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The word torturers
Conservatives get stressed when their culture-war provender goes bad
The progress from “n****r-lover” to “woke” as the favored pejorative of bigots could make for a book-length study; but I will say the earlier, cruder version had this much going for it: It didn’t come with a bunch of alleged intellectuals trying to explain it.
We’ve all been suffering for years from the widespread willful misuse of woke, which has roots in African American Vernacular English but is now used primarily by rightwing propagandists as a sneer against any advocacy for or solidarity with minorities or the underprivileged. (Its secondary use is as a shorter version of “politically correct” for people who want to show awareness that their taste in Netflix comedy specials has become unfashionable.)
You may dispute my description, but I dare say it stands up better than the homina-homina-homina that Bethany Mandel (general awfulness documented here, here, and elsewhere) offered when she was asked (to her apparent shock) to define it as the camera rolled:
I expect the shock came from being challenged at all, for much of modern rightwing shtick depends heavily on the privilege of mouthing off without ever having to back it up. But Mandel had her defenders, including the man I have come to call The Sad Case of Jonathan Chait, who insisted in a Twitter thread that Mandel did, too, know what it meant…
…and when, several hours later, she or (her comms team) came up with a tweet-length definition, Sad Case beamed like a proud parent:
“Claiming that all disparity is a result of discrimination,” “enforced by an angry mob” — that’s not a definition, that’s just a longer version of the slur.
Ben Domenech (remember him?) gets in on it at the American Spectator. He seems to acknowledge, if guardedly, that people are catching on that the word has lost the meaning with which he and his fellow conservatives had inbued it: “Republicans at all levels,” he says, “from the voter to elected leaders, deploy it as a stand-in for everything wrong with the country.”
But then — reflexively, it would seem, because he knows Spectator readers won’t like the suggestion that they’ve been using it wrong — Domenech tries to shore up the validity of “woke” as a slur with several paragraphs by John McWhorter (don’t worry, Domenech properly credits him, ha ha). Finally he settles on a more flattering approach: Woke, he says, is legit bad but insufficient to describe the evil of the Left —
Once terms like these take hold in the world of politics, they aren’t changed overnight. But we have to acknowledge what “woke” leaves out. It is an insufficient term to capture the identitarian, decadent, terminal stage leftism at play here — think of other terms, such as Nieman Marxism, Big Karen, or Jonah Goldberg’s “kale foam.”
Like I said, it’s a very particular audience, so I’m sure that, even if normal people would just squint disapprovingly at these dorky constructs (imagine anyone outside Goldberg’s immediate family wanting to hear him explain “kale foam”), Domenech’s readers will recognize them, or at least understand that they’re meant to slop opprobrium onto liberals, and so approve.
Having thus assuaged his readers’ vanity, Domenech enlists them to help workshop new words-we-can-redefine-as-slurs: “Whatever term comes next, it has to capture the destructive decadence the left envisions here as its goal — a post-merit society, a great leveling achieved through inhumanity…”
The idea of getting together with your friends to redefine ordinary words so they Own the Libs strikes me as nuts and even — to drag out a badly misused but, in this case, appropriate word — Orwellian.
But this is a central tenet of modern conservatism anymore: Taking control of cultural artifacts like the arts, humor, and language — not with talent, but by brute force — to promote their agenda. That’s why they’re so stressed that this word they’d managed to infect with their zombie-parasite propaganda is losing efficacy. Maybe it’s time for them to double down on I Identify as an Attack Helicopter!