaigns. And for what purpose, I wonder, besides some vague reach for headline fodder?
In full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am a curmudgeon and contrarian. So in the interest of attaining some balance, I decided to give “speak your truth” a fair shot by reminding myself of its origins and use. In essence, it’s a reiteration of sharing one’s story or providing a different perspective. With the #metoo movement, it became a calling card for accounts of abused women who were never afforded a platform to share their version of events. Similarly, across history, it rallied strength by numbers for groups of oppressed minorities, whose history was erased; a new edition of “the truth” for many, educated by a whitewashed system.
The truth is different from your or my truth however. It may sound petty to distinguish these, in light of what’s been stated above but here’s the thing: who’s to validate the actual truth when so many sides can claim legitimacy via emotional goodwill? It’s not just the oppressed that use this phrase. It’s dragged out for pasture by the flat-earthers, the anti-vaxxers, Holocaust deniers, and Trump supporters of this world too. And with so much “truth” going on, it gets pretty foggy out there.
The Atlantic highlighted this well in early 2018, speaking about Oprah’s Cecile B. De Mille Award speech at the Golden Globes. A strong proponent of all things spiritual and motivational, she urged people to (you guessed it) “speak [their] truth” leading to calls (among idiots) for her to run for president. To be fair, given the actual good she’s done with her show and her background, there’s some weight to her pronouncement against others except that she’s also helped dilute the power of this message by praising the likes of Jenny McCarthy for her bravery when speaking out against vaccinations (in 2007). This is not meant to fan the flames of a vaccination debate but to simply point out that opposing sides (as we’d imagine them) each believe they’re speaking truth to power.
In a “post-truth world” of “alternative facts” and headline readers, speaking one’s truth isn’t entirely a noble endeavour. I’d even go so far as to say that it emboldens political opposites by adding an extra layer of sanctimonious narcissism to their bubbles. On top of that too, it’s been capitalised on by celebrities for surpassing a certain number of followers (The Rock) and by clothing brands like Calvin Klein who featured a roster of celebrities in their “I speak my truth” campaign. (Kendall Jenner was one of them.)
The use of language changes throughout history and most people will dabble in hyperbole from time to time but with important concepts like truth and lies, one should take the time to consider their value. After all, a large percentage of Americans still believe the election was stolen from Trump despite clear evidence to the contrary. Their arguments may be non-existent but the emotional weight attached to their call can’t be denied. And when one begins conflating their opinion with facts, it gets pretty to see where the my and your get separated from the the (truth).
Following on from my last piece about Gen X’s low-profile status when juxtaposed against Boomers and Millenials, I thought it was worth revisiting the murky subject of generational struggle. This time however, I will be focusing on the generation that just won’t die off: The Boomers.
These illustrious, seemingly all-powerful beings were born roughly between the early 40s and early 60s and came into their own at a time of great economic improvement and opportunity, greater music, and massive cultural change (i.e. the ’60s). Indeed, the popular picture that’s been painted of this era is one of revolutionary zeal, free spiritedness, and tremendous progress on Civil Rights; a time of renewed hope for mankind, following the bleakness of the Silent Generation. Of course, theirs was not a time without struggle as Vietnam and race riots dominated the news in the late ’60s while the ’70s saw staggering oil inflation, a decline in respect for politics (following Nixon), and the continuation of the Cold War. By the time of the 1980s however, the Boomers had found a sure footing in America as the dominant electorate and net of cultural values. And… that’s where things changed.
Now, it goes without saying that an entire generation cannot “sell out”; at least not in terms of its populace. With that self-evident notion hovering above us however, let’s consider how the radiant plumage of the ’60s got withered away and replaced with the shoulder pads, dodgy hair-dos, and new right or neoliberal values of the ’80s. Gone were the days of the “Hippie Revolution”; it was in with the “Commercial Revolution”, the “Reagan Revolution”, and a new mentality for an a generation graduating into their mid life.
We’ve already touched on the struggles of the ’70s, if not the psychological and cultural repercussions they bore. Most people’s idealism will at some point be compromised by the practicalities of adult life when children, careers, and other factors come into the equation. The teens and young adults of the late ’60s simply grew up at some point. They were jaded, with that said, by the experiences of their time. While 1967 boasted the so-called “Summer of Love”, 1968 brought the “Summer of Hate” with revolutionary spirits leading to protests and then quashed protests. The loveable druggies of the Hippie era became, in part by reality (but also by the Media and politicians) the junkies of the following decade. Lyndon Johnson’s progressive agenda was torn asunder when Vietnam clouded his resume, not to mention the rise of Nixon (who hated Hippies and started the War on Drugs). With the sullen decline of this spirit in the ’70s (the decade of “Malaise”), it was no wonder why many Boomers were ready for a fresh start with the ’80s.
Ronald Reagan was able to sell that “fresh start” for many. Whilst his administration pushed America on a right-wing trajectory (it’s largely followed since) that would actually (in years to come) negatively affect the majority of Americans, he was able to sell it with a winning smile and the profile of a true leader. Enough Americans believed things were improving (having faced the “tough love” years of the Carter Administration) and voted him back in in 1984 as well as his successor, George H.W. Bush in 1988. The Democrats, in meek response, basically followed the New Right to the centre, whereby they could get a New Democrat-type politician into power with Bill Clinton in 1992 and so on… Politics aside, the point is that Boomers, having taken the largest share of the electorate by the 1980s were the ones to benefit from the initial economic upturn. Thus, even a mantra like “Greed is Good” (meant as a warning from Oliver Stone in 1987’s Wall Street) came to exhibit a twisted kind of wisdom for its age.
Bruce Gibney, author of A Generation of Sociopaths has been particularly critical of this turn of events. Speaking in an interview with Vox at the time of the book’s release, he said:
“Starting with Reagan, we saw this national ethos which was basically the inverse of JFK’s ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ This gets flipped on its head in a massive push for privatised gain and socialised risk for big banks and financial institutions. This has really been the dominant bomber economic theory, and it’s poisoned what’s left of our public institutions.”
The “Trickle-Down” economic model has been something of a “greatest hits” piece for the GOP since the 1980s. It would be foolish to state however that Boomers knew what they were in for with such changes. Even the politicians of the time, bent on conservative policies, couldn’t have known. With that said, that particular decade did set a damaging tone for what was to follow. The future of subsequent generation’s retirement funds, college loans, mortgages, and more were determined by what was set out then. At least in the 1970s, when there were economic struggles, there was some measure of co-ordination between Republicans and Democrats to balance out the extremes of either side that have increasingly flourished since. In many ways, it was a time of more liberal economic and political thinking.
The ’80s saw the rise of modern commercialism and a quasi-sanitised media too. Malls replaced high streets and new kinds of products lined the window faces of the shops built within. Movies of the ’70s, built on morally ambivalent antiheroes and dark realities faded from popularity as likeable heroes again took the screen. “Just Say No” and other family-friendly values and slogans helped push cheesy sitcoms to the fore. CDs saw the introduction of “Parental Advisory” stickers with censorship prevailing in the MTV era. Language and content were closely monitored on TV. It was a different kind of political correctness, to what we’re used to today, buoyed mostly by the New Right with puritanical leanings. All that is not to say great art wasn’t born out of that decade because it was but it was certainly symptomatic of a new way of refining the cultural values of the time.
American culture naturally moved on from the ’80s, with some persuasion from Gen X and subsequently Millenials in the following decades but by the mid-late ’90s, Boomers had effectively seized the reigns of power, which they still have tremendous persuasion over.
It is a harsh indictment, yes, and perhaps one a millennial, such as myself should be careful about castigating. As aforementioned, it’s generally the case that people will have different concerns in their 20s to what they have in their 40s. And the latter group, having moved up the career ladder, will have more money and more likely to grow conservative. People in their 20s want to see change. People in their latter years, less so. Plus, we’re not the first generation to think we know better or are “with it”. As Holly Scott put it in The Washington Post, of this generationaldivide:
“Young radicals believed they were ushering in a new America, and those over 30 were hopelessly out of touch and not to be trusted. Today’s youths have ‘Ok, boomer’. The youths of the 1960s had a different taunt: Mr. Jones, derived from the Arron saint of the youths, Bob Dylan, who sang, ‘ something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?'”
Perhaps, like the Boomers, we are destined to meet a dead end, to hit a brick wall? Perhaps each generation is bound to retrace the same, familiar patterns if within a different context? And perhaps still, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “every generation needs a new revolution”.
Boomers and Millenials don’t get along. Where Boomers, in the post-war economic boost, saw a general incline in the quality of life and retirement benefits, Millenials feel they’ve been given the short-end of the stick with increasing opportunities for debt and later-retirement. Meanwhile, Boomers feel their foes have become increasingly fragile and dependent on benefits that didn’t exist way back when. To each other, the stereotypes are consolidated, ruminated upon, and passed around for affirmation across social and traditional media. In the midst of this quagmire however lies a “forgotten” 65 million Americans we sometimes call “Generation X”.
Who comprises this mysterious assembly of shadows, you may ask. Born between the mid ’60s and the early ’80s, this generation saw a displacement in the values and philosophies placed before them. With the thaw of the ’60s counter-culture giving way to the commercial assembly-line of the 80s, the rise of the right, and the formation of the neoliberal left, they grew up with a somewhat despondent and disinterested outlook on life and politics. It was a time when children were raised by TVs (as both parents went to work), when walkmans roamed the Earth, and when being cool meant you didn’t care. Highlighted by the raucous fuzz of grunge in the early ’90s, the emergence of hip-hop, and indie auteurs in cinema (Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, etc), this generation paved its own path demarcating itself from the passions and dominance of the generations preceding and succeeding them.
Now, all this talk of generational values is of course susceptible to inferences of exceptions and accusations of generalisations. With that much acknowledged (for the sake of it), I would still agree with Rich Cohen’s point of view (from Vanity Fair in 2017) that the “shared experiences” roughly define a generation and our purpose in examining them. And as he puts it, with such flavour, Gen X was shaped by “irony and a keen sense of dread”, almost sharing “more in common with the poets haunting the taverns on 52nd street at the end of the 30s than the hippies at Woodstock”.
This is an interesting association. In poetic form, it is sometimes philosophised that trends associated with one generation skip the next before re-emerging (like fashion). To an extent, one could argue that Millenials and Boomers share in common, a sense of passion for civil liberties and rights (at least drawing a parallel between today and the late 60s). However, again as it is worth noting (along with this entire piece), this is speculative and may cause distress to some.
Speaking of “distress”, it is sometimes noted that what divides Millenials from Gen X is this sense of “fragility” touched upon so delicately earlier. Gen X, being the “whatever, man” generation, are thought to be less emotionally involved and politically fired up (for all the good and bad that comes with that). One doesn’t have to look back too far to see a time when not every chat show was dominated by politics and when the dominant subject of a presidency was an affair with an intern. Perhaps this sense of displacement and disinterest was based on how the Boomers came to adopt new ill-fitted power suits with giant shoulder pads in the ’80s, when the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s was paved over for a parking lot. Perhaps, this disenfranchisement was wrung from disappointment.
A part of me feels a little annoyed for Gen X because many of the woes of Millenials are shared by them, to some extent. For example, they only control 16% of wealth in the US despite being in the 40-55 age bracket and having both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos (where Boomers control over 50%). They’ve got their share of debt and suffered through the dotcom bust and 2008 Financial Crash at pivotal times of home ownership in their age group. Plus, they’ve had to watch their beloved VHS and DVDs die tragically. They’re the first generation to be worse off than their parents in terms of retirement.
Now, many of the debt woes that plague both generations have gotten worse, like college loans. In this sense, Millenials are worse off in facing an even grimmer future. But let’s face it, they suck up too much oxygen in this room. Gen X deserves some attention too. Perhaps, their unflinching, shoe-gazing, Breakfast Club, Ethan Hawk-ish, Kurt Cobain, ironic ways have led them to sulk where others shout. Perhaps, these Boomers serving in office till they collapse hasn’t afforded them the chance to do the shouting. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly why they’ve been left in the dark but their influence may yet come (or comeback) to the forefront of our political and cultural zeitgeist.
To leave this destination-less fathoming on a note of some aplomb, I’d like to quote George Orwell (the Stephanie Meyer of his day): “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it and the one that comes after it.” So the next time you’re thinking of those unyielding Boomers or those self-righteous Millenials or whatever Gen Z is, spare a thought for that kinda-somewhere-in-the-middle-but-not-really-generation that is Generation X.
In a world rife with injustice, it’s understandable that we sometimes turn a blind eye to minor hiccups or due process when it comes to getting results. How else are we to tackle the above-law antics of the Trump legions? How else are we to defend fundamental human rights when the odds are ever stacked in the favour of for-profit, billionaire conservatives? How else are we to be heard when all else around us is so loud?
Cancel Culture has become prominent in recent years for its maverick, f- due diligence approach to taking on those who would in (extreme cases) avoid legal penalty or in more trivial but common scenarios, go unpunished or challenged for the problematic viewpoints they espouse / funnel into the zeitgeist. It’s become popular because it’s effective, at least on an emotional and socio-political level. It helped topple the creeps in the #metoo movement and set some wrongs to right when it came to diversifying casting in Hollywood, demanding greater equality, and calling out BS journalism. One could argue it was a well-deserved slap-in-the face for the orthodoxy.
But in all this gesticulation and generalisation, where exactly am I heading, you might ask. Well, let’s face it. It’s not exactly an easy topic to delve headfirst into. Indeed, the previous two paragraphs are fodder for insulation, backtracking, and defence, as much as they are a prelude to what I’m about to criticise. For you see, such base, emotive reactionary attacks don’t always serve us well. They, often, lower the intellectual bar and nuanced appreciation for discourse we once cherished so dearly as part of a free-thinking society. They placate the once common-sense approach that all cases should be regarded individually and contribute zealously to the polarisation of political ideologies; you’re either with us or against this- none of this “on the other hand” schlep.
A case in point- Review Bombs.
What are Review Bombs? They’re basically attempts to undermine a work of art based on ideological speculation or information related to an associate partner of said art. For example, JK Rowling has recently received enormous backlash for her views surrounding gender theory and the place of women in society with legions of once-fans accusing her of transphobia and encouraging others with similar views, owing to her expansive Twitter following and influence in the media. This resulted in a swift bombardment of her latest novel, Troubled Blood (under pseudonym Robert Galbraith), even though no-one had had a chance to read the 900+ page tome, when it emerged from one review that the plot concerned a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothing.
It’s pretty easy to take sides when you have a predisposition. Especially in this scenario. When you read into it a little more, it gets complex and interesting, if depressing however. Is she transphobic? Possibly. Not in the robust sense of outright hatred but in the more coy (yet increasingly challenged) manner of trying to undermine LGBTQ progress by pushing far-less prevalent concerns surrounding the placehood of women if chromosomes don’t matter, etc. Some have expressed support for the trans community while pointing out she may have a point while others have pressed the importance of whole acceptance. In real life, they argue, trans people face incredible challenges the likes of JK Rowling cannot fathom. Why does she have to make things that much harder?
Most figures, faced with such controversy, have usually amended their positions with retractions or halfway-apologies. JK Rowling, seemingly, has buckled down on hers which has made the publication of this latest novel all the more controversial.
So when the novel’s general plot line was revealed, it was brought down by a series of 1-star reviews on GoodReads (alongside greater media coverage) with comments ranging from distaste for what the author had become to how they would never read this novel. When people then actually started to, the five-star reviews came abounding bringing the average up to 4/5, with some rebuking that previous assertions of transphobia were based on second-hand info and minor points, not central to the focus of the novel. Was she vindicated? In terms of commercial success, absolutely. It seems JK Rowling will go on. But even with the 5-star reviews, one has to wonder how many of those were written after a complete read of the novel (again, 900-pages long; these reviews came within a week) and how many of them were reactionary in the same way the 1-star ones were?
When it comes to Cancel Culture, a fine line is drawn between reasonable outrage and outright pettiness. In the case of JK Rowling, it seems both were there in measure, distorted by (let’s face it) an increased laziness in media coverage (mainstream too, not some poxy blogs like this) which sought to do anything but review the novel in its own merits.
And don’t take this as a defence of JK Rowling. At the very least, I find her concern with women’s issues vis-a-vis the trans community obsessive and tedious at this point. Having once made the point, herself, that you can’t have a reasonable discussion on Twitter, she should have then stopped proffering her points via Twitter. With that said, I tend to disassociate my love of movies/music/novels with the person behind them because frankly, a lot of the greats have been problematic and with generational changes in attitude, we’re only ever going to be disappointed by one thing or another if we dare to dig deep enough.
Review Bombing and Cancel Culture, however, is an issue worth tackling and it applies to conservatives as much as it does those easily agitated PC-liberals. For example, Captain Marvel was met with a slew of negative buzz before anyone had a chance to see it because women-starring role-traditionally men-change = bad. With increased diversity and promotion of minorities in these major budget movies, there was always going to be a push-back. It’s a recurring aspect in generational passing of torches but the review-bombing of this movie proved the other side, to appropriate their claims, had equally fragile egos.
The Last of Us 2 racked up its fair share of hatred this summer upon release for the PlayStation 4 as well. Taking the slow-burning, zombie-survivalism of the first game (from 2013), it should have been a hit. But they ruined it. By making the lead character gay and inserting a bunch of LGBTQ stuff into the mix. Typical Hollywood, right? Or whatever libtards got their hands on this… Actually, I thought it was a very entertaining sequel and fun game but as with many things now, the actual entertainment value doesn’t matter as much. It’s all about subtext.
That’s why Star Wars: The Last Jedi is bad- because it promotes a different world viewpoint to what we had grown accustomed to when really, it’s actually bad because they disregarded the tone of the previous movie and f-d up the trilogy.
Anyways… It’s a new way of being heard; online assault. And it’s a petty, oft-misdirected means of making your point, whether that point is valid or not. So as much as we should oppose discrimination, perhaps reviewing a book we haven’t even read isn’t the way to do it. If you think Hollywood and associated media are inserting too much liberal ideology into your favourite franchises, then stop watching and don’t ruin it for others (as some did by leaking the plot of The Last of Us 2). Acting this way doesn’t gain you kudos or respect and it doesn’t even have the desired effect most the time. Last of Us 2 still sold impressively, Captain Marvel grossed over a billion, and Troubled Blood recently topped the charts. Congratulations review-bombers. You saved marketing a bucket load of money!
A couple years ago, in a debate on political correctness, the author, comedian, actor, etc. Stephen Fry remarked that one of the great failings of our time is when people prefer to be “correct rather than effective”. This self-righteousness has increasingly frayed political and social-political discourse. If we can’t even offer each other a presumptive measure of respect, can we really go on saying, “if only we had politicians as good as our people?”
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.
Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.
A New Generation
The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.
Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.
With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.
With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.
Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.
With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.
The Culture Wars (On Steroids)
To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?
Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.
It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight andyou drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.
From Hope to Trump
So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.
Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.
Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?
For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.
Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.
If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.
Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.
A New Left
There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.
As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.
How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.
In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).
The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.
Recently, an old Playboy interview with John Wayne from nearly 50 years ago was rediscovered which revealed some horrendous beliefs he held about race relations, white supremacy being a good thing, and homosexuality. This sparked outrage with the usual suspects who a) don’t contextualize anything and b) know nothing about John Wayne. Now, let me preface this with the painfully obvious but excruciatingly important detail that I am, by no means, defending John Wayne or what he said. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that his opinions were particularly racist for a racist white guy in the early 1970s. They were vile, stupid, and yes, offensive but- they were not made by someone alive or of our generation or even the two before it.
If you have ever watched a single one of Wayne’s movies, you simply wouldn’t figure him for some kind of liberal. You might even, to take a very minuscule leap, gather that he was of a very old, patriarchal, white-bred kind of background. That doesn’t make what he said okay but to be shocked or outraged by someone’s words, I would at least attest that you’d have to have thought of them in some other kind of context. Basically, it’s not that surprising to learn an old white star, who was by then in his 60s, held some bigoted beliefs. And it doesn’t make much sense (and this is the fundamental point) to make a career of sifting through an old star’s interviews from decades ago with a modern lens of morality. Years from now we will undoubtedly be judged for what we did, yes, but for the likes of Wayne, we should probably still be able to enjoy his output while acknowledging that he wasn’t exactly a symbol of tolerance.
Part Two- The Rise of Cancel Culture
The modern trend of social justice, in the forms of #metoo, political correctness, and cancel culture has risen and taken storm as a result of frustrations built upon years of a lack accountability on the part of powerful figures. The courts can be slow to deliver proper punishments, if any, in even the most high profile cases. Political systems have been infected with a slew of problems, so cumbersome that they’ve become almost insurmountable. And even shows like The Big Bang Theory continue to thrive despite the fact that they are clearly dreadful. In such times, the mantle of social media can appear attractive. It has given a voice to the voiceless. It has helped promote awareness of issues we never would have thought of. It even gets you quick customer service where all other avenues fail. It’s also dangerous however.
The problem with social media is not so much that it can present biased, clickbait visions or news pieces, without much resistance, but that it’s populated with the worst kind of people you could ever listen to. Any given day on Facebook, I can scroll through my newsfeed, and find a barrage of comments on an article that has obviously not been read in full or countered. Too many people don’t want to have their viewpoints challenged so they cling to familiar publications or channels (like liberals for the Huffington Post and conservatives for Breitbart) and ignore that which falls between, taking in sensationalist headlines which eventually build up a picture of someone or some idea without much shade or nuance.
I don’t want to get into bi-partisanship however. I’ve impressed the above point only to account for the lack of accountability people afford themselves when they interact with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. They react instinctively and without good measure when allegations arise, which brings us back the way of cancel culture. Let’s take the not-so-comfortable example of notorious racist Liam Neeson. The thing about Neeson is he’s not our classic idea a notorious racist. Some say he’s just another human being who admitted to a detestable moment in his life, when he sought vengeance for a friend of his who had been raped, by roaming the streets and looking for a “black bastard to kill.”
Let’s unpack this slowly and carefully. First of all, it was racist and horrible and I don’t think anyone can expect any black person to take this account without offense or anxiety. After all, this is the kind of hate many have had to deal with their whole lives, resulting in unwarranted arrests of murders. Neeson’s story, however, was not happened upon by some journalist. He told it himself, as a way of admitting his own guilt, clearing his conscience perhaps, and illustrating the the deep-rootedness of bigotry in society. He felt shame, yes, but he also said he could’ve killed someone. So, do we #cancel him or at least, evaluate the details of his story first?- because it if both a typical and untypical example of prejudice influencing a person’s mindset.
Putting aside whatever conclusions you may come to, the problem for me with this story, was how it got reported and discussed by the majority of people in social and regular media. For one, many seemingly missed the point where Neeson asked for the details of his friend’s attacker (height, hair, etc.) as well as the details of the story as a whole, and focused immediately on the headlines. For another, people called him an “idiot” for simply bringing the story up which granted was stupid, given he was promoting a movie. If we can’t discuss difficult topics like this however with some grace, how can we begin to actually solve them?
Part Three- Art and Morality
Woven into the tapestry of this debate on cancel culture is the thread of modern morality and “wokeness”. Can we separate art from the artist or do we need to stop making excuses for facilitating the careers of harmful individuals like R. Kelly?
Undoubtedly, a few good things have arisen in this current climate of social justice. The #metoo movement, for instance, finally got a great many people to pay attention to the rampant culture of sexual harassment dominating work spaces. It impressed upon men, in particular, that if you behaved a certain way, you would be held to account (not that it’s been wholly effective or noticed everywhere). We’ve come to appreciate that racism is systematic beyond the plain and obvious insults and attacks of past generations. We tolerate less so that more are accepted. We’ve also come to confront an issue that never seemed like much of an issue too; toxic fandom.
In a sense it’s easy enough to cancel a celebrity like Neeson or Kevin Spacey by refusing to entertain any more of their work. With someone like R. Kelly, it’s tougher because he had a large fan base and produced many hits, for himself and an array of other artists. A radio station can withdraw “Ignition” from the airwaves but they can’t exactly strip it of its appeal. And what about Michael Jackson then? The controversial Leaving Neverland documentary, which aired in our parts last week, saw two fresh allegations presented over the course of four hours against the late King of Pop. Are people really going to forget or condemn songs like “Billie Jean”? Some radio stations have already begun to stop playing these, on the basis of this wound being “too fresh”. Many of his fans however, on the opposite end of this spectrum, are flat out denying the validity of these allegations. Their concerns aren’t without logic but as documentary favorite Louis Theroux has pointed out, they can act “willfully blind” in the name of their hero.
That’s where we come to the idea of toxic fandom as a tide fighting against #cancel culture. It’s a lot easier to stand by an artist like Michael Jackson who’s greatly influenced you than it is to accept the allegations leveled against him. It’s almost too much to bear for people who want everything about this icon to be pure and unquestionable. In this sense, perhaps the trend of social justice is doing us a necessary, if painful service, like ripping a bandage off. We need to learn to accept our favorite stars might not be as great in their personal lives as they are in their art which has been true throughout the course of history.
Balance will be the key to all of this and it will take some time but I don’t think it’s necessary to discard the works of these fallen giants. After all, MJ opened a lot of doors for black artists in the industry. That can’t be taken away from him, just as Cosby’s influence on comedy can’t be eradicated. The fans don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying these people’s work but they should accept that deification of such figures gives way to a toxic and irresponsible culture, where abuse of power rests comfortably and heartache inevitably follows. In extreme cases such as theirs, we cannot turn a blind eye to their conduct (alleged or proven) but we should also not shackle ourselves to the notion that every celebrity, politician, or Twitter provocateur deserves to be cancelled and erased from history. Nuance is key, redemption is possible, and forgiveness is not at all a weak act.
On Tuesday, American voters have the chance to re-frame much of their governmental structure and the issues at play over the next two years. Not only are all House seats and 1/3 Senate seats up for grabs, so are a number of Governorships and Attorney General positions. Historically, voter turnout for midterms have been lower than years when the presidency is up. This year however, early voting seems to indicate a promising shift for the otherwise complacent Democratic party, who’ve seen devastating losses since 2010. Is this purely reactionary to the Trump agenda or have liberals finally learned what it takes to set the tone for a nation so entrenched in right-wing dogma? It’s seemingly both (as you’d imagine) but the issues aren’t all that’s at play.
Let’s take a trip back down memory lane to two years ago when Trump defied the odds and became the 45th US President. Liberals were so beside themselves in trying to explain just what had happened. Was their progressive vision now irrelevant? Had bigotry eclipsed their hopes for further equality and subsumed any focus of their issues? Was all lost? Well, it’s not that simple but they had lost bad. After all, Republicans had taken both houses of Congress as well as the Oval Office. So, as Crooked Hillary’s book asked, what happened? Here’s a few thoughts, not expressed in that book:
The Democrats lost focus on the important issues: Really, most Americans need proper health care, are for sensible gun control, and could do with a decent minimum wage hike. As Bernie Sanders would say though (arms flopping about), these are the issues that are never covered by the mainstream media. But also by some liberals. They take the bait too often and lose themselves in the maelstrom of Trump’s tweets and the latest non-controversies, defined by-
Political Correctness. Sigh. We’ve covered this topic, maybe exhaustively, but let’s be clear about this; it’s not that political correctness is in itself bad but it alienates liberals from many potential voters by painting a picture of piety and self-righteousness wildly at odds with most Americans’ mindsets. Most people don’t want to associate themselves with the buzz-killingtons of the world and the liberals SJWs are just that.
Identity politics too, for all its value in assessing demographics, should not be religiously standardized to the point that blacks, women’s, gays, and white males get defined by atypical subsets of values. When statements like Hillary’s about Trump’s inaugural address being a “cry from the white nationalist gut” are made, it does very little for reaching out to Trump voters. And liberals should be reaching out. There’s no real reason you have to separate these groups of voters when so many of their concerns are shared in actual issues; job protection, health care, social security, etc.
The Democrats have lost vision for their party too. To be fair, it’s gotten more progressive recently but in 2016, there seemed to be two threads being pulled between that side (on behalf of the likes of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and the more centrist wave that’s dominated since the 90s. The party needs to consolidate its core principles and its base because for all the terrible ideas the GOP espouse, they do so together. Unlike the Democrats, they’re confident, strong, and on-point.
In many ways, this is a call for the Democratic Party to react to previous losses by moving further to the left, so long as they do so on the issues. It’s no use criticizing and labeling all of Trump’s supporters when in reality, their concerns aren’t so different from liberals’. Trump is a unique phenomenon and his presence is undoubtedly felt in these midterm elections but he’s also best understood as a symptom of a sickness that’s taken hold in American politics; extreme bipartisanship.
As above, I’ve argued that identity politics is limiting to our understanding of how Democrats will vote on Tuesday but that doesn’t mean key issues, primarily affecting womens or blacks won’t play a role. For instance, I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some backlash to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In the era of #metoo as well, there’ll likely be a thirst for progressives and indeed, it is a record year for women running for office (but again, complacency is a great weakness- just ask the last year of women, 1992.) In this respect, individual issues are taking a backseat to greater visions for a new liberal base. If the Democrats lose badly, the party may very well resume its default centrist position but it feels like it’s beginning to get the fire in its gut again.
Much has been made of Jordan Peterson, the Clinical Psychologist, and his foray into the world of public intellectualism and politics. At times, his rhetoric seems deigned for ingratiating proponents of free speech and those sickened by the debasement of open dialogue into base proclivities and at others, for widening the gulf between liberals and conservatives. Does Peterson’s loyalties lie with the latter? I think that’s reductive but certainly there’s a case to be made that his words could do a whole lot more for that camp than any other figure stealing headlines.
Peterson became something of a fixture following his challenge of the Canadian government’s Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. His objection lay on the grounds, not of transphobia, but this being an assault on free speech (by inference of “compelled speech”). Naturally, some saw this as transgressive and petty. Peterson managed to ride a wave of popularity thereafter though, with a series of videos riling against political correctness. This led eventually on to a bestseller 12 Rules for Life, a self-help guide, whose insistence on personal responsibility (and not victimhood) became inextricably linked with the numerous issues he was being questioned on. These included feminism, a crisis in masculinity, and support from some members of the alt-right.
The thing is a lot of Peterson’s support is comprised of anti-PC white males. In the arena of identity politics, he’s been attacked by many because he doesn’t seem to disavow the more extremist parts of his base. Is this necessarily his responsibility? Maybe not but it becomes a worrying clause because conservatives really could do with an intellectual figure or at least his ideas. It gives them something the likes of Trump can’t- legitimacy. Dorian Lynskey illustrated this cohesively in a February piece for the Guardian on the “dangerous” side of this professor and his perceived image as “the cooly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of P.C”. He writes, “[His] YouTube gospel resonates with young white men who feel alienated by the jargon of social justice discourse and crave an empowering theory of the world in which they are not the designated oppressors.” A little ambitious on their part, yes.
Many have brought Peterson up on his defense of patriarchies as natural outcomes of history by asserting that that doesn’t necessarily make them desirable. I wonder if perhaps both sides are being too hasty in this increasingly complicated dialogue. Yes, one could muster that the many elements constituting the history of mankind have resulted in the kind of society we now have but even with this viewpoint, that doesn’t mean all Peterson’s views are calculated to an anti-leftist agenda. In many respects, he’s a breath of fresh air because he dares to question the background behind things like the gender pay gap and the ideology surrounding humanities in universities. It’s also kind of nice to just hear an articulate figure coming from somewhere outside the left.
Even if he’s a troll benefiting from all this controversy, the liberals will take the bait however. In one notable instance, he clashed with Cathy Newman in a Channel 4 interview and came out all the more triumphant and heroic to his base by holding his own against an onslaught of accusations as to what his intentions are (e.g. is he against equal pay for equal work?!?) In others, he’s been protested with blaring horns during speaking engagements on campuses (to the effect that his free speech is quite literally being drowned out). His appeal has magnified significantly as a result of these instances and given the impression to many that liberals really are as hysterical and outraged as conservatives believe.
On the other hand, we can then return to his base of support/fans. They’re aggressive and the message that open, calm debate is the best strategy for discourse seems lost on them. Just look at the YouTube searches related to him. The titles are unabashedly biased and intended to only promote what these people already believe; e.g. “Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode” and “Jordan Peterson Destroys Transgender Professor”. These are not the kind of fans you want. As Lynskey has noted, their “intense adoration can turn nasty. His more extreme supporters have abused, harrassed, and doxxed several of his critics”. (That is to publish their personal details online.) Again, he’s not wholly responsible but we can’t ignore the fact that his platform lends him major influence. Some have even referred to him as the most popular Western intellectual in the world today.
Academics are credible sources of wisdom. At least, they’re perceived to be. The problem is that Peterson may have become too big for his shoes. Maybe he does have a lot to offer in clinical psychology and helping young men take responsibility for their lives but now, his inferences have shaped new, highly impressionable ideologies that people are grappling with in quite a messy manner. I admit I find it difficult to distinguish between admiration and skepticism in his case. He’s an engaging and forthright speaker but for every seemingly sensible theory/notion he brings up (I always enjoy a bit of PC bashing), there’s a rocky generalization or embarrassing climate skeptic posturing.
Initially, I wanted to write purely on the dangerous aspects and repercussion of his espousing but a) Lynskey’s article does that both eloquently and in great depth and b) I don’t want to contribute to the idea that he’s just good or bad. He’s a complicated figure and his ideas have opened and added to our dialogue on a number of key issues governing the divide between left and right.
Recently, I watched a Munk debate on the motion, “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…”. On the pro-side, Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg argued for the necessary protection of targeted groups, who have been mistreated on the basis of identity, particularly in the case of African Americans. On the con-side, Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson pointed out the indemnifying effects this cultural swing has had on free speech, thought, and the Enlightenment. The con-side won by 70% but the issue, which I had once seen as frustratingly stupid and obvious, was actually complicated for me.
As it stands, I still think PC culture is annoying and potentially dangerous in certain cases. Beforehand however, I had never really considered the pro-based arguments one might employ. I would like to discuss some thoughts on that part first. For while it may seem the “PC Police” conglomerate are out to make sure we never speak our mind, there is an inherent need in society to check those who would vilify certain groups with hate speech or false propaganda. Terrible things can occur as a result of blatant bigotry, like the Holocaust. Plus, on a subconscious level, images can be drawn of racial, religious, and cultural groups that become highly influential.
Certain conservative commentators spring to mind in this thread, like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh. It’s fair to have an opinion; even one that diametrically opposes yours. Is it fair to exert that however, when you sprinkle misinformation throughout your diatribes and have a expansive market for your voice? Here’s where things become foggy. Hate speech should be discouraged, challenged, and forcefully opposed, yes. To oppress and shut it down however only ever serves to create a greater furor. It emboldens the ridiculous too.
For example, Katie Hopkins. You ever heard of this banshee? She believes you can judge kids’s characters on their given names, and other such things. She came to prominence in some season of The Apprentice and has somehow managed to leach off public outrage in the UK since for her wild assertions. When she spoke at Brunel University in 2015, students organised a “silent protest” by walking out. Theirs was a view based on the idea of opposing controversial views and terrible guest speakers. Why even give these people a platform to speak? While I can wholeheartedly agree that was a dumb miscalculation on the university’s part, it only served to highlight the weakness of what some might call the “Regressive Left.” There’s a great deal more satisfaction to be gained in taking one’s controversial views down on the debate platform than there is in ignoring them. So when Hopkins later asserted that the students were “close minded”, she actually had some ground on which to stand. As Professor Richard Dawkins has argued, if you can’t have honest debate and face new ideas in a university setting, where can you? If those ideas are awful, take them down.
Of course, this kind of treatment hasn’t just been reserved for D-list celebrities. Walkouts and protests have been arranged for scholars, politicians, authors, and comedians as well. One of the most depressing examples was in 2014, when former Secretary of Condoleeza Rice pulled out of giving a speech at Rutgers University, over protests surrounding the Bush Administration’s involvement in Iraq. I’m not going to argue it was a worthy war or that she was an excellent Secretary of State but she is an important political and historical figure and such figures, should be heard, regardless of your opinion. Again, it’s much more satisfying to challenge these people in person. It also demonstrates that you can articulate in an intellectual manner just why these people are wrong.
To return to the pro-side of the aforementioned debate, I’d like to refer to Michael Dyson’s argument, which he based on the idea of White Privilege. I believe it is a harsh reality and it is fair, in a sense, to assert that White people have more to lose in a politically correct society than others do, who lack that societal advantage. Perhaps, it is agonizing for some groups to hear their very real concerns and fears being brushed of with assertions of overt-sensitivity. After all, White people, like me, have not had to deal with everyday racism or bigotry. Ours is an entirely different experience. It’s beyond our sphere of comprehension, for the most part.
Political correctness and racism/bigotry may correlate but that does not necessarily mean it is an adequate or sensible means of curing society’s ills. It’s actually a rather lazy means by which to tackle those doing the damage because a) again, when you try to silence them you only really embolden them and their base and b) it pushes us on the path to a different kind of oppression- an Orwellian kind in which group think (and to a degree, thoughtspeak) replace the freedom of individual expression and wide margin needed for intellectual debate. The reality is people say the wrong thing sometimes or express opinions indelicately. That is no means for justifying racism or sexism or homophobia (pay heed Trump supporters) but rather, a reminder that we learn best when we expose ourselves to all sorts of ideas and debate them openly. In the end, good ideas are good and bad ideas are bad, irrespective of identity.