I pay for four Substack newsletters, but am on the free tier for several others, and the writers I follow who are huffily declaring their departure from Substack because Substack will tolerate [insert taboo object here] perfectly illustrate Left Purity Culture. What’s sad/funny about this is that the platforms they are decamping for are no more pure than Substack. (You think no right-wingers use Tinyletter? Also: You’re announcing your purgative action … on Twitter? Wow, you can’t get more ideologically pure than that.) It’s a useful reminder that ritual cleanliness bears no resemblance to actual cleanliness. It’s just a matter of making the approved gestures. But it may have the self-fulfilling prophecy effect: Eventually the claim that “Substack is just a venue for right-wingers” may be largely true.
Like many other people, I’m not happy with the terms “woke” and “wokeness,” but I haven’t been sure what a good alternative is. Then, just the other day, as I was reading a few of the thousands of op-eds that have recently been written about Christian “purity culture,” I realized that what people typically call “woke” culture is really a different sort of purity culture, one for the secular left. Just as the messages of Christian purity culture are that you must be eternally vigilant in maintaining your purity; you must sign up to pledges of purity; you must denounce those who are impure; if you lose your purity you can never get it back, your defilement marks you forever; so — well, the parallels make themselves, don’t they. So instead of “wokeness” I will from now on refer to Left Purity Culture (LPC). I’ve altered the relevant tags for this blog accordingly.
UPDATE: My friend Brad East points out that his colleague Richard Beck wrote six years ago — as a self-described progressive Christian — about “The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity.” It’s a really interesting post, and there’s an equally interesting follow-up.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has a problem. Their business depends almost wholly on showing movies from the pre-woke world — movies that cannot possibly survive the strict moral scrutiny to which our major media institutions now must subject all artworks. So what to do? Well, show the movies but tag them as problematic; acknowledge the difficulties but try to defend the films anyway. We’ll see how that strategy works out.
As I have said on a number of occasions, I think LPC (Left Purity Culture) will burn itself out, as it always does. In the end, when there’s no one left to execute, Robespierre has to guillotine the executioner:
But who knows when that day will come? Meanwhile, I realized after I read the stories I link to above, I don’t have my own copy of John Ford’s The Searchers, which I consider one of the greatest movies ever made. So I’m remedying that deficiency.
I’m also going to make a list of (a) great films that (b) I do not own and that (c) Amazon and other guardians of the virtue of late capitalism may decide to blackball. Then I’m going to buy one of them each month.