Bread and Circuses -- Ellie Kemper and the Wasted Activism of Twitter
Imperial Rome called. It wants its failing empire back.
I didn’t think much about the Ellie Kemper story when it first broke. I could see that there was anger expressed on the right leaning channels I pay attention to. On the Left, of course, they were happy to fling around the idea that she was involved in what they believed to be a KKK inspired ball with a racist, sexist past that was provable, beyond any doubt, because they’d seen photos of people in white hoods holding weapons. But here’s the problem. Their costumes predate the KKK’s by 37 years and were inspired not by the Veiled Prophet’s Ball but by the film The Birth of a Nation.
One can argue that in the post-Civil War America everything and everyone was racist and that everything they did was “White Supremacy.” But they can’t argue that this was specifically a KKK affiliated group because the facts simply don’t square.
But we’ve played this game before. We know this game.
We know that Twitter is hungry and Twitter must feed.
This is how Chris Harrison of the Bachelor found himself out of a job after one of these episodes bizarrely snowballed in the wrong direction. Twitter was viciously ripping apart a contestant who once attended a party where she dressed up as a Southern Belle in 2018 when she was a teenager. This was somehow PROOF that she was a RACIST! Rather than pull back and say, this is insane. Let’s stop it now. Everyone went along with it - a grand episode of gaslighting that ended up Chris Harrison fired, and the woman accused of being a racist back together with the Bachelor who accused her of being a racist.
This is a game played behind the scenes by public relations operatives and marketing executives. It is about which products can still be marketed to a public that values its virtue above all things. It can’t associate with something tainted by “racism,” real or imagined. Racism, like communism and witchcraft is an unseen threat and can be anywhere in anyone all of the time.
There is nothing sane or rational about it yet watching vast amounts of well meaning “good liberals” go along with it because this is what defines them. As long as you are on the side of those pointing the finger, no one is going to point the finger at you. Until they do.
Much has evolved in America and quite rapidly do to the rise of the internet, social media and whole generations coming of age interfacing with it. For one thing, there is much more share of voice for previously silent or marginalized groups. Twitter in particular has a massive platform for black voices - really for the first time in American history. The gay and trans community have a massive platform on Twitter. Since Twitter is dominated by the Left - and 80% of its content is dominated by 15% of its users — it magnifies groups that are, by comparison, smaller than the actual majority.
Even if the majority of white people is diminishing, and that by 2050 it is assumed that they won’t be the majority anymore, they always WERE the majority, by a much larger margin than they are today. My mother, for instance, said she had never even met a black person until she started working as a cocktail waitress in Hollywood around the age of 20. She’d grown up in the San Fernando Valley which was 80-90% white back then.
Yet, somehow, in 2021, there is an assumption that everyone knew everything going all the way back to the country’s founding. The truth about humans: they do what they are expected to do with very little pushback, even if they think something is wrong. Those who stand up to the status quo are few and far between, especially when it means being ostracized from their own family or community. And many who would have spoken out against injustice had no power and could not have. And yet, here we are, enacting punishment on people retroactively as though they must be held accountable for the crimes of our past as a whole and not by anything they actually did.
After Twitter has been satiated and the story has calmed down and the subject has disappeared they usually announce their official apology, which is always written carefully by a PR team to make sure the wording is exactly right. Ellie Kemper did not write her apology - maybe she added to it but it is clear it follows the agreed upon rules: fall on your sword, admit wrongdoing, make no excuse for it and promise to “do better.” Here is Ellie Kemper’s “apology”:
She’s the target today. Tomorrow it will be someone else. Pass the hot potato and when it’s your turn get wished into the cornfield.
So in case you are wondering what the game is - this is the game. The idea is that she is being used as an example to continue bringing to light the racism of our past. They have figured out that the only way to do damage control is not to say “I have nothing to apologize for.” They can’t say that, even though it’s true, unless you are offering a blanket apology of being a white person who exists in the world.
They have to really show that they have been injured by someone digging through their past to unearth the wrongthink or wrong action - and that they have now SEEN the light and are now going to work towards reform. Unless actual harm was done, however, it is an empty, pandering, pointless apology.
I’m not saying she should not have apologized. She HAS TO APOLOGIZE. What option does she have? This is like confessing to witchcraft because the alternative is unacceptable. Ellie Kemper, to a lot of people, will always be thought of as a racist. She has confessed to being complicit now and she must live with that. Even though she just participated in a game that is based in a lie. It wasn’t a KKK-related group. It was racist the same way golf courses were racist and segregated restaurants were racist. The Veiled Prophet Ball was never about race or racism but about business.
But it doesn’t matter because this is the game. Because tag, you’re it.
To the privileged, white left this is great - because it means they have things well in hand. They can toss the wrong-doers by firing them. They can not publish the books. They can dump the problematic social media sites. They can pull the All Star game out of Georgia. They can cancel the Golden Globes and believe they are “teaching” them a lesson. Those at the very top are the ones most likely to support this bizarre ritual. But let’s just not pretend it’s actual activism. Or an actual apology.
Meanwhile, it will kill everything in its path - truth, art, freedom of thought, kindness and compassion, fairness, the benefit of the doubt. Why, because they aren’t just going after people they know are racists. There aren’t enough of them. Now they have to go through people on their side. Democrats, liberals, activists - even Black Lives Matter activists as Ellie Kemper was. When the snake starts eating its own tail we know it’s the beginning of the end.
And also because we’ve lost the plot by now. We are dealing in unending unreality where facts don’t matter. Where the truth doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the game. We somehow think this is sustainable. But it isn’t. It will come toppling down like a house of cards. It is only a question of how bad it will get before that happens.
Twitter has given a massive mob of people an arena to use as public shaming. Humans will always behave in exactly the same way, whether it’s ancient Rome or 2020. No, we aren’t watching birds eating the liver out of humans but the mechanisms are similar. Watch the suffering of others to distract and entertain, with no compassion, no fairness, no understanding, no humanity.
Trial by mob has never gone well for humans. Witch hunts never do. In their book Pendulum, which is a riff on the book The Fourth Turning, they predict the period we’re living through now. As we head towards complete societal breakdown we go through the “witch hunt” phase and this is how they describe it, writing in 2011:
The second half of the Upswing of “We” and the first half of the Downswing from it (2013–2023) bring an ideological “righteousness” that seems to spring from any group gathered around a cause. The inevitable result is judgmental legalism and witch hunts. The origin of the term witch hunt was the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings before county court officials to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693, exactly at the beginning of the second half of the Upswing toward the “We” Zenith of 1703.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American promoter of this witch-hunt attitude at America’s most recent “We” Zenith of 1943 (see the “House Un-American Activities Committee,” 1937–1953); Adolph Hitler was the German promoter (see the Holocaust, 1933–1945); and Joseph Stalin was the Soviet promoter
(see the Great Purge, 1936–1938). Our hope is that we might collectively choose to skip this development as we approach the “We” Zenith of 2023. If enough of us are aware of this trend toward judgmental self-righteousness, perhaps we can resist demonizing those who disagree with us and avoid the societal polarization that results from it. A truly great society is one in which being unpopular can be safe.
We’ve gone much farther than that by now. The only thing left is whether or not the government will start enacting what Twitter eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is hard to not see this as yet another sign of society’s doom.
Humanizing others is hard for humans, especially in large groups. We have to work at it. We all too easily fall into situations where we cheer on dehumanization rather than resist it. But especially when we are connected through a truly destructive social media algorithm that is invested in our division and hatred. Imagine how much traffic the Ellie Kemper debacle gave Twitter for the day? The news cycle for the day? Podcasts and think pieces, like this one. Maybe we’re all feeding off the flesh of the same sacrifice.
It is the opposite of what happened in the 1960s when art and culture exploded into a diverse and glorious abundance of art, music, literature. This is the opposite of that. It is taking away, not adding to. There will be nothing left except a movement that lives in fear.
In fear of its words.
In fear of its past.
In fear of its art.
In fear of truth.
In fear of each other.
In fear of its comedy.
In fear of itself.