To my best estimation, ‘Woke’ surfaced as a term in the mainstream around 2014-2015 in the wake of the Ferguson murders and subsequent civil unrest, as a name for the process by which African-Americans could come to terms with the simple fact that the US state and its prison-military-industrial complex is indifferent or actively antagonistic to their success and survival.
For a minute there, and probably still within its context, it was a powerful strategy for developing cohesive political consciousness in the Black community. As such, it was quickly and aggressively detourned, surfacing into the media as a convenient rebrand and update of the ‘political correctness gone mad’ meme, an ancient method for pathologising and dismissing reasonable demands to respect the basic human rights of minority groups.
It is entirely, demonstrably counterfactual to suggest that the American state does not have a big old thirst for Black peoples’ blood. To muddy the waters on its journey to becoming the Woke Virus, the simple positive educative process of ‘getting woke’ was bundled with any number of contentious, less visible or easily explicable progressive positions: environmentalism, trans rights, queer rights, workplace diversity, feminism, class politics, veganism, neurodiversity.
Anything that could be relied upon to enrage a gammony breakfast TV host suddenly became Woke.
By combining all these diverse positions under the rubric of the Woke Virus, the clearest, the strongest, the most necessary, urgent and common-sensical of these positions becomes as easily dismissed as the most complicated or marginal.
The rhetorical elision of ‘trans peoples’ rights’, a simple process of upgrading Western binary gender categories to fit those of other cultures and reflect lived human experience, and ‘transhumanism’, a bizarre technocratic death cult and depopulation exercise, into ‘the trans agenda’, is a structurally and practically related process which has occurred alongside the manufacturing and weaponisation of the Woke Virus. Some past guests on THC, an admirably ‘all sides’ conspiracy podcast which inevitably sometimes has assholes, idiots or lunatics on, have pursued this dubious line.
Can everyone stop getting shot?
Wokeness, beyond its initial meaning as a way of not getting killed by cops, is not a project of the left, or of liberalism, or of any progressive political project. Suddenly, a Black man claiming that the state wanted him dead has the Woke Virus. A trans woman who insists she is in physical danger whenever she leaves the house can be dismissed as having the Woke Virus. The state and its overculture are never at fault. Those who think it is – are simply diseased.
Any complaint or attempt at reform or revolutionary impulse is a livid, infectious symptom of the Woke Virus, an ineradicable mental derangement which can only be quarantined through an aggressive process of denial and disenfranchisement.
(Or simple paramilitary execution, while we’re talking of conspiracy theories.)
Foucault reference in a blog
These kinds of semantic inversions are old tools of magic and statecraft, proven strategies for the production of the carceral state. Infection by dangerous pathogens is a historically effective apologia for excluding the afflicted from the normal protections and privileges of community membership. They can be deployed with frightening speed and effectiveness in hegemonic or monocultural environments. Media invocation and deployment of the Woke Virus, as Knowles rightly points out, creates deep and entrenched social divisions on either side: You either get it, and are thereafter awake and lost/impervious to mainstream belonging, or you don’t get it and, especially, you don’t want to get it, making concepts like balance, justice or even simple discourse lethally irresponsible.
As for playin’ a lawyer, out of the question
But any rampant epidemic can have unpredictable effects when it breaks out of its host territory or population. Memetic viruses like this can infect the vectors of transmission themselves.
Knowles and Carlwood go on to discuss how the Woke Virus has infected Hollywood, which is to say that many Hollywood studios appear to have committed to reproducing the Virus’ core semiotic imperative of increasing non-male and non-white presence in some of its multi-million dollar cultural products. Recent examples of this are the commercial failures of Dark Fate, the most recent Terminator movie, and November’s Charlies Angels reboot failing to recoup its production-promotion costs .
Defying the Archon of Kapital
They link this tendency to Hollywood’s ongoing difficulty maintaining profitability in the 21st century. Audiences don’t want to see women kicking ass, because to do so opens them up to the Virus. Knowles implies that the studios’ attempt to follow this agenda at the expense of the once-almighty bottom line is potentially enough to destroy what was scant years ago, before the arrival of Facebook+segmented marketing+big data, the most powerful propaganda tool in the history of the species.
I would suggest that the ongoing issue of Hollywood’s profitability is better understood as a simple crisis of overproduction (too many shit movies and TV shows, not enough time to watch them) driven by technological innovation (it is cheaper and more fun to watch Netflix with your friends than go to the cinema).
It’s also true to say that Terminator and Charlie’s Angels are not really franchises in the 21st Century definition of the term. Successful franchises today, from Marvel to Star Wars to that pissy little magic TERF kid, have multi-part storytelling and ancillary merch opportunities baked into their existence. They are not just tired old brands reheated and repurposed to hang a five-times passed over blockbuster script on.
While we are digging into the box office weeds to pull out some definitive data from all this, let’s also remember to look at Black Panther, the movie from the post-Ferguson era which cleaves closest to the pre-surfacing definition of Woke.
It was a mahoosive success with, crucially, an utterly banging soundtrack.
Let’s be really clear: if the second most powerful propaganda tool in the history of the species destroys itself because it has cast a lot of non-white and non-male actors and crew in some overpriced TV movies – this is a Very Good Thing.