Taylor Swift Succumbs to Competitive Wokeness
“In the uppermost echelons of the culture industries,” Reihan Salam wrote earlier this month, “woke liberalism is de rigueur and departures from it are stigmatized.” In this environment, he argued, making a show of social liberalism is increasingly the only option.
The idea that the political convictions held by young people are not sincere but rather the product of a “competitive wokeness” is as condescending and stale as it is untrue. It inverts reality by suggesting that there is great cultural and monetary reward for public figures who are extremely “woke,” when in reality, publicly endorsing actual left-leaning politics (for example, Black Lives Matter, democratic-socialist policies, “Medicare for all,” or a boycott of Israel to support Palestinians) is very divisive even among self-identifying liberals. It is true that there is social pressure from fans to engage in left-leaning politics, but acting like this is a boundless battle for wokeness is somewhat absurd. We talk about Kanye and Taylor, but for every Kanye and Taylor there are scores of (often white) public figures who do not engage with partisan politics publicly and their careers do not suffer for it. I cannot help but feel like the real point of this argument is to undermine the extremely justified cultural response of outrage to a very extreme administration by suggesting it is just uninformed social positioning orchestrated by naive Millennials. Is it so wrong that young people engage with politics by asking the celebrities they admire to use their platform to discuss the political issues that affect them?
I also think it is important to point out that it’s not like Taylor Swift’s career was suffering because she was staying out of politics. There were certainly conversations about why she was abstaining, and cultural and consumer forces undoubtedly play into these decisions, but no one was waiting with bated breath for her to endorse a Democrat—not that that is even a particularly woke thing to do.
Reihan Salam’s article on Taylor Swift and “competitive wokeness” suggests that the left’s resentment of the fact that its cultural dominance has not translated into political power leads it to believe “that something has gone gravely wrong.” While the left’s so-called dominance of the arts and academe is debatable (has he been in an economics department or a business school lately?), the source of the disconnect between the political beliefs of the American public and its political ruling class is less mysterious. Since 2000, the Electoral College has placed two popular-vote losers at the helm of the federal government. George W. Bush’s Supreme Court appointments helped overturn substantial portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, freeing states to erect even greater barriers to electoral participation. Rather than deem the left’s expectation of political representation unwarranted, we would do much better to address the legal structures upholding minority rule.
Several readers responded on Twitter:
Taylor Swift merely endorsed Phil Bredesen, the guy who said he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh if he were in the Senate. Pretty low bar for "wokeness."https://t.co/v7XeNa2C4q— Oxford Kondō (@oxford_kondo) October 11, 2018