The New Counter-Culture Rebellion Against the Woke Left

There’s a rising backlash against “Social Justice Warriors” in pop culture and academia

Simon Greenwood
Sep 30, 2020 · 6 min read
The Punk movement was borne from the conformity and hypocrisy of the ossified New Left. Photo by Ilya Mirnyy on Unsplash

The Left is experiencing a cultural sea change. Intellectual trends from the 1960s are coming to a head. The backlash has begun in earnest and it’s bubbling up to the surface of pop culture.

The dominant ideology in academia and the artist sub-culture has many names: Social Justice Warriors, “cancel culture,” woke, “cultural Marxism,” identity politics, etc. It began generations ago with well-intentioned efforts to balance the perspective of mainstream American culture with the perspectives of marginalized subcultures. Think of the work of academics like Howard Zinn and Edward Said. This evolved into woke fields like Gender Studies and Critical Race Theory.

There’s a growing reaction against the extremes of this ideology. The reaction has no settled name yet and hasn’t cohered into a movement. I call it “egalitarianism” in this article because the common thread is that people should be treated equally regardless of their group identities, or, at least, that the unequal treatment has gone too far.

Openly discussing this conflict invites stigmatization. What do you call the dominant paradigm on the cultural left? If you call them SJWs or woke, you’re alt-right. If you call them cultural Marxists, you’re a Cold Warrior, even though many members of the movement self-identify as Marxist. It’s Orwellian: if it’s impossible to name those in power, it’s impossible to criticize them.

That tactic is effective in the short run but it’s fragile. Once the woke and egalitarian movements are clearly defined, and people can compare them on equal terms, then the woke movement loses the ability to control public perceptions and will be judged on its merits.

That hasn’t happened yet. Egalitarianism is still a grab-bag of discrete avant-garde reactions against woke overreaches. That will change. The pressure from the woke movement will inevitably force cultural and academic egalitarians to cohere into a real counter-cultural movement.

Hollywood, king of corporate pop culture, has gone all-in on the woke movement. It’s not just about increasing racial and gender diversity: that’s been ongoing for decades. That’s the positive vision that originally inspired woke ideology.

The push for diversity was something that all people could embrace as uplifting. Unfortunately, woke ideology sees society as a zero-sum struggle between different demographic groups, and the struggle is a Manichean battle of good versus evil, oppressed versus oppressor. They’ve turned diversity into an openly hateful push attempt to demonize white people and men.

For example, here are the top grossing movies of 2020 and the race/gender identity of their villains (I excluded The Eight Hundred because it’s not a Hollywood production):

  • Bad Boys for Life: Latino male
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: White male
  • Tenet: White male
  • Dolittle: White male
  • Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey: White male
  • Onward: N/A (fantasy world)
  • The Invisible Man: White male
  • The Call of the Wild: White male
  • Mulan: Asian male (the entire cast is Asian)
  • Fantasy Island: White male

You may have noticed a trend. That’s just one example of the slings-and-arrows hurled against white males, pop culture’s bête noire. The artistic community is stuck in a vicious cycle: it’s immersed in its own demonization of scary white men, which inspires them to demonize that group further. It’s a cruel irony that these artists want to fight stereotypes but are blind to the hateful stereotypes they propagate.

Look at the backlash to the problematic statements made by Brie Larson and Kathleen Kennedy. When these two artists singled out white males for exclusion, the cultural elite dismissed the blowback as ignorant whining rather than a legitimate grievance that deserved an apology.

The backlash was actually the eruption of anger built up over years of abuse. The Larson and Kennedy provocations were special only because they didn’t bother hiding their bigotry behind codewords and dog whistles. It was open hostility towards people for being born the wrong way.

If you speak to normal people one-on-one they’ll acknowledge the subtextual bigotry in pop culture, but it’s still taboo to discuss it in public. Doing so will get you tarred as a Neo-Nazi misogynist. That’s why the egalitarian movement is still largely hidden beneath the surface of society.

The artistic sub-culture knows there’s a backlash. That’s why they were so hostile to the song Accidental Racist, the movie Joker, the Netflix show Cobra Kai, and the documentary The Red Pill. Those works portrayed white males — even racist ones — as deserving empathy and mutual understanding instead of shunning. If the public embraces that message, it could end the domination of woke ideology in the arts.

That’s also why the artistic sub-culture dismisses critics as trolls and bots. They’re literally dehumanizing their egalitarian critics. The message is: the criticism doesn’t come from normal people, it doesn’t come from real people, it’s just a lunatic fringe.

The strongest egalitarian backlash is taking place on YouTube because it has no gatekeeping. The woke couldn’t exclude critical voices. Now there are egalitarian YouTubers who consistently get more than a million views on their videos: Shoe0nHead, LongBeachGriffy, SomeBlackGuy, Armoured Skeptic, Tim Pool, and Chris Ray Gun.

Compare these numbers to Modern Family, a popular television show that’s credited with changing attitudes towards homosexuality and diverse families. Modern Family’s last season had about 7 million viewers. Individual egalitarian YouTubers, working from home, reach comparable audience numbers: LongBeachGriffy’s most popular video is approaching 10 million views. They could equal Modern Family in terms of cultural influence.

The anti-woke backlash among academic types is called the Intellectual Dark Web. It was named after the Dark Web, a home of black-market ecommerce, because intellectuals are particularly vulnerable to censure from the woke. They have to hide any egalitarian opinions or they’ll endanger their careers. Their numbers seem to be growing, though.

The majority of academics now oppose “cancel culture”. They might not be full-blown egalitarians, but they’re allies against basic principles of woke ideology. Cancel culture is the logical endpoint of woke principles about the importance of group identity, so opposing cancel culture means rejecting those principles.

Take the controversy of the business professor who taught his class the Chinese equivalent of “umm.” It sounded like the n-word, so a few students were offended, so he was removed. If you oppose his cancellation then you oppose the woke principles that taboo noises are violence and that innocent speech causing outrage demands punishment.

Journalists, like educators, are arbiters of the truth. We trust them to be objective. That trust attracted unscrupulous people who cared more about their personal crusades than ethics.

Woke ideology seeped into journalism schools over the last 60 years, and became the dominant perspective among new journalists. It’s reached the point where journalists openly deride the ideal of objectivity. Instead, all truth is relative, so journalism only exists to serve “oppressed” castes, not to educate the readership with all the relevant facts.

The proof of this ideological dominance was the resignation of New York Times editor Bari Weiss. She explicitly named and shamed the woke Twitter crowd as controlling the NYT’s reporting. The NYT is the paper of record for the US, if not the world, and it’s being twisted into a propaganda rag for a radical movement.

We need the egalitarian counter-culture so we can stave off a worse, right-wing populist backlash in the future. There are already signs of that backlash.

Trump’s appeal over other Republican nominees was his outrageous, un-politically-correct behavior. His supporters were tired of being put on the defensive about cultural issues and liked that Trump was going on the offensive.

The Proud Boys are a reaction against boys being shamed just for being boys. Like the Black Panthers 50 years ago, they strut around with assault rifles to show that they can’t be pushed around forever. It’s an attempt to feel powerful and important in a society that keeps telling them they aren’t.

The alt-right is the ne plus ultra example of the backlash against identity politics. Everything the woke promote, the alt-right attacks. If the woke said the sky is blue the alt-right would say it’s red. Their fixation on “owning libtards,” is a thirst for revenge against the subculture that’s attacked them their whole lives.

The resistance to the woke movement has struggled to gain ground. They’re disparate, disconnected dissenters fighting a group that’s been organizing for two generations. That’s why we need a common identity, even if we don’t agree on everything.

Egalitarians of all stripes need to know they’re not alone. We’re not on the wrong side of history and the pendulum may already be swinging back in our direction. Don’t let cancel culture and Social Justice Warriors threaten you. We represent the ideals of the mass of humanity against the grievances of a small but influential mob.

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