I like Smoothie King. It’s one of my favorite places to get healthy calories on the road, especially of the high-protein, low-sodium variety. But this article, my goodness — let me just say this. Pick your three favorite alcoholic beverages. Take a shot of beverage no. 1 when you see the word “journey.” Swig from beverage no. 2 when you see the word “mission.” And take a long pull on the bottle of beverage no. 3 when you see the word “vision.” If you’re conscious at the end of the article, you’ll probably need a liver transplant. What is it with this touchy-feely corporate jargon? I wasn’t sure if I was reading a business article or a cult pamphlet.
[Zizek] goes on: “It is possible to keep the good sides of capitalism, but nonetheless, through a coordinated state, social effort to mobilize. Not just with coronavirus, this is needed with other ecological crises, refugees and so on.” This sounds pretty incoherent to me. Keep capitalism but also have Communism? So he wants Communism lite, one-calorie Communism? Capitalist Communism? Democratic Communism?
Oh, grasshopper, why do you persist in trying to ensnare this trickster-philosopher in your pathetic nets of language and logic? Your feeble powers of speech are mute in the presence of his profundity. Like Perseus in pursuit of Medusa, only by using the shield of pre-verbal images can we even hope to reflect the majesty of his brilliance in a form we can safely approach.
This is Race to Dinner. A white woman volunteers to host a dinner in her home for seven other white women – often strangers, perhaps acquaintances. (Each dinner costs $2,500, which can be covered by a generous host or divided among guests.) A frank discussion is led by co-founders Regina Jackson, who is black, and Saira Rao, who identifies as Indian American. They started Race to Dinner to challenge liberal white women to accept their racism, however subconscious. “If you did this in a conference room, they’d leave,” Rao says. “But wealthy white women have been taught never to leave the dinner table.”
I assume my readers, like me, would like to be independently wealthy so that we could sit around and read books all day. Well, let’s put our heads together and make it happen. As this story makes clear, there are a lot of white progressives with more money than brains who are desperately seeking absolution from their political sins. If there are this many who are willing to pay beaucoup bucks for the, uh, privilege of being told what awful racists they are over dinner, how many more do you think there are who would pay to avoid such public displays of sadomasochism? There’s gold in them thar guilt-ridden hills, is what I’m saying.
My idea is this: we know that progressives are terribly anxious over the issue of cosmetic diversity, yes? You can hardly click a link online without finding one fretting over the unbalanced racial/gender/whatever demographics in one social setting or another. What if there were an app that could provide our people of pallor with the exotic skin colors and gender markers they need to make their next party or conference a woke success? Like Tinder, or Uber, the app would allow users to choose from a database of local contractors according to their specific needs. However you hyphenate your identity, if one of our users contacts you about appearing at a local event, you just have to be willing to stand around and appear mildly interested in the proceedings. The main thing is to provide cover against accusations of the gathering being too white and/or male; hence, we’re looking for visible markers of diversity. Whatever neuro-disabilities you’ve got going on don’t count; that stuff doesn’t show up on a photograph. Anyway, you get the idea. If any of my angel investor readers out in Silicon Valley want to get in touch, we can make this happen.
We’ve since been doing informal, totally anecdotal surveys among friends, colleagues, and even Advent snobs, and our suspicion is that we’re far from alone. Our change of mood seems to be more general. Lots of people are letting go of their resistance and letting at least a little bit of Christmas come to their homes early.
And honestly, I think it has to do with our politics and social-media culture. We’ve had four years of Donald Trump and hatred of Donald Trump, culminating in this impeachment. Surely if you use Facebook or some other social-media tool, you’ve worried about a friend or family member who seems to be losing their mind, one way or another, over politics. And the commercialism of Christmas seems almost like a relief from the commercialism of social media.
Yes, what a relief to get away from 24/7 Trump obsession and break out the the traditional seasonal arguments about the “War on Christmas” and whether or not “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a rape anthem. (Personally, I’m just sickened by the way we’re so eager to get to those Black Friday deals that we barely take time to lament having to put up with our racist uncles at Thanksgiving anymore). But I guess what I’m saying is, Christmas encroachment doesn’t really need to be explained. Businesses love selling things, consumers love buying things, and most people enjoy the holiday season anyway. Trump isn’t responsible for it any more than he’s responsible for the sales of writing style guides. The fact that so many people want to assign him credit or blame for everything under the sun is itself a symptom of the sickness. Hang your garlands as early as you want, but it won’t make any difference if your mind is still hostage to politics and social media. You’ll still keep poisoning everything you touch.
Do-dee-do, looking at some exercise gear on Under Armour’s website. Wait, what?
“Mineral-infused fabric”? You mean…actual minerals are, what, woven into the fabric? For what purpose? Do they rinse out in the wash? If it’s 87% polyester and 13% elastane, where are the minerals? I’m sorry, this just seems like an utterly absurd marketing gimm—
Oh! The minerals absorb and reflect “energy” and your muscles recycle it through…photosynthesis? So I basically become a perpetual motion machine? Well, I’m convinced!
After finishing graduate school and learning of the nearly comically unattainable nature of stable jobs in higher education, I struggled to find employment outside of academia. For years I took the brand of low-paying, demeaning gigs commonly tolerated by financially-strapped millennials.
The problems that permeated millennials’ early years are getting worse. It’s no wonder rates of childhood anxiety and depression are skyrocketing at record rates. I’m unsurprised the term “Late Stage Capitalism” has taken off online, unbound from its theoretical roots to become a catchall phrase for the absurdities of the system.
I’m also unsurprised, though for different reasons. I suspect references to “late-stage capitalism” have become popular because of a latent belief in sympathetic magic. Maybe if we keep invoking the phrase in a spirit of hope, the global system of buying and selling which has shrugged off everything from Marx’s pseudoscientific prophecies to endless critiques and deconstructions in academic journals will finally cough, wheeze, and expire, whereupon in the vaguely-conceived utopia that is sure to follow, rewarding jobs for MFA graduates will hang from the lowest branches like plump fruits in an orchard that stretches to the horizon in all directions. But why should we take any chances? Perhaps we can speed the process up by referring to “terminal capitalism.”
Those slang examples betray some of the show’s bad habits: Like a lot of dirtbag comedies, Letterkenny can too often over-rely on immature jokes about sexuality, particularly with pastor Glen (who’s played by the show’s director, Jacob Tierney, and I’m not sure what that says).
It also has something of an inconsistent track record on gender stereotypes: While much of the show’s comedy is rooted in finding the softness in overblown masculinity, it tends to draw women broadly, especially as sexpots. Gail, the local bartender and one of Letterkenny’s few characters of color, basically has only one characteristic — that she’s horny. To the show’s credit, later seasons make a point to calm down some of the yowling caricatures, showing the live-and-let-live tolerance that exists in this small town.
Oh, boy. It seems the brain trust at Vox has discovered the Canadian indie comedy series Letterkenny and decided to issue one of their customary explainers. I would say the point escapes her, but that would imply it was at risk of being captured in the first place, and I fear that notion won’t bear scrutiny. Let me interrupt with a little ‘splaining of my own: The show is set in rural Ontario, in the fictional town of Letterkenny, population 5,000. We here at the hermitage enjoy it for its absurd, rapid-fire dialogue, and, as one of us also hails from rural Canuckistan, we appreciate the little details for being a true-to-life representation of small-town life there. It’s not what I would call hilarious, but it’s clever and notably quotable.
Now, to be fair (to be faihrrr) to Ms. Donnelly, the show’s often-raunchy humor is largely by, and for, twenty-somethings. Lots of drinking, fighting, swearing and fornicating. Gail is indeed the most tedious character. But experienced Voxspotters could have probably already guessed the source of this excerpt because of that telltale tic—there. Did you catch it? It’s as predictable as a knee jerking under a doctor’s reflex hammer. Progressives just can’t let their gaze rest on any scene populated by more than three people without doing a quick diversity head-count and pronouncing something to be problematic. I find it especially amusing to see her fume about Glen, the barely-closeted gay pastor (and probably my favorite character). She knows he’s somehow problematic, even if she can’t quite prove it, but oh, when she does, you better believe charges will be brought. Yuk it up while you can, Glen. You can only hide behind the writer/director shield for so long.
But yes, Gail is one of the show’s few “characters of color,” though I expect Donnelly to soon be seen in public with a placard around her neck denouncing her for the wokecrime of “erasing” the substantial native population who feature in the show, led by Wayne’s sometime-girlfriend Tanis. But again, to be fair (to be faihrrr) to our intersectionality inspectors, they might not have recognized the actors as natives (or First Nations inhabitants, as they say up there), since the closest they’ve ever gotten to one is that time they scribbled Racist!!! on a Washington Redskins decal on the bumper of a truck in the parking garage. But I digress. My point is, as an American of pallor who just so happens to have spent several days in rural Canada just a couple weeks ago, I can say that one of the first things you notice when out in public is, well, the lack of black people. It’s like suddenly becoming aware of a background hum that isn’t there anymore. You walk through a big-box store and think, what seems so different here? Oh, right, it’s very, very white. There are no African-Americans, or, I suppose, African-Canadians. The ones you do meet are mostly medical students directly from Africa. What are the writers supposed to do about this? Is the show supposed to be “representative” of rural Ontario or Brooklyn? How typically Ameri-centric for our Voxling to project her country’s myopic obsession with perfectly-proportioned racial pie charts onto foreign communities, irrespective of their unique histories! Shall we add colonialism to the epithets on her placard?
Actually, wait, hold on a minute. We’ve already seen how racial separatism has become acceptable again under a progressive aegis — segregated university graduation ceremonies, “cultural appropriation” (separatism rebranded under a new name), etc. Is it time for forced resettlement to make a comeback? No, no, hear me out. If progressives march people out of the inner cities in order to repopulate and diversify rural communities, would that be for the greater good? We could call it “reverse gentrification,” which would actually make it doubleplusgood. As we know, when you change the word (or the branding), you change the reality. (I can’t believe I give away such good advice for free.)
Anyway, enough of that foolishness. Back to chorin’.
The “x might plausibly encourage y” argument against free speech has been with us for a very long time. It was the basis for the persecution of heretics in the Christian world, the censorship that John Milton criticized in the 17th century, the suppression of war protesters in the United States (the legal justification of which is the origin of the ubiquitous “fire in a crowded theater” trope), and the effort to censor and marginalize rap music in the 1980s, a project that brought to public prominence a woman called Tipper Gore, at the time Mrs. Al. Mrs. Gore’s name became, for a generation, the national shorthand for prudish blue-rinsed tight-assery allied to scheming political opportunism. She was a figure of fun, loathed by all right-thinking people. But Tipper Gore–ism, like the poor, syphilis, and usury, we shall always have with us.
One of the genuine pleasures of middle-age is seeing stupid intellectual trends come around again. I mean that sincerely. I’m not one of those who wear a veneer of hard-bitten cynicism to cover a core of progressive idealism. I’m not crying inside as I watch former defenders of free speech turn into moralistic censors. I’m honestly chuckling at the absurdity of this cultural game of musical chairs. When I was an adolescent, it was Christian conservatives (and opportunistic liberals like the Gores) who wanted to bowdlerize popular culture and stop the lovable kids in Footloose from dancing at their prom. Now it’s po-faced progressives who find everything fun to be “problematic” and life-threatening. No one is immune to this conceit, and no one is “progressing” toward anything. Human souls may not reincarnate, but ideas and impulses surely do. Leaves will bud, flourish, blaze and fall; notions formerly dismissed as passé will be refurbished and reintroduced. It’s simultaneously amusing and reassuring to understand that there’s nothing to do but enjoy the spectacle in all its ridiculous glory. Mencken! Thou shouldst be living now. Your country has need of thee.
This tickled my absurdity funny bone. So, to recap:
• Man becomes a viral Internet sensation by holding up a sign at a football game asking for Venmo donations to help him buy Busch Light beer
• Man unexpectedly raises a million dollars, decides to donate the money to a children’s hospital
• Busch Light and Venmo, attracted by the scent of P.R., vow to match his donation
• Newspaper profile uncovers man’s former racist tweets
• Busch Light parent company slams on the brakes, throws it into reverse, disassociates itself from man while still promising to match the pledge of his tainted racist money
• Newspaper criticized by readers for offensively publishing man’s original racist tweets in the profile
• Newspaper reporter’s own racist tweet history uncovered, newspaper commences investigation
I hope you understand when I say that at this point, I’m sort of hoping for the children’s hospital to be found problematic as well. Not because I’m a black-hearted scoundrel (not entirely at least), but just because it would be the perfect harmonic resolution of this farcical chord progression. It’s all about the artistic symmetry of the thing, you see.
But mainly Hood appeals to individuals to reflect on their choices. ‘If you are unhappy,’ he concludes, ‘then it is your fault and you need to do something about it.’ Fair enough, but how? Individuals, he writes, should ‘exorcise’ their acquisitive ownership and, instead, spend more time with each other. I am all for that, but, sadly, the experiments by slow-living followers and other minimalists and down-shifters show that good intentions on their own are not enough. Change is possible, but we need the help of states, cities and companies which have shaped the intense consumer environment we live in.
When the intellectual topsoil is this thin, it makes sense that there would be this much manure spread around on top. There’s probably no point in digging too deeply into it, but I’m still struck by the sheer amount of question-begging here. Why would you even ask for a one-size-fits-all answer to the perennial problem of human unhappiness? Who decides the difference between an optimal amount of possessions and too many? Which well-intended experiments have failed? What were they supposed to accomplish? What sort of change is supposedly possible with the help of governments and corporations, and why should we believe they won’t simply make things worse? How much net unhappiness in the world is caused by meddlesome busybodies who use their crusading as an excuse to avoid the introspection which might reveal what tedious, unpleasant people they are? (Okay, I smuggled that last one in there.)
Ah, but people are unhappy despite their affluence. Possessions don’t bring lasting contentment. (And hints of imminent environmental doom rumble menacingly in the background like timpani.) Well, isn’t dissatisfaction the norm rather than the rule? Haven’t we always been alchemical geniuses at turning contentment into boredom into mischief into despair? Didn’t we formerly call this the human condition? Perhaps once, when we let gentlemen philosophers do our thinking for us, but we have fMRI scans and Voxplainers in our social-scientific modern age. The problem now, you see, is that our consumer choices aren’t really freely chosen — they’re the product of “social conventions and infrastructures” (and our dopamine squirts), and as we’ve all heard ad nauseum, social constructions can (and should) be deconstructed. And once again, we’re back to that nagging question: who are the people with the objective view from nowhere who will create our new and improved reality for us? And what kind of social or neurochemical engineering would it take to get them to leave the rest of us alone?