There’s a popular quote floating around in far-left, anti-capitalist and progressive circles: “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism”.
The sentiment is based on a logical contradiction at the heart of where modern consumer culture meets progressive activism. We’re only human and we’re living in an unethical economic system. The system is corrupt and exploitative against the masses but that corruption does not reflect upon the workers. As individuals, we’re allowed some leeway to be hypocrite, to work for massive corporations, to live lives of consumerism and otherwise avoid having to inconvenience one’s selves from guilt because the systems aren’t our fault.
In other words, you don’t have to feel guilty watching Disney movies, buying products from Walmart or knowing your products are made in third world sweatshops because you’re advocating to fix the system from the top down.
I’ve never liked this formulation. It’s hypocritical at its face. It teaches people to live in cognitive dissonance and then uses that tension to radicalize the politics of the individuals involved.
It’s dishonest to live like this. For all its faults, capitalism is a system that’s designed to give people what they want. Usually that means cheap food, cheap entertainment and pornography. If people want junk and don’t care how they get it, that’s their problem.
At the same time, there are hundreds of more ethical options for socially minded customers to choose. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer quality food for a commensurate price. The privately owned restaurants, book stores and entertainment distributors are plentiful. There’s nothing to stop an individual from living ethically under capitalism within this conception.
And yet the central tension remains. The masses want junk and the fact that they do means that there is such a thing as “mainstream culture” comprises of hundreds of millions of people that drive this demand. Some companies are just so huge that it’s impossible for a consumer to challenge them: Coca-Cola, McDonalds, etc.
As a conservative, this tension has started to take on a new form within the American Right. The far-right has been skewing protectionist, anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist for years now as the movement as a whole has grown sick of mainstream culture.
The tension though ISNT one about capitalist exploitation. The tension comes from the realization that this central apparatus of supply and demand creates political incentives that trickle down into the culture and slowly inculcate the masses.
Some far-rightists refer to this consensus making apparatus as “The Cathedral” and use the metaphor to explore how one side of the aisle in particular is more effective at swaying the narrative of the mainstream consumer culture in their favor.
Media has been feeding subtly liberal messages into entertainment for as long as politics has existed of course. TV shows like All in the Family and Murphy Brown both went a long way in setting to tone of discourse for water color discussions over contentious political issues for decades.
In the past five years, a more rigid anti-progressive coalition online has tried to rally non-political entertainment fans against the attempts by mainstream media to feed liberal activism into popular entertainment. Such movements have taken many names: GamerGate and ComicsGate both focused on trying to flush progressive activism out of their respective fandoms.
Similar consumer revolts have been made in the film industry trying to disrupt the success of nominally progressive blockbusters like Ghostbusters, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Birds of Prey.
Their success has been mixed, if completely ineffectual, but they have given birth to the “Get Woke, Go Broke” meme. Many overtly progressive films like Oceans 8 and Charlie’s Angels have been complete box office bombs and the logic goes that they failed because centrist audiences didn’t have any desire to be preached to.
For the most part though, Hollywood has continued the trend unencumbered. They’ve only been MORE reckless in their willingness to decry the “toxic” elements of their fandom, cast openly progressive screenwriters and directors and recast white male characters as minorities or females.
And certainly that’s reflective of the fact that “Get Woke Go Broke” is mostly a lie. Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Star Wars are all billion dollar worldwide successes and they all have progressively minded followups in development.
This does raise an interesting contradiction though: Why would an overwhelmingly centrist and non-political consumer culture WANT to engage in “Woke Capitalism” to begin with?
Corporations HAVE to know that their pandering to socialists and communists who want their heads in guillotines.
Well, consider what capitalism is best at: giving people what they want.
If the people feel resentment towards the rich and powerful, capitalism can deliver a release from that. Anti-Capitalist blockbusters can satiate the tensions of the woke by throwing red meat to the grassroots while officially deterring to the mainstream neo-liberal/neo-conservative/centrist/consumerist (whatever you want to call it) status quo.
Nothing changes economically within the system but the progressive members of the audience can still celebrate the fact that black and trans-superheroes are getting mainstream representation.
The same can’t be said for rightist complaints. When a conservative, traditionalist or a Christian complains about forced diversity or overt progressive propaganda in mainstream entertainment, the media goes into overdrive declaring them “racist, sexist and homophobic fans”. They pick examples of toxic fanboys online and use them to dismiss the entire slate of criticism as “toxic fandom”.
This has placed conservatives in an intense bind. There really isn’t a conservative equivalent of progressive pandering in the mainstream consumer culture. Hollywood will fund cheap Hallmark movies and Christian movies to keep Baptist grandmas entertained but there’s clearly not enough pressure in the mainstream.
Attempts at trying to Astro-turf pro-conservative films into the mainstream have all been bombs. Independent films like Gosnell bomb at the box office. Even massive films by Hollywood mainstays such as Richard Jewell bomb when audiences perceive the overt conservatives messaging in the film’s marketing.
The incentive structure is clear. Hollywood will make the least noise by nominally pandering to their progressive fans and all but totally ignoring conservatives.
Conservatives now feel the same tension as leftists in regards to their willingness to blindly submit to the system. Dissident conservatives feel abandoned by mainstream pop culture and have largely made efforts to disengage from consumer culture.
Why should they give their money to people who hate them after-all?
The corporation’s goal is self perpetuation. Their goal is to make money at a high profit margin. So long as the status quo isn’t meaningfully threatened, what’s the point in fighting the progressive tides?
Dissident conservatives call this phenomena “Woke Capitalism.” Even progressives like Lindsey Ellis have picked up on this trend and have directly addressed it
Conservatives tend to chop this up to an infiltration of mainstream entertainment corporations by a generation of millennial bottom rung workers who collectively have the power to bully their bosses and HR departments into changing their office politics into the progressive’s ideal status quo.
Certainly there’s truth in that. The New York Time’s Bari Weiss was bullied out of her position by younger millennial staff members.
That said, I think this prescription is mostly incorrect. The reason thousands of corporations have had to spend the last year promoting diversity initiatives, #BlackLivesMatter activism, anti-whiteness training, LGBT+ causes and other progressive pandering is because they know where their money is coming from. The incentive structure rewards them for capitulating to these causes and the backlash is negligible.
Seemingly the only thing that’s keep the corporate money masters in Hollywood from completely capitulating to the progressive mainstream consumer culture is the fact that the demand to run films in China, where anti-Black and anti-gay bigotry is more mainstream, where studios can easily net an extra billion dollars in their box office gross.
If it wasn’t for China, we would’ve been dealing with much more intense propaganda for the past decade.
That of course comes with its own set of problems because it makes major corporations capitulatory to the whims of a totalitarian communist nation, but that’s a whole different article.
Profit driven Corporations clearly don’t care about ethics. If they did, they wouldn’t abide by Chinese slave labor and sweatshop labor. If they had a backbone, they’ve actually take a stand when it’s hard to do so.
If corporations are pandering to LGBT+ activists during pride month, putting up National Women’s Day Posts on social media, forcing their employees to undergo anti-bias/anti-whiteness training and selling anti-capitalist T-Shirts in their storefronts, their doing it because the cost-benefit analysis is in their favor.
In theory, it doesn’t even mean that these corporations have to worry about communist grassroots takeover in the near future. So long as the Democratic Party is run by corporatists and institutionalists, they don’t have to worry about communist policies being implemented.
As a conservative, this status quo worries me. Politics is downstream from culture and if the leftist social culture is THIS powerful that it fears left-wing social media retribution and NOT right-wing retribution, we’re so far up a creek without a paddle we don’t even realize it.
How is it even possible to change a status quo that’s specifically designed to perpetuate itself in the midst of riots, political division and active oppression by hostile governments like China?
This contradiction really came to fruition for me in light of the Gina Carano scandal.
Here at CulturalReview.com, our editorial team the decision to boycott Disney products for the coming months and time and to avoid giving reviews to new Disney products. We canceled our Disney+ subscription and we don’t plan on attending Disney movies in theaters for the time being.
The same seems to be true for much of the conservative/anti-SJW movement. Major YouTubers like The Quartering got #CancelDisneyPlus trending for days last month and it would appear that tens of thousands of people followed suit.
The problem was, nothing changed. Disney didn’t acknowledge what happened. They don’t have to. They have 100+ million active accounts and guaranteed income for the next several years to cover whatever loss they sustain from “Toxic Fans”.
Partisan boycotts are an innately fraught exercise. You’re expecting millions of people with no knowledge or understanding of an issue to suddenly disrupt their lives for the sake of principal.
This is why leftist boycotts of Walmart, Goya, Chick-Fil-A and MyPillow have gone NOWHERE in the past two decades. People love to buy things from those companies. People similarly love Disney+ because they love the shows and movies available on it.
A hashtag campaign like #BoycottDisneyPlus obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. An average family isn’t going to purge Disney+ from their house, during a plague, when their kids are turning it on every day to watch cartoons, just because a few thousand partisans on Twitter are mad.
Sadly, the only power social media is good for is allowing groups on the extremes to have an outsized voice in the debates. In that realm, corporations seem to get less flack when they pander to leftist causes than rightist causes.
And yet, leftists seem to have the power to occassionally get what they want through social media boycotts. Hundreds of thousands of leftists can bully Gina Carano for months and get what they want.
Conservatives seemingly have NO cultural power. Our boycotts are useless. Our social media campaigns are useless. All we can do is to help rehabilitate embarrassed celebrities by giving them jobs working for the conservative movement. Naturally though, that doesn’t help society.
It’s good that Gina Carano was immediately picked up to producer her own feature film for the DailyWire but what good does that do? 100 million normal movie watcher aren’t going to see it. Her movie will be an inside joke for partisan conservatives much like other independently produced right-wing films are like Unplanned or Gods NOT Dead.
These films are ignored or considered the laughingstock of mainstream entertainment and that’s terrible for us.
By boycotting major brands like Disney and getting ourselves into a tizzy about every minor progressive victory (IE Mr Potato Head or Dr. Seuss), we cede more and more cultural space to the left. We look like reactionary idiots in the mainstream who can’t handle the smallest hint of change. We’re easy to dismiss.
Why would Disney EVER bother to appeal to right-wingers again now? Their “woke” Star Wars, Marvel and Princess movies make a billion dollars off nostalgia alone and it’s clear they don’t need us. We can pout in the corner and refuse to offer them our money and it will affect nothing.
To circle back to my original point, why are conservative supposed to do in a status quo like this?
I love Star Wars and Marvel in equal measure to my utter disdain for Disney as a corporation. I feel like giving them $7/month is unethical endorsement of a corporation that profits off of slave labor and sells moderately progressive propaganda to the masses.
At the same time though, my permission means nothing to them. There are 100 million other people out there living hard lives who just wanna come home and find out what happened this week to Baby Yoda and Wanda Maximoff.
I’m one of those people and I mourn the fact that my disregard for the people running these companies means I won’t be able to watch The Bad Batch or The Mandalorian Season 3 or Book of Boba Fett anytime soon…
I actively want to be a part of the culture conservation surrounding Falcon and the Winter Soldier right now but unsubscribed to Disney+ in February.
Maybe there is no ethical consumption under Woke Capitalism. Maybe the left has a point in their notion that you simply have to live in hypocrisy until the system is fixed. I don’t blame conservatives who simply looked at the cost/benefit analysis of keeping their Disney+ accounts and decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing their ability to keep relevant with the shows all their friends are watching for only $7 a month.
The only way to fix our system is to arrest the machine of progressive dominance and make it clear that conservatives have a right to a say in how our culture tells its own stories to itself. When we disengage from “modernity”, we forfeit our right to complain about it. When he pay for it, we give them a few more dollars to preach to us.
Either way the machine keeps on turning. I’m not against capitalism in any way. The fact that these corporate machines are amoral is irrelevant to me. I’d respect Disney if they said “We exist to perpetuate nothing, provide no morals and will accept money from wherever it comes from.”
Until we figure out a way to break the contradiction at the heart of progressive pandering in Woke Capitalism, Im at a loss as to how to fix the mainstream culture…