Where did cancel culture and wokeness come from? This is the question that consumes many conservative writers almost as much as the question of how to beat it. While others have pointed to the rise of postmodern critical theory in universities in the 80’s, or to the political correctness wave of the 90’s, I believe these explanations only tell part of the story and leave a very important question unanswered: why now? Why this generation?
It is not possible to answer this question without talking about the influence of social media, and specifically the social media used to propagate millennial fan culture, where social justice warriorism and cancel culture truly had their testing grounds. Personally, I devoted considerable space to the culture of Tumblr, the social media site that is equally responsible for the development of wokeness as 4chan is for the evolution of the populist right. In examining Tumblr, I believe any right-winger has to conclude that wokeness is anything but a serious commitment to equality and justice, but has rather always been nothing but a way for resentful and self-harming teenagers to pick on each other using the language of critical theory, without actually engaging with it beyond one’s own narcissistic frame of reference.
But even if this explains the appeal of wokeness to the young (and particularly the young and female), it leaves one vital question unanswered: where on Tumblr did the whole business start? There had to be a first fandom that fell to social justice, and that then infected the others. What was that fandom, and what might it tell us about the modern left’s nature in general? In short, if wokeness was a plague, where was Patient Zero?
It is with the aim of answering that question that I write this sequel, because as it turns out, the woke phenomenon’s origins are as shallow, childish, and risible as it is possible to get. It is difficult to imagine a movement with more absurdly provincial origins rising to ruin so many lives. And, once those origins are exposed, I believe it will be that much harder to take wokeness of any kind seriously.
Why? Read on.
1. God and Man at McKinley
In late September of 2017, a post appeared on Tumblr by a user calling herself twelveclara. Sounding like a combination between Jonathan Edwards and Enoch Powell by way of the girl’s locker room, twelveclara issued the following jeremiad to her followers about certain events that took place in 2011:
“ y’all have no idea. none of u understand the suffering we went through. the hell. the endless war. u come in here and u try to start The Discourse but u dont get that we already made these mistakes. we already had the discourse and its done now. its over. its all over and u should let it stay dead but u wont and that’s why we all hate u ”
Later on, twelveclara said of the same phenomenon, “its not history, its blood.”
Reading this, you might think twelveclara was describing some horrible world-historical event – a natural disaster, a plague, perhaps even a great mass outbreak of violence. You would be wrong. What she was actually describing was what it was like to spend time on Tumblr as a fan of the TV show Glee.
No, I’m not kidding. The above are descriptions of so-called “fan wars” among fans of Glee in the early 2010’s, written with the benefit of hindsight from a survivor. And, ironically, the things that survivor writes about the Glee wars read like dress rehearsals for eventual postmortems on the wokeness of our current era. Witness lines like this:
“ we fought its wars until it was too late. until it was nothing but a distorted picture of a parody of reality, a cracked mirror in which our souls were sucked and encased in glass. “
“ u asked for history. theres no history, only rage and pain and regret, the image of anonymous with a grey face and sunglasses telling u to kill urself ”
“ the void could not consume anything more, and the posts on it now, the social justice “discourse” that is just giant piles of steaming, unsifted, unrefined shit is from those who refused to learn from us. the history is here and it followed us and we can never ever escape it. ”
It is difficult to imagine more salient words about how it feels to live in the world cancel culture created, and how America will no doubt feel when we finally escape it.
However, in order to understand the specifics of twelveclara’s indictment, it is necessary to first do a quick summary of the TV show Glee for the uninitiated. As it happens, I inflicted the show on myself for at least its first three seasons (honestly, it all started to blend together after that), and I believe I can therefore offer a decent enough summary of its plot, characters, and overall philosophy for the purposes of this article.
To begin with, it would be remiss of me not to note that if any show could claim to be a curse not merely on the United States, but on its own cast members, it would be Glee. No less than three of the show’s main cast died far before their time. Cory Monteith, who played the main romantic lead for the show’s first season, died at 31 of a drug overdose in 2013. Mark Salling, who played football team bad boy Noah Puckerman, was arrested for possession of child porn in 2015, pled guilty to the charges in 2017, and committed suicide in 2018 before he could be sentenced. Naya Rivera, who played the lesbian cheerleader Santana, drowned in the summer of 2020 while swimming with her 4-year-old son. A cloud hangs over Glee , to the point that pop culture sites speak of a “Glee curse.” Short of Macbeth , no other show has acquired Glee’s reputation for inflicting bad luck on its actors.
Which is surprising, when you consider what it’s actually about. Glee is a teenage-oriented drama centered around the members of the fictional McKinley High School’s eponymous Glee club, the “New Directions” (a name meant to provoke a snigger due to its resemblance to the phrase “nude erections”). The show’s primary, though by no means exclusive protagonist is the club’s faculty adviser Will Schuester (played by Matthew Morrison), who teaches Spanish at McKinley High and becomes the faculty adviser for the Glee Club after its previous director is fired for inappropriately touching a male student. Schuester, as we will see shortly, is not an improvement on this count, but let that pass for the moment. More relevant for our purposes is that the Glee club, which Shuester once led to victory at regional competitions as a member, is now in disarray and an underfunded haven for social pariahs, the majority of the school’s extracurricular budget going to the cheerleading squad, led by coach Sue Sylvester (played by Jane Lynch), a woman who can best be described as what would happen if you threw the Wicked Witch of the West, Agatha Trunchbull from Matilda, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and disgraced former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer in a blender and hit “puree.” Needless to say, when Schuester begins demanding (and receiving) money formerly reserved for Sylvester’s squad, she resolves to bring down the Glee Club by any means necessary. This forms the main conflict of the first season.
Why only the first? Because while Sylvester would remain one of the great antagonists of teen media, perhaps only surpassed by JD from Heathers and Regina George from Mean Girls , Schuester is at best a dull, white-bread hero and at worst…well, I’ll let Sue herself describe him at his worst:
“You are a fatuous, dim-witted, borderline pederast, who tears up faster than a gay jihadi in a sandstorm. You have befouled the profession of teaching by accepting not only one but two Teacher of the Year awards despite not speaking a word of the foreign language you purport to teach. Like the storied predators of yesteryear, Will, you pick only the most vulnerable students to favor while actively neglecting the others.”
Yeah. A protagonist who can carry a multi-season TV show, Will Schuester ain’t. Such shows naturally gravitate toward the more interesting characters, and as it happens, the members of Schuester’s New Directions are far more interesting characters than their hapless leader. And as a matter of fact, they are far more relevant for our purposes as well, so let’s move onto them.
When Schuester first opens the club’s doors, he only attracts the students who comprise the absolute bottom of the school’s social hierarchy. Those founding members are Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele), a blatantly stereotypical female Jewish theater kid with two gay dads; Kurt Hummel (played by Chris Colfer), a flamingly gay (and hilariously vicious) male soprano who is frequently the object of bullying by the football team; Mercedes Jones (played by Amber Riley), an obese black girl with oodles of stereotypical sass; Tina Cohen-Chang (played by Jenna Ushkowitz), a stuttering and morose Asian Goth girl whose distinguishing traits rapidly vanish as the series goes on; and Artie Abrams (played by Kevin McHale), a wheelchair-bound bespectacled wiseacre. However, this outcast status soon becomes a transparently ridiculous pose, as the club grows to include members of the football team and the cheerleading squad, including the show’s initial teen antagonist, the bitchy “Queen Bee” head cheerleader (and Celibacy Club president) Quinn Fabray (played by Dianna Agron), and Finn Hudson (played by Cory Monteith), the all-American captain of the football team and object of the (initially) unsuccessful affections of Rachel Berry. Along with Fabray and Hudson, the aforementioned black sheep of the football team Noah “Puck” Puckerman (Mark Salling), and Fabray’s two lesbian henchmen, comically nasty Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) and comically stupid Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris), as well as back-up dancers Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr) and Matt Rutherford (Dijon Talton), round out the initial roster.
The majority of the show pretty much consists of an obsessive focus on the love lives and adolescent trials faced by these various teenagers, with the conflict between Will Schuester and Sue Sylvester vanishing into the background the more the show continues. Eventually, this first roster of Glee Club members and their associates would “graduate,” to be replaced by new members, while the show intersperses subplots consisting of the old club’s exploits in college and beyond. As the original cast is pretty much the group that would define the show’s identity, I do not think it is necessary to inflict the full roster of the second iteration of “New Directions” on the reader. Enough to note that they exist and move on. However, there is one final second character who I would be remiss not to note because he will become highly relevant before this summary is concluded: Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman), a conspicuously horny unsuccessful suitor of Rachel Berry’s who only sporadically involves himself with the Glee Club, but eventually takes to interviewing people around the school with a microphone emblazoned with Hebrew letters while sporting what is often referred to as a “Jew-fro.”
Now, as I don’t have time to summarize the plot of each season in exhaustive detail, from here the reader will have to take my word for it about what happens on the show. However, before I get into analyzing plot elements, I do want to draw the reader’s attention to two important points about the cast of characters, which may have been lost in listing them off. Namely, that the members of “New Directions” are a Diversity and Equity Inclusion Committee’s dream. You have multiple Asian students, one black girl (who compounds her marginalization by being fat), a lesbian couple (one of whom is Latina), a gay kid, a Jewish girl with gay parents, a disabled boy, a Jewish football player, and the lone straight white guy Finn, who just happens to also be the character who consistently makes the most mistakes. In other words, from a critical theory perspective, everyone except Finn in this show is “oppressed” or “marginalized,” and even Finn has to face some marginalization when dealing with his one-time girlfriend’s pregnancy (Quinn, who manages to earn her stripes as a marginalized person by being a teen mother).
Secondly, and here the reader will have to take my word for it, the absolute most consistent message that Glee drills into its viewers is that its protagonists are supposed to be at the bottom of the high school food chain. They are outcasts, dorks, losers. In fact, one of the show’s few original songs literally brands them “losers” as a point of pride: the triumphal anthem “Loser Like Me” (as in “You wanna be/A loser like me”). However, besides the fact that the cast routinely bursts into perfectly choreographed song and dance numbers in the middle of school, this might be the least plausible part of the show. By the time the first “New Directions” class graduates, they are not only a decorated Glee club, but most of their members are either members of the cheerleading squad, or of the football team, or have had romantic relationships with members of said squad/team. In any real American high school, this would mark the New Directions as anything but social pariahs, and yet we are expected to believe they are marginalized because they…like to sing? Honestly, the show never really justifies why they’re supposed to be outcasts except with the occasional afterschool special-style episode about subjects like homophobia or racism. In other words, the “oppression” of the Glee club is purely a theoretical function of their identity markers, while the actual on-the-ground social reality they live in marks them as undoubted high school aristocracy. I think it’s safe to say that any conservative should recognize just who an aristocracy that speciously claims to be oppressed and is led by a character accused of being a “borderline pederast” resembles. Glee ’s protagonists unwittingly stand for nothing less than the unjustified persecution complex of elite liberal America.
And just like liberal America, Glee cannot seem to muster very much sympathy for its one cast member who actually experiences consistent marginalization throughout the series. I refer you back to the unfortunate Jacob Ben Israel. Israel’s crime, in the show’s eyes, is daring to lust after Rachel Berry, a girl who (I must remind you) is both as Jewish and as much an outcast as he is when the show starts. Rachel, however, has her eyes set on the handsome straight white male captain of the football team, despite being palpably of lower social status than him. This hypergamous attraction on her part is treated with the utmost sympathy by the show, while Jacob’s clumsy and overzealous but doubtlessly sincere attraction to Rachel is portrayed as either creepy or cringingly funny, as in a sequence where Jacob is caught masturbating to Rachel’s picture in the library. There are many sequences like this, which all lead up to the impression that Jacob is something of a teenage Harvey Weinstein , as described by his accusers.
It would be tempting (and not entirely wrong) to treat the portrayal of Jacob Ben Israel as antisemitic, and certainly, elements of his characterization are right out of the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß . But given that the show is also extremely charitable toward the (objectively, much more unpleasant) Jewish football player Noah Puckerman, it seems that Jacob’s real sin in the show’s eyes is not being particularly good looking. In other words, the instant someone who is not conventionally beautiful aspires to be loved by one of the beautiful people, all of Glee’s vaunted concern for those victimized by arbitrary social constructs goes right out the window. It is hard to miss the similarity to how wokeness, despite its claims to want to eliminate bigotry, is perfectly happy to countenance antisemitism and misandry. Certainly, it is troubling that the show treats it as perfectly normal that a woman should aspire to the affections of a social “better,” but treats a man in a comparable position as a contemptible joke. Jacob is the only character in the show who is believable as a bullying victim, but the show has no sympathy for him, because he is ugly and “uncool,” unlike the Glee Club. This, too, is an obvious way in which the show enforced the “morality” of proto-wokeness: one that only cares about “oppression” when it happens to the supposedly beautiful, cool people who it is socially acceptable to pity.
Which brings me, at last, to the most pitiless and most unintentionally sympathetic character on the show: Sue Sylvester. There’s no point dancing around an obvious point about Sue – she is supposed to be a cartoon villain bereft of redeeming qualities, and the show regards portraying her as a stereotypical Obama-era Tea Party populist as something that aids that characterization. In short, the show wants its viewers to believe that conservatives, like Sue, are cartoon villains bereft of any inner emotional life short of Darwinian, winner-take-all malice. The irony, however, is that in portraying Sue this way, the show ended up putting a lot of uncomfortable truths in her dialogue (something even the show’s proto-woke fans noticed ), and turned her into less a monstrous antagonist than as something of a court jester mocking the pretensions of the “oppressed” Glee Club. As fictional portrayals of conservatives go, we could do a lot worse than Sue, and indeed, the fact that she comes off as so likable despite being written as an ogre is also revelatory when it comes to the weakness of wokeness: that while it views its enemies as cartoon villains and treats them with that sort of shrill disdain, it has real trouble not making them sound cool and correct by accident when it does this.
But I digress. The point of this lengthy description of the show is to illustrate something very important: that Glee was propagandizing wokeness before anyone knew what wokeness was. I don’t think this was conscious. In fact, I think the show was originally meant to be a lot more self-aware, as the first season carries an implicit disdain for its protagonists that utterly vanishes in the second season, where characters return to the screen almost completely rewritten. Kurt, for example, goes from being a cuttingly accurate stereotype of a catty, bitchy gay man, to a Christlike martyr whose suffering for his sexuality is implicitly treated as a metaphor for the suffering of all gay people. What’s more, the plot of the show devolves into incoherence, as episodes become little more than framing devices for the real point of the show: performances of the day’s hits by the Glee club, a trend which arguably hit its nadir when Glee tried to do a cove of the K-Pop hit “Gangnam Style.” If I had to guess what caused these developments, I would assume that the show attracted an audience that was both far larger and far younger than its creators initially expected, and the company making it realized they could monetize it as a promotional vehicle for pop music and liberal social messaging far more easily than as a teen black comedy with singing thrown in. The intersectional nature of the cast was almost certainly nothing more than a cynical play to make sure every potential consumer who watched the show would have their own Glee character to relate to.
In other words, it was not deliberate political scheming that made Glee into what its best character calls “a symphony of self-congratulatory sodomy.” It was focus grouped cynicism that made the first woke show exist. And it might have been harmless, as so many shallow shows that are popular with teenagers become harmless with time. Who, after all, still harbors a deep-seated identification with High School Musical? But unfortunately, its attempt to give everyone watching someone to relate to made Glee the unintended plague ship carrying the ideology that is now seeking to remake all of American society in the image of high school so as to forever live out its fans’ adolescent fantasies of belonging. And that is why wokeness was created. For the sake of fictional characters who became totems to an entire generation’s self-regard.
But don’t take my word for it: the confession is right there on Tumblr.
2. New Directions Become Old Hatreds
Having come so far, the reader might accuse me of burying the lede. It took quite a lot of exposition to get here, the disgruntled reader might say, why couldn’t I have just led with this supposed “confession?” Believe me, I would have liked to, but had I pasted in the full contents of what twelveclara wrote on Tumblr, or attempted to quote the interview that she gave after that same post became one of the most viral in the site’s history, any reader not already familiar with Glee would have been hopelessly lost as to what she was talking about. Now, you too can understand the full magnitude of just what twelveclara confessed to in late September of 2017 on Tumblr. It is the skeleton key to the conquest of the millennial generation, and much of Gen Z, by wokeness – the smoking gun of where wokeness started. So here, without further ado, is the full contents of what twelveclara originally and fatefully wrote :
[The Glee fandom is] not history, its blood. i still see it all over this website. the vague posts. the deactivated urls. where do u think the word problematic became popular. where do u think the representational anger started. glee was the hungry gaping void that consumed us all. it said watch us and find yourself. there is someone for everyone. santana is a lesbian and kurt is gay and brittany is bisexual and quinn, god knows what quinn is, she’s straight but we have her say things like “you were singing to finn and only finn, right?” and artie is disabled. mercedes is black and our outlet for body positivity. we are all oppressed by something and we are different and we are outcasts and we are you.
and we fell for it. we watched glee and we related to its characters and we fought its wars until it was too late. until it was nothing but a distorted picture of a parody of reality, a cracked mirror in which our souls were sucked and encased in glass. finn outed santana but it’s fine because he had good intentions. sam was supposed to be gay but we’re bringing blaine anderson in for that instead. the q in quinn is for queerbait. brittany was maybe raped but it was a one liner so who really knows. will schuester was a horrible fucking adult and should never have been allowed to care for children. finn, the white straight boy, did everything wrong but it was narratively presented as right. we turned on each other. klaine vs kum and finchel vs faberry. santana fought everyone so brittana stans fought everyone. character vs character, ship vs ship, blogger against blogger. we fucking hated each other. there was no glee fandom. there were character fandoms and ship fandoms and that is it and our mottos were all fuck glee.
we won every popularity contest, every online poll. we voted our fingers to the bone. we created art and wrote fanfic and made such excellent photo manips they were published in newspapers. we were prolific. we were consumers of the hell we created and we just kept producing more in a fucked up dystopian fandom chain of supply and demand. don’t get me started on the rpf. dianna wore a likes girls shirt on tour and made a statement an hour later revoking it. some people still say heya is real but it’s like a breath of the wind, a sound so bare i can’t quite make out the words.
u asked for history. theres no history, only rage and pain and regret, the image of anonymous with a grey face and sunglasses telling u to kill urself because u thought artie was a dick for calling brittany stupid that one time. this website is a reflection of the hole glee left when it finished taking all it could from us, when the void could not consume anything more, and the posts on it now, the social justice “discourse” that is just giant piles of steaming, unsifted, unrefined shit is from those who refused to learn from us. the history is here and it followed us and we can never ever escape it.
There is a lot to unpack in this frankly astounding passage, so let’s not waste any time. Firstly, what twelveclara is saying is that the usage of the word “problematic” on Tumblr, which was the undoubted precursor to its explosion in today’s political climate, began to be widespread among the Glee fandom. Moreover, according to her, the “representational anger,” IE the obsessive policing of how minority groups are portrayed in every form of media, also began with Glee. Granted, this is one witness, but it is a witness who attracted an unprecedented 78,098 notes expressing agreement on Tumblr. That, I think, speaks to the veracity of this account. Which means that here we have the self-confessed beginnings of the very intellectual trends that would eventually intrude on all of modern media, provoke mass phenomena like #Gamergate, destroy franchises like Star Wars and Masters of the Universe, and prompt the entire collapse of the entertainment industry thanks to the obvious “get woke go broke” phenomenon. And lest you think I am reading into it, Slate themselves did an interview with twelveclara (whose real name is apparently Erin), where it turned out that since her time in the Glee fandom, she has become (what else) a consultant with the entertainment industry. That seems like pretty convincing proof of the existence of a pipeline from the dregs of Tumblr into Hollywood’s boardrooms. And don’t worry, we’ll come back to that interview later, but for now, let’s get back to twelveclara’s post.
Having told us that the label “problematic” and “representational anger” over portrayal of minority groups among young people began with Glee, twelveclara then moves onto explaining, with honestly very impressive eloquence, how Glee provoked all these things: namely, it didn’t just represent every individual group onscreen, it weaponized that representation. Twelveclara is saying that when she and other young viewers looked at the characters on Glee, they did not see fictional characters acting out a plot. They quite literally saw themselves. And therefore, they took every plot twist on the show personally , because from their perspective, what happened on the show also felt as if it was happening directly to them.
Besides the utter disconnect with reality this suggests, a more practical problem is obvious: when millions of viewers are seeing themselves onscreen, they will naturally relate most to different elements of certain characters, because they themselves are different people. Which means that what might seem like a terrible betrayal in the writing to one viewer might seem perfectly consistent and even comforting to another. In the solipsistic confines of one’s own room, one can rage against the injustices of the show harmlessly, but when all the fans are online talking to each other through Tumblr? The result will obviously be naked tribal aggression, as one group of fans who feels betrayed will lash out and attack another group of fans who feels, for just the same reason, that they have been seen. And both groups will be doing this because they think they are defending the validity of their own identities, rather than the writing of fictional characters.
Bad enough that this happened with plot twists, but in a show with as much romance as Glee, where every potential viewer is liable to find a different member of the cast attractive, this tribalism will become even worse. Hence what are called “shipping” wars. In fan lingo, “to ship” means to pair one character with another romantically. Shipping wars have a long, proud history in fan culture, starting with Harry Potter, but if twelveclara is to be believed, they obviously were far worse in the case of Glee, because every viewer took the choices of their chosen onscreen avatar personally. So if that character ended up with someone they weren’t attracted to, or if other viewers wanted them to end up with someone they weren’t attracted to, that didn’t feel like a reasonable disagreement over media. It felt like a vicarious frustration of one’s own personal romantic ambitions. And so, once more, rage could be expected to result. Hence the reference to wars among members of different shipping communities like “klaine” (a portmanteau of Kurt and Blaine) or “kum” (Kurt and Sam, stop sniggering), or “finchel” (Finn and Rachel).
If the cause weren’t so trivial, this would be even more frightening than it is – the “representation” on Glee was apparently so significant and so accurately done that it reawakened ancient tribal hatreds among the teenagers watching the show because they could no longer tell the difference between the show and themselves. And again, twelveclara’s note got responses from almost 80,000 individual Tumblr users. That means that, conservatively speaking, tens of thousands of angry teenagers and young adults were shouting anonymous abuse at each other every week during the run of Glee. More likely, given that Glee’s pilot episode debuted with 9.6 million viewers , and one post-Superbowl episode commanded an audience of almost 30 million people, as much as ten percent of the entire US population could’ve conceivably been wrapped up in this crucible of adolescent cruelty. If those viewers had gone on to be Republicans, we no doubt would have heard more stories about the obvious toxicity involved, but as they ended up as SJWs, the fact that tens of thousands of teens were subjected to vicious weekly psychological abuse on Tumblr goes unremarked by the press, I guess on the theory that all’s well that ends well.
Not, of course, that anything ever ended well for these people on the show they claimed to love. Rather, every member of this vicarious wish-fulfillment clique grew to hate the show itself and the writers of the show, because there was no way to satisfy every single viewer’s wishes while writing characters that were supposed to be recognizably human. The viewers wanted idealized representations of themselves put onscreen, but the show had to be populated by actual people, and so these Tumblr users learned to rage at how media “represented” them because it refused to reflect the perfection they demanded in their own personal portrayals. The reality, of course, is that it was not the show that they were raging against, not really. It was the fact that the show was acting as a mirror, and every choice that a character made felt like a reminder of the viewer’s imperfection.
And apparently, this demand for personal vindication from the show’s creators didn’t even stop when the cameras were off! Twelveclara mentions the rpf, or “real person fandom,” and how they obsessed over whether Dianna Agron (the actress who played Quinn Fabray) might be gay because of a shirt she wore. In other words, it wasn’t enough that the writers conform to the Tumblr users’ wish fulfillment fantasies: they wanted the cast to do so in their personal lives, as well. If there is a textbook case of unhealthy relationship to media, this is it. And no, I am not exaggerating or reading into this. Twelveclara, or Erin, or whatever she calls herself, says as much in the Slate interview:
It was at a time in my life where I had just come out—I’m a lesbian—and Glee started tackling what I had just been through. To see that represented from a character standpoint is something that really impacted me personally. It’s not like Glee was just a show I was watching and enjoying; it was like this was me personally, almost, that I was watching on screen. That was what it was for most of the people who were in it. Because on Glee they really tried to represent everybody or every issue you could tackle, every minority.[…]
We would watch the episode. Something inevitably would piss off some subsection, or some character would fight with a different character, or maybe somebody would break up or whatever. Because of that, it would just be a bombardment of their fans on Tumblr yelling at each other, fighting or trying to claim that what happened was problematic or that it shouldn’t have been represented this way, just nonstop harassment from every side. If something happened that you were happy about, you couldn’t even be happy about it because here’s a whole other section of the fandom who was furious with you as if you were the people who wrote the episode. It wasn’t just that there was one side to an issue, but all of a sudden there were 50 different sides to an issue, and every single side had 30,000 people behind it all screaming at you.
Again, if twelveclara is to be believed, individual factions of the show’s fandom could number in the tens of thousands. Think what that says about how large the fandom as a whole was, and how thoroughly that could have affected America’s entire adolescent population.
Speaking of effects, what actually happened as a result of this? Well, constantly enraged by the fact that their wish fulfillment wasn’t being perfectly fulfilled onscreen, and even more infuriated that other people had the gall to be okay with story decisions that felt like personal attacks, the Glee fandom transformed into a bellum omnium contra omnes . To fight that war, more than mere personal desire and preference would be necessary to achieve victory. These things would have to be intellectualized, and so the Glee fandom cast about and found critical theory, and absorbed its narcissistic message that basically enabled you to cry “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” etc at anything because what they really were after was a way to demand that nothing ever happen on the show that didn’t make them feel personally fulfilled. They threatened each other with death, this war was so fierce, and when it was over, while they slunk away bleeding and miserable and full of regret that they had ever let themselves be driven so mad by a freaking TV show , the damage was done. They had already absorbed the intellectual patterns of critical theory and were now determined to inflict this same overly personal, emotionally toxic relationship to media on every other fandom they entered. Again, twelveclara in the interview (emphasis mine):
[I]t was almost like the word “problematic” became the bible of Glee . It was like this is your way to instantly prove somebody else wrong. Then people were instantly shut down, it was the be-all, end-all of an argument. I’m sure the most times anybody’s ever used that word in history were probably during the days of Glee . It’s sort of infiltrated Tumblr vocabulary. When everybody left Glee and they went to their new fandoms, we all took that with us . […]
Glee gave us all language to talk about the problems we were seeing in media that we may not have seen before. I would say the sweet spot in age for Glee at that time was probably like 14 or 15 to early 20s. For a lot of people, this is the first time they were coming to contact with identity politics , and this was the first time we were coming into contact with each other and these other identities. That really is a staple now of Tumblr in a way I didn’t see as much before Glee.
In other words, a group of people who numbered, at minimum, in the tens of thousands, and could’ve numbered in the tens of millions, became so obsessed with a TV show, and with characters they related to, that they went and indoctrinated themselves with critical theory just so they could more effectively complain whenever the show did something they didn’t like, and harass anyone who disagreed without consequence. And when this toxicity ruined the show for them, they then spread this behavior to the fandoms of every other art form, and even carried it with them into adult life as participants in America’s cultural institutions.
There’s no other way to put this: this interview and the Tumblr post that preceded it form a confession. These girls (and it almost certainly was mostly girls) were so incapable of telling the difference between fiction and reality, so desperate to pretend that it was them reflected onscreen in a glorified teenage music revue , that they went to the trouble of intellectualizing their discontent through critical theory, and then took the same mission that animated the wars over Glee on Tumblr into the real world, and into real professions, in real industries, with real consequences. And just like they insisted that the actors on Glee live out their personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, the autonomy of those actors be damned, they are now insisting that all of us play the parts they have written for us in a political fanfic while they transform all of the United States not into a utopia, but into an eternal fantasy high school, where our new woke overlords, like the New Directions, will be constantly validated by everyone around them while still being able to claim oppression.
This is the reality of wokeness: It is not a utopian philosophy. It isn’t even really a Leftist one, though it uses Leftist language to mask its true intentions. No, what it is, is a sad, pathetic teenage wish fulfillment fantasy: a reactionary ideology determined not to move forward, but to restore the power dynamics of high school, the only place where the woke have ever had any power, or where petty, cruel, emotional infants like them can ever have any power. But even in the confession of one of those infants, there is hope, for as soon as these children experience the high school wish fulfillment fantasy they think they want, they soon regret creating it. Look at twelveclara/Erin. She speaks of her days in the Glee fandom as a solipsistic nightmare punctuated by endless persecution from other people. And are her goals more modest now? I’ll let her answer:
I did my time. Now I just want to enjoy things in peace and have a critical discussion about them when necessary and not every waking minute of the day.
Hear, hear. For the sake of America, let us hope that, understanding wokeness for the pathetic Mary Sue power fantasy that it is, we can finally laugh in its face as it deserves and return to a world where the entire West can, once more, “enjoy things in peace.”