The Gleaming Sword
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The Gleaming Sword

Glenn Danzig and Woke Bullshit

One music fan grapples with the method and madness of the masses

Original photos by Rob Curran (top, bottom) and CHUTTERSNAP (center) on Unsplash.

I have a memory of playing Dungeons & Dragons at a friend’s house with the coolest music in the world playing in the background. It was the nineties, but the band was a horror-punk outfit out of the seventies called The Misfits. Band leader Glenn Danzig, also known for Samhain and Danzig, is still going, and he kicked up the usual discord on social media last week when he complained to Rolling Stone about wokeness. I haven’t written about this kind of thing in a while, so here goes. What do I think?

“People don’t understand, because everything’s so cancel-culture, woke bullshit nowadays…” –Glenn Danzig

I’m always disappointed to hear “woke” used as an insult. The first I remember encountering the word in a social justice context was during the protests following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. At the time, “woke” meant being aware of, primarily, the realities of racism, and black activists often discouraged use of the word by white activists. As rappers like Tef Poe organized protests and Prince released “Baltimore” after Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015, usage broadened until everyone was using “woke” for an array of concerns, and by the time Merriam Webster added “stay woke” to the dictionary in 2017, wokeness had become a major fixture in public discourse.

It didn’t take long for people to begin using “woke” derisively. Thus, Danzig’s “woke bullshit.” As far as I can tell, this second usage has come to dominate, even among progressives, aided by the tendency of many of the movement’s proponents toward scorched earth tactics and self-righteousness. These people aren’t wrong about anything, not anything they’ll admit actually matters anyway. They wear their wokeness on their sleeves and cast stones at anyone who disagrees. I wish there were some way of taking back the original positive connotations, because I’m an enthusiastic supporter of wokeness in the original sense of intelligent and energized social consciousness, hopefully accompanied by good faith dialogue.

Cancel culture is a bit trickier. There are times when I think cancel culture is wrong, and there are times when I participate in cancel culture, such as by criticizing black metal band Asagraum for its supremacist views or trading in all my Marilyn Manson CDs because of the growing number of women and men speaking out against him — a story that’s still getting worse. Then there are those times when it’s complicated, a kaleidoscope of sub-issues refusing to align into a simple narrative. Because of that, I can’t be for or against cancel culture as a whole, I can only judge each individual case as best I can.

It doesn’t bother me if others judge differently. That’s because I see many, but not all, of the issues at the heart of the culture wars as depending on interpretation, which is always subjective and limitless. There’s no bottom, no it-boils-down-to, no killer argument that must sway any rational individual. Take the Misfits song “Last Caress” (1980), which has lyrics about killing a baby and raping somebody’s mother. Does this encourage such behavior? If it does, should it be banned? If not and free speech is your justification, is free speech absolute? I see only a labyrinth of arguments, some more persuasive than others, but none final.

Original photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash.

“You won’t have any of those kinds of bands ever again. Everyone’s so uptight and P.C.” –Glenn Danzig

I do agree with Danzig’s claim about prohibitions. The Misfits probably couldn’t do today what it once did, at least not outside of a niche market. Country pop band Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A last year to avoid association with the American south and slavery. Members of rock bands like Guns N’ Roses, who were regularly crude about women, often address questions involving #MeToo with a mixture of scorn and acceptance, afraid of making a misstep. Heavy metal bands love to present themselves as the antithesis of the antithesis of the antithesis, but they’re piling up like zombies outside Jerusalem when it comes to political correctness. Mores are shifting fast and many musicians are playing it safe.

Sometimes that signifies progress, progress long overdue. Sometimes, however, that merely means one group is enforcing a new order, one in which they call the shots. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche — a man in need of canceling in the eyes of many — always said morality was less about goodness than power, and he always said he was ahead of his time. Well, here we are 121 years after his death learning that, at the very least, it often really is about power. Aware of the risks, we’ve all learned to self-censor even when we truly feel we’re not saying anything wrong. It’s getting harder to breathe, and that’s a dubious sign of progress.

A post like this is bound to be unsatisfying. The phenomenon of wokeness is too manifold for anyone to ever address comprehensively and anyone who tries usually comes off badly — like Glenn Danzig in Rolling Stone. But apparently this is where our culture is stuck, so there’s no choice but to keep grappling with wokeness, even if in bits and pieces.

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