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On “Being Woke” and Its Alternatives

It is likely hat we are going to hear the word “woke” every day until next year’s election, and probably beyond.

“Woke” has become the new catchphrase for those forces which want to turn the United States into some sort of totalitarian country run by billionaires on the economic side, and White pseudo-religious nationalists on the cultural side. “Woke” is the bogeyman that they have created to frighten their followers into doing everything they can to win every election.

A fairly long time ago, it was “Communism.” Of course Communism existed, but it was not an internal threat in America. But what we might call the Far Right/Immensely Wealthy/Corporate powers in America needed an enemy, and needed something to get their followers to always vote for Republicans, so Communism was it. They endlessly campaigned against a threat of the Commies taking over this country; infiltrating the State Department, the unions, Hollywood, the PTA. The fight against Communism was the lever that got them elected, because really, there was not much else which would incline their people to vote for Republicans, whose social programs all favored the rich.

If a Right-Wing person wanted to disparage or reduce an opponent, they would call them a “Commie” or “Com Symp” (Communist sympathizer) or “Fellow Traveler’ (someone who was not necessarily sympathetic to the Communists, but who went along with them, out of naivete or lack of patriotism). In other words, anyone whom the Right did not like, or needed to defeat, was labeled with some term which likened them to the Communists; e.g., Richard Nixon calling senatorial opponent Helen Gahagan Douglas “The pink lady.”

Those terms were at some point largely replaced by those which were meant to portray Democrats as essentially being unwashed hippies who did not believe in “the greatness of America” as the Right perceived it: a country that was always right, and which needed to defeat Communism in every part of the world, by sending troops, and overthrowing governments. And the hated liberals, later devolved to “libs,” all took drugs, engaged in recreational sex, and had abortions, so that they could keep on doing it. Spiro Agnew was one of the most unpleasant of the Republican political figures, who never missed a chance to viciously attack Democrats in that way And of course Agnew was completely corrupt, a recurrent theme in this history.

Now we see another Right-Wing target, a new bogeyperson which they have created. “The Woke!” “It leaps, it creeps, it slides and glides across the floor…” “Beware of the Woke!” Those are actually the lyrics to the musical theme for “The Blob,” one of the great Burt Bacharach’s earliest musical compositions. But indeed the Right wants to scare their people into fearing whatever they invent as the force that must be defeated and destroyed.

Ron DeSantis, an American fascist if ever there was one, is going to run his entire campaign as a crusade against what he calls “the woke mob.” What is the woke mob? Well, there really isn’t one, just like there is no organized Antifa which is responsible for all insurrections. The term ‘mob’; scares everyone, and “woke mob” creates the image of hordes of people, rather like the Commies or the Hippies, marching, rioting, trying to burn down America.

Of course, the rioting has usually come from the Far Right, except for a month or so in the summer of 2020, following the death of George Floyd. That, however one might want to excuse or support it, provided just the images the Right needed. Black people setting fires, trashing stores. A few images go a long way; and those events provided Republicans with footage they continue to use to scare people into voting for them. But the insurrection of January 6, 2021, intended by its planners to overthrow the government, made this more difficult, so now they are trying to use a few minutes of the 41,000 hours of footage, to try to claim that the insurrectionists were actually peaceful people.

So what does this term “Woke” mean? I remember it springing up, perhaps in 2020 or so. I don’t think that anyone could point to a person or moment which created it. It just became a new term, as so many are, in this age of social media. Some people started describing themselves as “woke” in their Twitter self-description.

This is only my perception, but I would say that the term was used mostly by Black people. I think that it was essentially intended to describe a new understanding, as they saw it, that racism is pervasive in our society. Conscious racism, unconscious; systermic, structural. They felt that they now had a better understanding of it, and were committed to eliminating it.Perhaps there was something of the “won’t get fooled again” aspect to it.

Of course the Right wanted to jump on this, in their usual way. The problem is always that there can be a kernel of truth in some of the charges they make; not enough to make them valid, and certainly not enough to cause a rational and empathic person to want to vote for them. But I will say that in the so-called “culture wars” of the last sixty years, one of the most disappointing aspects was that there were some people on the “Left” who were being as censorious and rigid as those on the Right had always been.

The Right has been banning and burning books, and trying to stifle freedom of expression, political and artistic, for thousands of years. In what we would call Western Civilization, there was the monk Savonarola who carried out book burnings. In the Middle Ages, “heretics” who were writers, scientists, artists, were threatened or put to death for saying or writing things which the totalitarians felt were a threat to them.

In this country, there were all sorts of books burned at the instigation of the Right-Wing, from both the political and religious side. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, they were burning such books as “Catcher in the Rye,” “Lady Chatterly”s Lover,” “Moll Flanders,” “Forever Amber.” The liberals were always on the side of the value of freedom of expression; the strong belief was that anyone could say or write or paint almost anything they wanted to, with some exceptions in what were generally felt to be the extremes, and even those were tested.

But as what now might be seen as almost inevitable, given human and group nature. there were people on what we might call the Left, who were trying to get people fired, taken off the air or off movies, generally condemned,, for all sorts of things, some egregious, others petty. Some of it was simply people who became intoxicated by their power to do it. Again, the Right has done this for centuries, and still is, now having the ability to mask it by attacking the other side. “Attack your enemies for what you are doing.”

The Totalitarian Right found this to be a great opportunity for them to go after their political enemies, and to try to win elections by ignoring economic issues, but pounding away at this hobgoblin of a “Woke Left,” which was trying to “cancel” everybody. And of course it was the Right which got Dan Rather fired, and which has tried to get school administrators and teachers fired for allegedly saying something that they disagreed with. John Scopes was arrested and sent to jail for teaching evolution.

But even so, there is a much smaller group of people on the Left, who do somewhat the same thing; trying to get television shows or stars taken off the air, or what I think are innocuous movies, proscribed. Of course, one person’s innocuous movie is another person’s “obscene,” or “impious,” or “misogynistic” or “racist” work of art. One can feel that way about all sorts of things; the issue is that of trying to ban it. And the Right is trying to hide their intolerance by trying to claim that there are all these “woke” people who are trying to silence them.

In Ron DeSanttis’ Florida, the trend is truly terrifying. Books are being taken out of libraries;; librarians and teachers are afraid to keep them available, or to use them in their classes. Right-wing parents are encouraged to “turn in” offending officials, who will lose their job, and probably never get another one in that state. Lists are made. Teachers are required to express their political views on their job application.

The people in Florida either seem to love this, or are not fully aware of it The extrapolation from how DeSantis runs Florida, to how he would run America, conjures up visions of Nazi Germany, and it is not an overstatement. Tyrants always go after freedom of expression; the teachers, the intellectuals, the artists. And of the two people who are by far he most likely to be the Republican nominee for President, both are evil totalitarians.

Against this, the Republicans wave the flag of “Against Wokeism,” trying to turn their intended tyranny against the other side. It would help if there were lees efforts from certain professedly liberal individuals to try to get people fired, shows banned, and movies condemned, because they don’t like them, or think they are a threat to “the truth” they refuse to have questioned. This is a flaw in many people, and they don’t seem to want to see it or admit it. And often someone who points this out, is simply labeled with the description that they most often like to impose on anyone who tries to question or thwart them.

Now, I do not believe that if the liberals ever had political control, they would impose the kind of things on the other side that the Right intends to impose upon them. But it is such a softball to toss over the plate, when we hear certain terms used much to profligately, and then the Right-Wing says, “See? We told you that the Woke people are going to try to take over America, and force you to read their books, and keep you from reading your books, and impose a war against Christmas and Easter; and put gay candies in your child’s box; and have drag shows on every street corner. You have to stop them.”

Is it going to be an ultimate cultural clash between the visions of the world that the Right and Left want? I would not want that, if only because the Right controls most of the airwaves, and can then skew the story. Standing up for freedom of expression is essential. But a certain amount of reasonableness is important, as opposed to reveling in one’s power to force others to listen to or watch what you want them to, while you have the ability to stop them from doing it to you. But I do think that Democrats need to charge Republicans with intolerance and fascism, so as not to be put ton the defensive when people like Trump and DeSantis accuse them of what they are themselves doing every day.


11 Responses

  1. If my attempted link did not post in the thread, you can find the Blob song mentioned in this blog post on YouTube.

    • IBW, did you first hear that song on “Doctor Demento,” as I did? I have never seen the movie, it seemed unsettling!, although perhaps it was meant to be campy. Good song, though!

      • Yes, I first heard it from DD’s show.

        I recall watching the movie on broadcast TV, but I don’t recall the song appearing in it. The song would have somewhat detracted from the intended horror.

  2. The Left wants to cancel Trump, IMO, nothing wrong with this at all. The Right wants to cancel Biden, and in fact, ALL Democrats; therein lies the difference. I can think of no one on the Left who comes close to what your average MAGA elected Republican official (which is basically ALL of them) wants in terms of censorship. I fully agree that the GOP will use ‘WOKE’ in their campaigns for 2024 and that should scare us; primarily because of the overwhelming success of their 40+ year campaign to dumb down Americans. However, I can find nothing wrong with the Left calling them out for this, sometimes you just need to speak up.

  3. Oh, yes, the Left must definitely call them out. I just would hope that in general they would realize that there are only two viable parties, and that if the Democrats lose, we all lose; and so it might be the better part of valor to choose their battles, and not say things like Andrea Riseborough getting a surprise longshot Oscar nomination means that the whole system is racially biased, and must be changed until the nominees and winners are exactly whom the people who are angry, want. A small thing, perhaps, but to me, at least, indicative to some extent of a general tone-deafness, or simply not caring what the effect might be.

    Completely off topic; I never thought that I would see “email” as a Wordle word. I sat there thinking, “is this an actual word? Well, if it’s not, the guess won’t count.” I didn’t expect it to be, but it was.

    • William, I am sure you know that there are many on the Left who suck it up and vote for the Democrat every time. That doesn’t mean that we will stop pointing out the fatal flaw of the Corporate Democrats, who, IMO, are to the right of many of the Rockefeller Republicans in the 70’s.

      EMAIL has been in the acceptable word list for Scrabble for for most of this century, not sure exactly when it was added, AND, it gave me my fourth 3 of the month 😉

      • i got it in three, too, only because I could not think of one other potential word with – – a – – and an i and e.

  4. We should make fun of their use of “woke” and turn it into a drinking game. Apparently banks failing is because they are “woke” what a joke!

    • i wonder if Norfolk Southern Railroad was woke, and that’s why they took all those profits in stock options, and did nothing to upgrade their trains. Maybe we should make up a counter word to “woke.” “Asleep”? “Snoring”?

  5. Wordle took me six tries to get today. So many choices, that I could well see someone not getting it.

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