I try to ignore the drearier provocations. So, when I heard that Superman is now homosexual and fighting for truth, justice and the American gay, my initial reaction was merely surprise that he hadn't gone gay already; surely by now he should be trans or Muslim or both.
Likewise, when informed that Playboy's successor to Marilyn Monroe and Barbi Benton is its first "openly gay" male cover star wearing a bunny costume that he, alas, can't quite fill, I felt only a mild pang of admiration for the thoroughness of the totalitarian left: the last three heterosexual men in America are to be denied even the consolations of girlie mags with girlies.
As you'll know if you heard my serialization of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Orwell's dystopia pornography was encouraged by the state as a diversion for the masses from the ever tightening throttle of totalitarianism. In our more ambitious dystopia, even pornography is merely another mechanism for societal transformation.
Kate Smyth, doyenne of Australian Steyn Clubbers, writes in our comment section:
In terms of 'Wokism' as a religion - and noting, as Mark often laments, that it is essentially American in origin (not French) - one Club member (it may have been Wayne?) speculated that it might have its roots in Puritan attitudes.
That's an interesting observation: Contemporary America is both hypersexualized and increasingly sexless - or, as I called it two years ago, a weird blend of puritanico-libertinism.
The position of the complaceniks is that the madness can be held at a distance, before the planes start falling from the sky. But the planes-falling-from-the-sky phase gets ever closer. Miss Smyth continues:
Whatever its proximate cause, 'cancel culture' is accelerating, and it's tragic to see. Even old-fashioned liberals like Eric Weinstein are despairing about the impact on STEM - and America's competitiveness as a nation. (See twitter for full thread - in response to a popular article entitled 'NYC to eliminate gifted + talented classes over the next 5 yrs')....
That's because there are too many whites and Asians in the "gifted and talented" classes: Social justice requires that we self-moronize. As at least one of the 9/11 hijackers is alleged to have told his Florida flight school, "I don't need to know the part about landing": that pilot program is now to be applied nationwide.
The Atlantic is currently running a piece headlined "Why the Latest Campus Cancellation Is Different":
Following a Twitter outcry, a scientist was stopped from giving a lecture at MIT for reasons that had nothing to do with the lecture itself.
Oh, my! But the more Yascha Mounk tries to explain why this latest cancellation - of the geophysicist Dorian Abbott - is "different" from Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray, the more it reads exactly the same. As I had cause to point out patiently to every telly interviewer during my "human rights" travails a decade or so back, every nutso idea starts at the fringes and moves inward: The Canadian "human rights" racket was initially used to torment lonely neo-Nazis living in mum's basement somewhere out on the edge of the map and posting Xeroxed fliers in payphones ...and suddenly it advances to the country's biggest-selling news magazine and the author of a Number One bestseller.
Likewise "cancel culture": It starts with Milo - and next thing you know it's a respected geophysicist booked for a talk about life on other planets and forbidden to give it because down on this planet his views on the joys of "diversity" are merely 97 per cent in compliance. Mr Mounk is wrong: The Abbott case and the Milo case are identical. All that's happened is that the virus has now reached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Which means there isn't much left to be fatally infected. For years as monsters marched through the campuses, and indeed America itself degenerated into one giant college campus, the complaceniks assured us that, oh, yeah, well, the Gender Studies departments are pretty bad, oh, and the English department, and classics, and music ...but STEM is holding firm and that's what counts, so relax, chill, because places like MIT will remain globally dominant "centers of excellence".
I think not. It's hard to retain centers of excellence in a desert of self-moronization.
The Wokists aren't being coy about what they're asking of you; If you're a lesbian who feels a bit queasy at the thought of sex with a woman sporting a penis, you're a hater. You're certainly ill advised to enter into public speculation about what "gender" means for women. Poor old Kathleen Stock, an impeccably left-wing professor of Sapphic bent, did, and woke up to find six hundred fellow philosophers protesting her being made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
This is the Leninist Who-Whom formulation applied to every arena of life up to and including your genitalia: At Playboy and DC Comics, homo beats hetero. But in the philosophy departments trans beats lesbian. And, at MIT, identitarians in ruthless stomping lockstop beat the ever so mildly contrarian.
All this is way past Nineteen Eighty-Four. Which is why the nipples on Playboy's newest bunny now belong to a "gay male of color". Not into that? Don't tweet your antipathy, or it could attract the attention of the peelers. Sexual attraction is now, literally, policed:
Police Investigating 'Hate Crime' After Transgender Woman Turned Down for Porn Role 'Because She Has a Penis'
As I put it two years ago:
It was surely only a matter of time before the coppers started enforcing the human right of a transwoman to be shagged on camera by a heteronormative cismale.
This is almost a perfect distillation of our age and its strange blend of puritanico-libertinism:
You want to roger this bird in a pornographic movie? Hey, who are we to judge?
You refuse to roger this bird in a pornographic movie because she's hung like a horse? That's outrageous! We most certainly are going to judge!
To return to where we came in, Superman was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938. He is now a multi-billion-dollar "franchise" - whereas Siegel & Shuster died pretty much penniless. Because they created Clark Kent & Co as a "work for hire" and so got no royalties. At one point Shuster was reduced to working as a deliveryman, in which capacity he found himself delivering a package to his old colleagues at DC Comics. They were embarrassed, and the chief exec called Shuster into the office, gave him a hundred bucks, and told him to buy a new coat and get another job. Now his successor on the franchise explains his thinking on the whole gay biz:
"The idea of replacing Clark Kent with another straight white savior felt like a missed opportunity," said Tom Taylor, who writes the series.
Does he get to shag Batman? Who's the pitcher, who's the catcher? Can we change their names to Pitcherman and Catcherman?
For the first time in human history, we live in an age of corporate storytelling. Tom Taylor and his colleagues cannot create a new Superman - Captain Power-Bottom - but merely shuffle the modular furniture of eight-decade-old pop culture at the best of whichever executive vice-president they report to. Pop culture is dead, dependent on the inventiveness of the mid-twentieth-century bulked up with CGI and billion-dollar budgets. America is running on fumes, from its geriatric superheroes coming out in their nineties to its elite academies surrendering their inheritance in the face of ignorant, grunting mobs.
I don't think it's coincidental that the last biggest bestselling individual creator of the twentieth century - J K Rowling - is also the only one at odds with Big Woke and its dreary ideological conformity. But Ms Rowling and Professors Mounk and Abbott and all the rest are going to have to go much further if their protestations are genuine. As Kate Smyth points out, American "liberalism" is leading the charge, dragging the rest of the anglosphere left in its wake. You can't tiptoe around the central reality while getting all huffy when they come after someone you happen to like and pointing out how "different" it is: If you won't object to the defenestration of Charles Murray, don't be surprised that the mob suddenly figures it can add you to the pile of corpses at the foot of the building.
I think of another novelist, Lionel Shriver: For three years and eleven months, she writes eminently shrewd columns on all of the above; for the twelfth month of the fourth year, she endorses Joe Biden and the party that supports all of the above. The best way to save storytelling, save STEM, save "centers of excellence", save intellectual curiosity would be if all the day-late-dollar-short objectors could somehow rouse themselves to get serious.
Eric Weinstein says we are committing "national suicide". But even that understates it: Most forms of suicide are either painless or a moment of agony. Today's stampede to stupid is consigning the world's superpower to a convulsive, protracted and blood-soaked death quite beyond conventional imperial "decline".
I will never be invited to MIT, or even to Kathleen Stock's University of Sussex. This is a battle within the left - between the Woke and the wishy-washy. I take it as read that even the death of your own profession by the thought-policing of creative expression and intellectual inquiry can't overcome your social distaste for "the right". But surely at some point a sense of self-preservation will kick in. Or is that now as passé as Playboy cover girls?
~Members of The Mark Steyn Club should feel free to leave their own thoughts on the subject. We are very grateful to all our Steyn Clubbers around the world, from London, England to London, Ontario to London, Kiribati to New London, Connecticut. We hope to welcome many more of you in the decades ahead. For more information on The Mark Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our special Gift Membership.