February 27, 2023 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Roald Dahl, Black History Month and why everyone (still) blames the liberals
Political progress followed by political backlash is the American way.
Everyone still blames the liberals when institutions, organizations and corporations get their ideas wrong. Everyone blames the liberals (still) though they really should blame capitalism. Liberalism is not a utopian vision. It does not try to be all things to all the people all the time. Capitalism does.
Liberals aren’t selling anything but their ideas. You can take ’em or leave ’em, and mostpeople leave ’em. Corporations, on the other hand, seek to dominate markets in which people spend money on stuff they make.
Everyone still blames the liberals, and it can’t be otherwise. After all, which is more central, more structural, more constitutional to American society: corporations that make stuff, that sell stuff, that hire people to make stuff those same people buy – or the liberals?
Let’s not be children, all right?
You can’t unsee it
It’s a trend you can’t unsee once you see it, and you will keep seeing it as long as democratic politics runs against the status quo, which is to say forever.
1) The status quo does its status quo thing.
2) Liberals challenge the status quo thing with democratic politics.
3) The status quo, sensing it’s unsustainable in the face of the liberal advance of democratic politics, adjusts slightly, just enough to appease but not upend the structures of the status quo that are making all that money.
4) Everyone blames the liberals for the status quo thing adjusting just enough but not so much as to change the fundamental structures of the status quo.
5) Everyone blames the liberals for the status quo getting their ideas wrong.
Once you see this pattern, you can’t unsee it.
Political progress followed by political backlash is the American way.
Break your eyes
A recent example is a decision by a publishing company owned by Netflix to sanitize the works of novelist Roald Dahl. The LA Times reported the details.
In general, changes to the text of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, say, seem mild. The biggest edit is to Dahl’s anti-Jew hatred. That’s well-deserved. Still, why bother if, as the spokesperson for the Netflix company said, the changes were small, hardly worth mentioning?
Of course it is worth mentioning, and it does have something to do with liberalism since that’s the force in our society that makes Dahl’s anti-Jew hatred look like anti-Jew hatred, not something else. But it has more to do with a profit-oriented company, one that plans to roll out new cinematic interpretations of Dahl’s oeuvre, and wants to avoid any whiff of scandal.
Of course, it could have made the changes without fanfare, as the telling and retelling of stories is what storytellers do. But that would mean Netflix didn’t get to look “woke,” a coveted label for a large profit-oriented company wishing to put a warm face on cold profits, and that’s where the problem is.
Anti-anti-Jew haters (the liberals) did not use democratic politics for reasons of fluffing their public image. They used, and still use, democratic politics to change society for the better for Jews and for all outpeople. But naturally, since no one blames corporations on account of them being so central to the makeup of American society that it’s unthinkable to organize American society without them, everyone blames the anti-anti-Jew haters for sacralizing Roald Dahl.
Charlie Sykes, over at The Bulwark, went to far as to call it “literary vandalism.” It’s enough to break your eyes rolling them.
What Black History Month has become
Perhaps the greatest example of everyone (still) blaming the liberals is Black History Month. Long ago, liberals antiracists pushed for the establishment of Black History Month as a means of establishing the presence of Black Americans in the minds of mostpeople who refused to recognize the establishment of Black American history since, yanno, 1619.
First and last, that’s pretty much the point of it – to force people to see what they’d rather not see, with the hope that on seeing it, they might one day recognize it. All in all, it’s a minor thing compared to other outcomes of democratic politics, more like a public statue bestowing honor, only there’s no statue, perhaps because the honor in question goes to Black Americans.
None of that matters, however, because Black History Month, especially since Barack Obama’s election, has taken on a life of its own far outweighing whatever intentions liberal antiracists had – which is another way of saying everyone blames them for what Black History Month has become.
The Nirvana sound
What has it become? Think of it this way.
Nirvana sounded new to mostpeople when the rock band’s first hit record, Nevermind, was released in 1991. In truth, Nirvana sounded like lots of bands in the Pacific Northwest. But because America’s orientation is eastward, toward Europe, mostpeople had no idea until Nirvana’s sound became so widely identified with lead singer Kurt Cobain that anyone who wrote songs like him after Nevermind’s release sounded like they were ripping him off.
In short order, record labels searched for any band that came within approximation of Nirvana’s sound until everyone grew so sick of it, especially after Cobain killed himself, that “grunge” became a liability. This is the process by which do-it-yourself rock and the spirit of wild defiance became coopted by people who realized the profits associated with marketing wild defiance to entitled suburban teens implanted with the imperative to defend and protect the status quo thing.
Think of Black History Month similarly.
It was a marginal thing, the subject of trivial local debates, before Barack Obama showed corporations that Black people and other outpeople had power enough to elect him. If they had enough power politically, it was time to pay attention to them commercially.
This is what grates at the illiberals.
One step forward
Corporations, the heart of how we organize American society, have decided to recognize what had not been recognized, because to do so beforehand would have challenged the heart of how we organize American society. Recognition connotes legitimacy, and that’s the last thing the illiberals want – the recognition of anything that might displace their own legitimacy.
Corporations, as the heart of how we organize American society, avoid the appearance of being political entities, because, for one thing, their politics is made easier when mostpeople are oblivious to it, for another, it’s easier, more lucrative, to sell things to mostpeople oblivious to the their politics.
They have an incentive to go half way toward showing an understanding of the liberal antiracist politics that forced them to reassess their markets. The consequence has been what you’ve seen now for several years – homilies to the lives, victories and sacrifices of Black Americans of the past along with careful omission of present issues that might a) invoke recognition of corporations as political entities and b) alienate consumers who might buy their stuff.
Mostpeople can smell bullshit. They can see the half-assed honoring of Black American history, which affirms to the illiberals that they’re right to continue disrespecting Black Americans and affirms to the liberals (not the liberal antiracists) that Black History Month is more of the same cynical corporate marketing.
In neither are the corporations blamed. It’s the liberals, especially liberal antiracists, for making a fuss out of nothing (the illiberal view) or making a fuss out of something less important than other things (the liberal and leftist view). The net result, alas, is the same as it ever was in the history of American liberalism:
One step forward followed by two (or three) steps back.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.