let us now whisper softly about PERFORMATIVE WOKENESS and MORAL FASHION
as we strive to hold society accountable, to raise the bar for behavior among our peers, to spread awareness of injustices past and present, we should recognize the ways in which our communication is working against these goals and opening itself up to malignant subversion.
social media strongly favors a certain kind of tone and attitude. we see it everywhere with the news, where controversy and bombastic headlines are what garner the modern currency of likes, shares, and comments. but this same trend exists beyond The Media or The Politicians, all the way down to the individual.
for anyone whose aspirations are tied to exposure – especially artists – there are strong incentives to be loud and angry every day of the week. social media is a grind, a rat race to stay relevant in people’s minds, to be remembered and noticed as often as possible. rage is one of the easiest emotions to squeeze into the 140 character limit.
activism is now integral to our brands, how we sell ourselves to the world. it becomes an act that can be performed at will, replicated by anyone who shares the right links with a sufficient number of upset emoji and a dash of the latest trend in favorable buzzwords.
take a more innocuous example: the environmental apocalypse formerly known as plastic straws, an injustice born for the current climate. a trite micro-optimization wherein, overnight, everyone demanded that restaurants and bars abandon this morally bankrupt practice as though it contributed anything meaningful to global trends in plastic waste. it shifted the responsibility for environmental justice away from corporations and governments onto the individual. as if we could make a dent in climate change by minorly inconveniencing ourselves at dinner.
this is how i’ve come to see a lot of the policing around the margins of individual social graces and language. while we bicker about which words to use, a battalion of megawealthy capitalist neofascists are hard at work cementing the prison industrial complex, immigration detention, and the socio-economic segregation of health care & education into the fabric of our society. and they don’t give a flying fuck about your wokeness.
yes, absolutely, we should strive every single goddamn day to deconstruct our words and behaviors to understand how we’re perpetuating the misogyny and racism passed down from our ancestors, to resist the ambient bigotry that permeates our culture and history. the work to self-analyze and critique our thoughts and actions is necessary and useful for growth.
but when we focus exclusively on presentation, on the look and feel and sound of moral behavior rather than the substance and meaning and motive, we miss the bigger picture, and we open ourselves to manipulation.