Magazine July 6, 2020, Issue

Twinkling’s Canceled, Little Star

(Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)

At some point the mob will run out of things to cancel. All the low-hanging fruit will have been plucked to make smoothies for the commune. Wrongthink professors, authors, movies, newspaper columnists — easy enough. After that? Well, if you’re really going to root out systematic systemism, everything has to go. This means someone will eventually be tasked with canceling children’s songs, or recasting them for the new era. Pity the person who has to find the problematic problems in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

It’s not that hard. Take the first line: The very idea that stars are supposed to twinkle locks them into a societally prescribed mode of behavior. Expecting a star to twinkle is like telling a strange woman on the subway to smile. Strong, troublemaking stars explode! The very idea that we want “little” stars to engage in performative “twinkling” negates the life experience of massive gas giants like Betelgeuse. In fact “twinkling” itself strips the star’s identity and expresses it through the eyes of the beholder, who mistakes the effect of the atmosphere on star observation for the star’s true nature.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Whew! Turns out there’s a lot to unpack. 

How I wonder what you are.

Well, you wouldn’t if there weren’t racism in STEM that kept people out, but no, that’s not right. STEM is bad because it uses the Western empirical model to determine “facts.” Better: The speaker’s questions about the star arise from the suppression of the rich history of Arab astrological knowledge. So it’s a lesson in the ways Islamophobia prevents a greater understanding of the world. Next!

Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky . . .

Hold on, hold on . . . okay, got it. The star’s remoteness is a metaphor for the entrenched power system and encourages a sense of powerlessness. The choice of a “diamond” is intentional, reminding the child of the commodification of natural resources and the brutal economies of the industries that extract them . . .

At this point the canceler sighs and asks: “Can I have something else? Can I cancel Winnie-the-Pooh?”

“Sorry, that’s been done. His love of honey was a justification for extracting the product of the labor of the bees.”

“Dora the Explorer?”

“Archaeology as a tool of cultural supremacy. Hold on, maybe I can find something else . . . okay, we haven’t canceled tic-tac-toe. This one’s easy. The way it internalizes the futility of conflict.”

You might think this is a few years off, but no. Today’s zealots will have canceled nursery rhymes by next month, if they keep up their pace. And that, alas, is a problem for them.

Today’s revolutionaries aren’t very good students of history, to say the least. They are full of zeal, have the requisite urge to destroy, the obligatory faith in their ability to remake humankind, the belief that widespread property destruction is good PR, and so on. What they lack is pacing.

You want to say: Slow down, young’uns! First you seize power and send all your class enemies to the camps or the grave. Then you turn on your own to purge the ideologically wobbly or those who are insufficiently zealous.

But these idiots are eating their own before they have power. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling? Off to the gulag for believing in biological sex. The New York Times editorial-page editor earned defenestration for believing in free speech. Day after day on Twitter there’s a frenzy of witch-burning and heretic-stoning; the entire platform is like a self-lubricating guillotine.

Then again, it might be seen as a new, efficient model. After you’ve overthrown the tyrants and set up the People’s Committee, you have a new world to build. Even if you devote the morning to inventing a postcapitalist paradigm and spend the afternoon figuring out how to get fresh water and sanitation to your typhus-infested camp, that means you have to spend the evening drawing up proscription lists. Purging is necessary, but who has the time?

So they’re getting it out of the way now, purging the culture and the Twitter lists of people and things that need to be extirpated for the good of all.

Perhaps this is what happens when people who have been bingeing on TV shows for three months with no place to go decide to have a revolution. Instead of watching the shows once a week and pacing themselves, it’s a whole season in one day.

Hence the sloppiness and inattention to detail. When they protest racism by defacing the statues of actual abolitionists, or spray insults on the World War II monument in D.C., you might conclude that their knowledge of history has the characteristics of a slug’s knowledge of celestial mechanics. To the rioters, bad things happened because of white people, and therefore all manifestations of white people in the past are complicit. The past is a charnel house of sin.

Or perhaps they’re making a point whose ingenious subtlety escapes the bougie mindset. Defacing a statue of an abolitionist is proper, because having the luxury to oppose slavery while not actually being a slave is the height of privilege! Into the Thames with that guy.

Or — and bear with me, this one’s waaaay out there — it’s a brainless spasm of hate for anything that happened before SpongeBob went on the air. The accumulated accomplishments of humanity cast a bright light on their inability to accomplish anything except to accrue debt and tattoos, and they’ll feel better when all these reminders are pulled down.

They can’t do anything about the twinkling stars of old, but they can light enough fires to drown them out.

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Culture

No One Is Ever Woke Enough

Closing out the week: The Harper’s letter calling for freedom of expression demonstrates that no one is ever “woke” enough, and that any institution that tries to make peace with the perpetually aggrieved eventually becomes dysfunctional; the value of Hamilton as a litmus test of the limits of cancel ... Read More
Culture

No One Is Ever Woke Enough

Closing out the week: The Harper’s letter calling for freedom of expression demonstrates that no one is ever “woke” enough, and that any institution that tries to make peace with the perpetually aggrieved eventually becomes dysfunctional; the value of Hamilton as a litmus test of the limits of cancel ... Read More
Elections

The Winds of Woke

Before Thursday morning I had not heard of Thomas Bosco, and I am willing to bet you haven’t heard of him either. He runs a café in Upper Manhattan. From the picture in the New York Times, the Indian Road Café is one of those Bobo-friendly brick-lined coffee shops with chalkboard menus affixed to the wall ... Read More
Elections

The Winds of Woke

Before Thursday morning I had not heard of Thomas Bosco, and I am willing to bet you haven’t heard of him either. He runs a café in Upper Manhattan. From the picture in the New York Times, the Indian Road Café is one of those Bobo-friendly brick-lined coffee shops with chalkboard menus affixed to the wall ... Read More