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Is it the end of the woke world as we know it?


Is it the end of the woke world as we know it?

Not quite. We’re moving away from the rigid orthodoxy of the recent present but not so far away that anything goes.

For years, people have been predicting a “vibe shift.” You know the one I mean: the shift away from wokeness.

And in anticipation of this vibe shift, everything seems to spell its death knell. Bud Light’s disastrous decision to make Dylan Mulvaney the center of its advertising campaign? Woke’s over. Victoria’s Secret’s “disability-friendly” lingerie line flops? Woke’s over. The New York Times is critical of the once-sacred cow of childhood gender transition? Woke’s over. Shane Gillis says “retarded” on “Saturday Night Live,” the very same show he was fired from in 2019? Woke’s over. Blonde bombshell Sydney Sweeney plays a Hooters girl the following week?

The vibe shift is real, but it’s more of a gradual evolution than a sudden revolution.

You get the picture.

It’s doubtful whether the “end of woke” can be signaled with a single, discrete event, but it does seem like it’s more than just wishful thinking.

Attitudes are changing, and it’s palpable.

But the skeptics have a point, too: They might be changing, but they’re not changing that much. I have a hunch that we’ll never fully “put the woke away.” Whatever this is, it’s just a “market correction,” so to speak. People are moderating. Sanity isn’t being restored; it just seems like it’s just going to be saner than it’s been.

I began to suspect that culture would start changing sometime in late 2019. We were a good six years into “the Great Awokening” by that point, and people were rebelling. Not the usual suspects, not people who would have been on the right either way, or people who’d been canceled and had defensively moved away from progressiveness, or even those who claimed that “the left left them.” No, it was a mixed bag of teenagers and intellectual 20- and 30-somethings. In other words, the demographic you’d expect to be self-styled Marxists were now adopting more right-leaning positions.

This transformation was always intuitive to me. Of course the hippest people would start to recoil at leftism as institutions and corporations more wholeheartedly embraced it. Their former Marxist stances were likely motivated by the same impulse. There’s a certain cachet in being able to tell older people that they’re squares who don’t get it.

But we were living in a world where there was no longer anything shocking about communism or the farthest reaches of identity politics. It was getting hard to push the envelope with the same old tricks. As the left was stripped of its “revolutionary potential” (read: its success rate in shocking olds), the only direction to go was right. And people did.

Then COVID-19 happened. As draconian lockdown and vaccine policies descended upon us, people started to wake up. This time, it wasn’t raw rebellion; it was common sense.

If the media under the Trump administration hadn’t been a wake-up call, then COVID was, as the Centers for Disease Control and the press moved in a confusing lockstep, contradicting themselves day after day, finding new ways to obfuscate reality and guilt the American people. We still weren’t out of the woods, but there was another dent in the façade.

In early 2022, a New York bachelor dubbed “West Elm Caleb” was canceled and subsequently publicly shamed by seemingly everybody for the “crime” of dating multiple women at once and ghosting them. People swarmed the kid like he was red meat tossed in a shark tank.

But then something weird happened. Just as quickly as they’d been outraged, people started to snap out of it. Even well-known leftist firebrand journalist Taylor Lorenz criticized social media’s swiftness to condemn this guy over what amounted to basically nothing. The conversation shifted from publicly shaming West Elm Caleb to questioning what we were using social media for and why we were so inured to filming everything around us, waiting for strangers to slip up so we could expose them.

It was a flash point. Mass callouts over nothing just weren’t cool any more. That kind of behavior wasn’t going to win you any clout. You were just going to look foolish.

I noticed other, more subtle changes in people’s attitudes, too. On social media, it felt like there was increased honesty about the social trends of the last decade: the pitfalls of gender transition, remaining unmarried, or forgoing children.

There was also more willingness to poke fun at nebulous identity categories outside the right-wing culture commentary space, where those types of observations had long just been conventional wisdom. For example, so-called “asexuals” who have sex or “lesbians” who date men. No more walking on eggshells.

None of this means that people are becoming “anti-woke,” that these identities will disappear, or we’re ushering in a new golden age of “politically incorrect” culture. We just have a little more self-awareness now, from cancellation to identity, about how these norms are policed.

Take the conversation around gender transition, for example. Telling a transgender woman, “You’ll always be a man,” will probably get you labeled a bigot. It most certainly will, actually. The “vibe shift” is that a more honest and nuanced conversation about what medical transition entails, replete with asking questions or expressing doubts, will not get you slapped with that same label. Whereas in 2019, it would have.

The culture shift is that people are becoming less prescriptive about what can and cannot be said. It's a balancing act, as society tries to find a middle ground — we’re moving away from the rigid orthodoxy of the recent present, but not so far away that anything goes.

The vibe shift is real, but it’s more of a gradual evolution than a sudden revolution. Shane Gillis can say “retarded” on SNL now, but he’ll still share the stage with Bowen Yang, who’ll probably be shaking his head in disapproval.

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