What is This You Call "Cancel Culture"?
SID: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I’m just starting to piece together what America has become since my accident five years ago. I wake up to Joe Biden as president? Last I remembered, Obama was president and Hillary was going to run.
JIM: You’ve missed a lot. To say the least.
SID: It does seem a little dystopian out there.
JIM: Yes. Um. Yes. So. As you may or may not know, you have several versions of reality you can dip into now, depending on what your background is and beliefs are. The truth, as it turns out, is whatever you want it to be. Right now, 2021, is a war for what we call “the narrative.”
SID: The narrative?
JIM: Who controls it, who dominates it, who influences it, who silences it.
SID: And who does?
JIM: That’s the game. Who does. Exactly.
SID: Well, last I remember I think we were trying to reduce fossil fuel emissions and sell hybrids?
JIM: That’s right. We’re still doing that. But everything has changed. I don’t think it is simply a matter of selling cars. It is about selling people WHO THEY ARE. We sell cars. We sell hybrid cars. GREEN cars. Cars of the future. Cars of the very rich person’s future. What does someone who has everything actually need? The things money CAN’T buy: respect, virtue, admiration. Our cars have to be more than just hunks of metal that cost more than your average Picasso painting.
SID: I got a look at some of them. I can’t believe what they can do now.
JIM: Here at Elysian Motors, we believe in delivering the vehicle experience for drivers with conscious awareness. We must think ahead about how we might potentially offend anyone who drives in our cars, sees our cars on the road, shares the road with our cars, glances at one of our cars on a television ad, how an influencer or VIP feels when driving in one of our cars, and finally, justifying the enormous — SUSTAINABLE - price tag of one of our cars. And your job is to make sure our potential customers know that. Take the Kardashians.
SID: You mean that dumb reality show?
JIM: You really have missed a lot. The Kardashians are now a massive empire on Instagram and Youtube. They don’t even need that dumb reality show. They sell makeup, clothes, shapewear, lifestyle, fitness, jeans - they sell tequila. They took out the middle man and don’t seel their products. Instead, they sell their own products. We’re talking Gatsby-level proportions in terms of wealth. We’re living through another Gilded age of visible consumptive wealth - they have massive parties for their children, thousands of balloons floating around somewhere, no doubt getting ready to kill a few dolphins but just one of those photos will earn 10 million likes. Their audience loves it. The richer, the better. We don’t want their audience to buy our cars. We want THEM to buy our cars and to want to show them off on their instagram page. But, like every elite in this country, they need to appear socially conscious, aware of the environment, criminal justice reform. That is essential in rising to power and holding onto power now.
SID: They don’t just want to look rich. They want to broadcast virtue.
JIM: Yes, it’s called “virtue signaling” but we’re not allowed to use that, or any term the conservatives or Trumpers use to call out our blatant hypocrisy. They have their own versions of virtue signaling anyway but it is true that someone like Kylie Jenner CAN lecture her audience about the environment while also consuming on a level most humans, with the possible exception of the Roman Empire, ever have or ever will.
SID: But we are giving them a way to sell their virtue?
JIM: You see our customers suffer from anxiety in the middle of the night worrying about the environment, even while traveling in private jets and renting yachts for their vacation. This isn’t about reality. It is about the chosen reality. It is our job to take away their worry so that they feel GOOD not about spending upwards of $100,000 on a car but about showing other people that they are driving a car that costs that much - how can they justify their own pleasure seeking? How can it all be okay? How can they not be hated? You see, we once sold cars to the other side of the aisle because they had all of the money but more than that, they had no problem bragging about it. Now, though, the elite class of this country very much needs to justify their power and wealth. They can’t just have it and brag about it. Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. His Amazon empire that started out selling books and putting bookstores out of business made him even richer during this past year. But it wasn’t enough that he used his money to ride in a rocket to space and then back down again. He had to then turn around and donate $100 million to Van Jones, a black activist. He also paid lip service to the climate and talked about junking up space with all of our trash. He can do that. He can do anything. But he has to not only feel good about it - he has to show others how good he is while doing it.
Something along the lines of this:
JIM: Can you do that? Can you sell that dream?
SID: I can try. I will try.
JIM: Very good. So things have really changed in one regard. You can’t just say anything now. You have to be aware of what … of …how …of the way we think about ourselves, how we talk about ourselves and what might happen if you do not get it right.
SID: I would never dream of offending anyone. I’m a good person. I have always voted Democrat. I shop at the Farmer’s Market. I read the New York Times. I think my cred is intact.
JIM: Yes, well you should go through your social media, if you have any from you know, before. Did you ever dress up in any kind of costume that wasn’t appropriate for white people? You know, like — as someone from any group other than your own? And does a photo of you dressed up in “problematic” attire show up anywhere on Facebook? Like your girlfriend from high school thought it was funny and posted it? Scan your dating history, any time you ever hit on a woman, looked at a woman, bought a woman a drink. Make sure you really never did anything that could be called out publicly.
SID: Well, I certainly would never have worn anything racist.
JIM: Intent doesn’t matter. If you wore a “gangster” or “rapper” costume without realizing it was bad at the time…
SID: I don’t remember wearing anything like that.
JIM: Did you ever dress up as a Native American? Did you ever wear a spray tan or a gold chain or slicked-back hair? Did you ever dress up in black face even though it was once funny to do that?
SID: I…I…am pretty sure I never did. I wasn’t the kind of person who dressed up to go to Halloween parties. Maybe as a kid.
JIM: Even as a kid, Sid. Even as a kid. Try to remember. We have to be way ahead of any potential scandal.
JIM: YES. YES. If one of our car commercials goes wrong, the entire thing could derail and you would be the person on the chopping block who must take the fall. You think me or my bosses are going to feel it? Think again. It’s YOU Sid. So be really really sure there is nothing out there people can use as “proof.” The rules keep changing. You might think you’re using an acceptable word one day and it’s suddenly decided the next day that it is offensive and you will be punished for using it even if you didn’t know it was offensive. Intent doesn’t matter. Only power matters. Likes matter. Retweets matter. Oh and that word “matter” - take care how you use it. You can’t say anything matters in any ad. You can’t say “The environment matters” or authentic leather seats matter.” Just stay all the way away from that word. It will just snowball. The more people who pile on, the more valid the accusations, the more pressure mounts, the more likely it is that a person will be disappeared by the end of the day.
JIM: In a culture that is driven to feel good about itself and be the better side, they have to continually purge the bad people. We’re not even just talking about unintentional crimes from your past, but whatever you think, say, or tweet you have to make sure you are 100% on board with the status quo. You’ll go down, the cars will be tainted for the foreseeable future.
SID: Oh no, not the cars!
JIM: Yes the cars! What do you think we’re doing here? Having afternoon tea? This is your job. The thing that’s going to pull your family out of the financial hole you’re in, help pay for child’s college tuition — which, by the way, you might want to hit the pause button on that unless you want a militant Marxist home for the holidays — but I digress.
SID: Marxist? That’s a bit over the top, don’t you think? I’m sure they’re just rebellious kids like we were. Come on.
JIM: You really have been asleep, haven’t you. Everyone else walks around staring blankly into the void wondering how we got here, why no one is saying anything, and whether we’ll ever get back to anything resembling normalcy. I’m just preparing you is all. That is my job.
SID: Okay, fine. So - can you give me some examples?
JIM: Yes, yes. Let’s see here, ah. Exhibit A. His name was Winston Marshall and he was in the band Mumford and Sons. He liked this book he read and he praised it on Twitter. He was viciously attacked for days by very prominent people who called him a fascist apologist. He had to leave Twitter.
SID: What did he DO?
JIM: He tweeted about a book he read. Apparently, it was verboten. The book, the book’s author. Something something something Trump.
SID: Wait, so let me get this straight - he read a book, tweeted about it and that ended his career with Mumford and Sons?
JIM: In 2021-speak you would have to say it like this, “he helped sell and normalize fascism and therefore he deserves everything he gets.”
SID: Right. So I have to be in favor of that?
JIM: If you want to keep your job, yes.
SID: Things were a lot less complicated before I went into a coma.
JIM: There’s more. His name was Donald McNeil and he was a veteran reporter at the New York Times. On a field trip, he was trying to clarify what word was used to get a certain high school kid in trouble. In order to clarify the word, he used the word. I can’t even reference the word in the context of this meeting it is that inflammatory. This made a white teenager uncomfortable. He was accused of being a racist and so he was fired by the New York Times.
SID: I think I want to go back to sleep.
JIM: Let’s see here, the director of the Olympics was fired because of a joke he made in 1998 about the Holocaust. Gina Carano was an actress on Disney the Mandalorian and she made a joke on Instagram about the holocaust - she took it down and apologized but was still fired. The Oscars no longer have a host because the last one was hounded over problematic tweets from ten years ago. They canceled the GOLDEN GLOBES.
SID: The awards show?
JIM: This is just the tip of the icerberg. We could do this all day.
SID: What would make people suddenly act like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers?
JIM: Put the pause button the “why” for now. We just have to be very much in sync in terms of messaging. Like take this ad, for instance:
Right off we have the words “revolution” and we even have the line, “If one truck can change the world, imagine what two can do.” To sell to people who want to be seen as “good” you have to make them feel justified. They can go rage about fossil fuels and the environment then drive around in this car and think to themselves, today I win. I can claim both moral superiority AND I can hold people accountable for their actions.
SID: So I think what you’re getting at is that they say they are good for the environment but they aren’t really and so we just have to help our customers perpetuate an illusion.
JIM: Exactly. We know that we can still sell cars if we know our audience. Cars should be like all AI is now. It protects you. It welcomes you. It solves problems for you. It makes you feel better about your every day.
SID: And make people would ordinarily feel guilty feel less guilty.
JIM: Yes, think of it! We now have a massive empire built online that tells us everything about our potential buyers. What they actually read vs. what they pretend they read. What they show on their Instagram vs. who they actually are. What Tik Tok videos they watch even when they don’t want anyone else to know. We know everything we need to know to be able to target them with the exact right formula for the desired result. So they can be online screaming and yelling all day long but there will always be people like us sifting through the mountains of data they handed over willingly. You just have to give people what they actually want vs. what they say they want.
SID: So actually we’re HELPING people make the world a better place.
JIM: We are helping people discover WHO THEY ACTUALLY ARE. But we have to make sure you know that there is a whole new language now. We try to stay away from words like “he” and “she.” Or “mother, father, sister, brother.” You just say “folks” or “family.” We don’t say “Sweetheart” or “honey” - and instead, we say a person’s name. Also, the word “black” should be avoided. Use “onyx, or midnight panther”. We should avoid using the word “tribe.” “Exotic” is also out. Anything that somehow makes someone feel like an “other.” We also don’t like the word “pretty” as it’s objectifying. Everything should point towards being held accountable, being supportive, and we will mention the word “privilege” at least once. I have a guide that I will send you home with for closer study. And when in doubt put an “x” at the end of it, like folx.
SID: They do not say ‘folx.’
JIM: They do, like Latinx. We also have a small staff here to go over every word so if there is anything written in there we can make sure to fix it before anyone sees it. Of course, there is always the chance that one of those people might spot something really problematic and they might out you on Twitter. But we have them sign NDAs so the chances they would do that are slim. What’s wrong?
SID: Oh wow.
JIM: Just take deep breaths. You will do great. I can already tell you’re a natural.
SID: No, I am not sure that I am. I don’t think you actually need me at all. You don’t need a person. You just need a machine to spit out the right words.
JIM: Well, not really - I mean, it is always good to have a real live human brain coming up with ideas. AI is advanced but it isn’t quite there yet.
SID: You know, I always just wanted to be a writer.
JIM: This is writing.
SID: No, it isn’t. Advertising has always been manipulative, deceptive. It’s always been used to make people deny reality and tell other people who they are. Status will always be a thing with humans.
JIM: Now, let’s just calm down. I think you are having a mental collapse.
SID: Maybe. It’s that part about someone outing me on Twitter. Who are these people?
JIM: Social justice warriors. They hate the term but it is the right descriptive. They are warriors online rendering their brand of justice everyday. Say it with me now, HOLDING PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE.
SID: Why is that their job?
JIM: You just want to stay out of the line of fire.
SID: I don’t want to live my life afraid of them.
JIM: You want to work?
SID: I do but I’m not sure I want to be in a position where these little brats can send me to the virtual gulag.
JIM: CALM down. I mostly said it for exaggerated effect. They do sign NDAs.
SID: But they might be around somewhere, children spies like in 1984.
JIM: All you have to do is follow the rules and apologize. It isn’t that bad, really. They would say you objecting to it is just your white male privilege talking.
SID: Well maybe it is. But so what.
JIM: Don’t say that.
SID: Life isn’t fair. Since when has it been fair? Nothing about the natural world is fair. It is competition and survival. Improvise, adapt and overcome. Evolve and adapt or die. Winners win, losers lose. It is about who has power and who doesn’t and why. No one has ever successfully made it fair. Look at what Hitler did. He thought he was making it fair for the German people he thought had been screwed over during WWI, humiliated and left impoverished, eating their horses. To him, that whole hideous thing was about justice and fairness.
JIM: So you’re saying the social justice warriors are like Hitler? That really could get your fired. And I’m not even kidding.
SID: I’m saying that the natural world, the natural order is about competition. Men won. No one handed it to them. They were stronger. They were more brutal. They came to this land and claimed it. They started and won a revolution. They wrote the Constitution. They built an empire - yes, they did it on the backs of slaves and that is horrible but it is what humans did, forever. What they still do now if given half the chance. Power is power. No one gives it up willingly. This is pandering. This isn’t real. It is an illusion of power. Men took over because they could - in every country at every time throughout human history. Does anyone really care about actual fairness? It doesn’t sound like that to me. This all sounds like a really dumb game of lies where we’re all pretending things are equal but actually they’re not. Not really. The rich people still have all of the hybrid energy. The poor people still have to buy gas. We help the Kardashians sell themselves so that we can sell them cars so that they can sell an illusion of the perfect rich person to their followers?
JIM: Okay, you got it out of your system. Now you must learn the part where we aren’t actually honest anymore. And do not say that on Twitter.
SID: I can’t do this.
JIM: You CAN!
SID: I can’t. I don’t want to.
JIM: There is nothing else. Just take the paycheck. Wait out the storm. You’re not writing the Great American Novel here. Which, by the way, you might want to wait ten years to write anyway.
SID: What if it never passes?
JIM: It will. Maybe it’s a year, maybe ten but it will pass.
SID: So I guess this is why people stare into the void.
JIM: Don’t worry, I got your back.
SID: Until you don’t.
JIM: Until I don’t.