Last week conservative political commentator Meghan Mccain wrote an article for the Daily Mail about one of the more pressing issues of our time, the one-off appearance of Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall, in HBO’s reboot of “Sex and the City.” Now, there is nothing wrong with people who usually spend their time gazing into the fiery abyss of our political landscape deciding to tackle lighter material but unfortunately that’s not what this piece was. The first sentence of the headline of her article is, “I couldn’t bear to watch the woke-fest Sex And The City reboot ruin the show I loved…”
If you have a somewhat healthy relationship with your family and social media you may be asking yourself what exactly is a woke-fest and how exactly is it affecting Mccain’s viewing experience? The answer to that question, I believe, is summed up in this quote from her piece: “This was a global-hit show that used to revel in its rebelliousness – always most apparent in Samantha, who dropped the F-word every other sentence, called women ‘b**ches’ and memorably once remarked: ‘I’m a try-sexual. I’ll try anything once.'” If what you take from those sentences is that the problem is that McCain is having a hard time connecting to the show because of its lack of slurs and casual misogyny, then we are on the same page. Mccain goes on to complain about the inclusion of some LGBTQ characters and it’s at this point where things begin to click about what her actual problem is. Still, how does any of this equate to a so-called woke fest?
There are few words or phrases that have received more bastardization and criticism than the word “woke.” Like so many artifacts of American culture, the term originated in predominantly Black spaces. Its origins have been traced as far back as the 60’s but for our intents and purposes let’s look at its modern resurgence throughout the 2010s and its present day usage. Among Black people, the term is used to describe a state of awareness of material surroundings. A person who is described as woke has a pretty good sense of the political realities they live under without varying into conspiracy theory territory.
That concept of a “woke” person in contemporary usage — as conservatives and reactionary centrists have hijacked the term —basically boils down to Black, brown or queer people merely existing. Many people online and in political left-leaning spaces have joked that woke is basically a stand-in for anything conservatives don’t like, while this is largely true there is a bit more of an insidious side to this simple answer. Anything that even minorly pushes back on White Supremacist or patriarchal values is up for being branded as “woke.” For example, look at the strange proxy war that presidential hopeful Ron Desantis is waging in Florida against Disney. At its core Disney is as conservative as Ron Desantis or any Republican, putting its workers in horrid conditions and even donating to the Florida GOP. This is of course because they are a corporation; it is their prerogative to have both sides of the aisle more inclined to support their future ventures, regardless of the harm it could cause to marginalized groups or the environment. Despite this reality, Desantis branded the company “Woke Disney” in the wake of their opposition to his aptly derided “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning the discussion of sexuality or gender identity in Florida’s public schools.
The fight between DeSantis and Disney gets at the heart of the usage of the word “woke.” Reactionaries like Desantis have been able to use culture war issues as a way to distract and galvanize the disenfranchised portions of their constituencies. Knowing that the majority of their reactionary policies are wildly unpopular, reactionaries muddy the waters any way they can. In most circumstances, they use these culture wars as a mask to keep business moving as usual but as of late, the reactionaries have run to curtail business interest. This turn comes as we see more and more workers around the country realize that the current construction of our workplaces is not tenable and businesses scramble to appease them in any way possible (outside of legitimate change). So, we have on one hand corporations that would like to gain public good will by lightly supporting progressive causes, and on the other conservatives who understand that just calling those businesses woke is enough to get them to back down on their “beliefs” because they surely aren’t deeply held.
This tactic of making money and gaining exposure by playing to the already established hierarchies we live under extends from our presidential candidates to the absolutely sweatiest man you’ve ever seen screaming in your Tik Tok feed. This is the same thread that Meghan Mccain decided to latch on to in her petty gripe of a review of the “Sex and the City” reboot. By branding people and products as woke and stripping the word of any of its original meaning, conservatives are able to ascribe any characteristics they like to the identities without varying too far into the white supremacist dog whistles that by now sound more like bullhorns. Being able to weaponize the word woke gives reactionaries the opportunity to grandstand on each and every issue — crucially charging up their base —regardless of how seemingly insignificant it may be. From M&M’s to Nascar, Fox News, for instance, has worked its audience into outrage over 200 different things the network has labeled “woke.” Talk about a “woke-fest.”
There is hope, however, that this isn’t a sustainable trend.
According to a recent USA Today poll, a majority of Americans surveyed have a positive view of the word “woke.” This seems like a direct connection to the Republican willingness to label any and everything that provides the average American joy as woke. The word has become a strange mixture of every fear and anxiety of the most bigoted of those in our political sphere mixed in with the hope of the brightest spots of our possible future. Regardless, it seems that Mccain and conservatives of the like are determined to use it to push whatever hateful rhetoric they deem acceptable to spew. Despite their efforts, so far, the reactionaries have seemingly spread themselves too thin and their inability to actually hold a consistent set of beliefs has left more people than ever really wondering what it actually means to be “woke.”