site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of March 11, 2024

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Trans/queer; the new punk

A plague is corrupting the youth of Athens. Men dress like women, sport long, dyed hair and refuse to wrestle in the coliseum or participate in polite society. Women dress like men. Both mutilate their bodies to the consternation of their elders and abscond from their parents homes in droves.

I am, of course, talking about punks. And emos, goths and metalheads if I can lump everyone into the same bucket to make my life easier.

Having a fluorescent blue footlong mohawk, tattoos, piercings and a leather jacket made you eminently unemployable outside of menial service jobs and was the fashion equivalent of telling the world to go fuck itself. ‘Posers’ would get a tiny tattoo on their ankle or something and listen to the wrong music, then cover it up for their day job. Plenty of people will be nonbinary on the weekend and just pass as whatever gender they were assigned at birth Monday-Friday. 15 years ago, the mainstream was sharing cringe videos of emos and goths instead of the ‘it is ma’am’ person.

I believe that there are genuine trans people in the world who have always felt uncomfortable in their body. Numerous posts here have already described the rapid rise in trans youth so I won’t belabor the point, but my thesis (which will no doubt tank my career when this account is doxxed) is that a large fraction of these youth are protesting the gender binary and heteronormativity rather than experiencing a true, deep-seated gender identity different from what they were assigned at birth. A man wearing a dress, long hair or makeup is rebelling against arbitrary norms around clothing/fashion that evolved for a vastly different society with different needs. Spend some time on Feeld, okcupid or other dating apps (especially within the poly community), and you’ll see many people who identify as trans or queer and aren’t so much trying to pass as telling the system to go fuck itself by refusing to conform to gender norms.

Boomers and Gen Xers decrying trans youth and trans culture are Barbara Streisanding the phenomenon; the fact that you hate it is what makes it appealing to many kids in the first place! In the same way that being a punk is a nonissue today, the future of trans is becoming a minority of the population who wear the clothes that they want, use the bathrooms they want and nobody cares. Meanwhile, we’ll all be losing our minds about otherkin or pluralkin. Or maybe this guy. This isn’t to dismiss the harms that punks and anarchists may have caused in their time; I can think of a couple small-scale riots and businesses burned in my hometown during Mostly Peaceful demonstrations that got out of hand. The trans movement undoubtedly isn’t an unalloyed good and criticism will likely be valuable to reign in the excesses as it evolves into whatever the endgame is.

History may rhyme, but it’s true that it never directly repeats itself. The punk community, obviously, placed a large emphasis on music and art. While queercore is a thing, as was PWR BTTM pre-cancellation, the trans movement clearly isn’t centered on music in the same way. This could just be a shift in protest/underground culture, as neither punk nor metal carry the same bite that they used to - I saw Rancid about 10-15 years ago and even then no amount of cocaine could give them the energy they had in the 90s. Napalm Death was a hell of a time, but it hits a bit different when the entire crowd is in their 30s-50s instead of their teens. Kids are on their phones instead of listening to the radio, hanging out at the skate park and going to punk shows - as a result, protest culture just looks different than it used to, but I believe the trans movement are the ideological inheritors of the punk movement.

The other major difference, and one place where I expect the most pushback, is that punk was anti-authoritarian, anarchist and explicitly ungovernable. On the other hand, major media outlets, schools and ‘The Cathedral’ are explicitly pro-trans. I would argue that while the progressive activists are genuine they are vastly in the minority, and opposed by an equally loud minority with inverted views if not quite the same institutional reach. The majority in the center make pro-trans noises, but at the end of the day they aren’t going to date a trans person or wear clothes that don’t match their gender.

As an aside, if I can ramble for a bit - the corollary to Cthulhu swimming left is that youth crave rebellion and transgression, only to grow up and normalize whatever was shocking to their elders. Septum piercings and tattoos were ‘big deals’ growing up, whereas I have friends who are academics in good standing with visible tattoos and piercings. Going way back, lindy hop in the Savoy ballroom 12 was viewed as scandalous, whereas now it’s largely practiced by white retirees in their 60s-70s and millenial STEMlords who like dancing predetermined patterns. Elvis shocked the nation with gyrating hips in a performance tamer than 99% of the content on instagram. Punk and metal have vastly less appeal for Zoomers in the same way that the Beatniks and Hippies held no sway over the Millenials; each generation of youth pushes for progress and wants to do something transgressive. I’ll leave it to someone smarter than I to make the case that this freedom and spirit of rebellion is core to what makes America and the West great, but I do genuinely believe it.

Anyways. I, for one, can’t wait to see 60-70 year old millennials trying to dance like this. See you all grinding on the nursing home stripper poles in a couple decades.

Obligatory statement to head off some remarks: minors being able to medically transition against the wishes of their parents makes me deeply uncomfortable. I don’t support public school children being forced to attend drag queen story hour, but have no problem with people who want to bring their own children. Most other trans-associated culture war topics (pronouns, bathrooms, clothes, whatever) I'm fine with.

No, if there's a new punk (and there isn't), it's "straight white male". Punk was counterculture. Trans/queer is culture. As you said, "Having a fluorescent blue footlong mohawk, tattoos, piercings and a leather jacket made you eminently unemployable outside of menial service jobs". Declare yourself trans/queer and you'll have affinity groups supporting you at high-status jobs. Trans/queer isn't rebellion; it's following fashion.

Indeed… “counter-culture” nowadays is basically being a white- or Asian-adjacent heterosexual male without tattoos (or at least, minimal tattoos), unapologetic and unashamed of who you are.

(Pop-) punk bands, to the extent they were famous in the 90s-10s, have their views well-represented in academia, government, and Hollywood. It’s like the Babylon Bee headline: “Man Who Agrees With The Media, Universities, Corporations, And Hollywood Thinks He's Part Of The Resistance.”

If you’re salary-grinding at XYZ Corp, it’d be far less controversial or eyebrow-raising to say to your coworkers that you’re a fan of Good Charlotte or NOFX, than to say you were a fan of Paulo Costa, Tyson Fury, or Nikola Jokic.

I guess Paola Costa got accused of battery once and Tyson Fury said some anti-gay things, but as far as I know Nikola Jokic has never been involved in any controversies other than a rough foul against one player while on the court and a retaliatory shove against another. You'd have to work at the very most extreme of extremely SJW companies for you being a fan of either of the former two men to cause you any difficulties, and as for Jokic, I can't imagine being a fan of him causing problems at literally any company in the US. The Nuggets don't even have any long-term rivalries with any other teams that could cause a problem.

As mentioned, it’s relative to (pop-) punk bands like Good Charlotte or NOFX.

We’re barely or not even a year removed from when the race-card was (successfully) played to agitate for Embiid getting the MVP instead of Jokic, to essentially zero pushback on the idpol front.

True, but that MVP decision has been widely mocked and considered a mistake by basketball fans even on Reddit. I also am not sure that it really had so much to do with race as with a reluctance by voters to give a third consecutive MVP to a guy who had, at that point, never won a championship.

You are right that being a fan of a punk band would be absolutely no problem in any corporation in the West that I can imagine, unless maybe it was Nazi punk or something. More mainstream punk is not politically controversial, although there are probably still very many workplaces where dressing like a punk would seriously impact one's ability to get hired. Modern society might be nearly completely fine with the punk movement but still, generally speaking probably most people would feel nervous if a surgeon or an airline pilot was rocking a giant blue mohawk.

that MVP decision has been widely mocked and considered a mistake by basketball fans even on Reddit.

Only ex-post at best, as Redditors fence-sat and waited tentatively to see that the coast was clear, especially since the Nuggets won the 2023 championship. "I'm one of the good ones, but DAE think that Jokic should had won his third MVP instead of Embiid?"

I also am not sure that it really had so much to do with race as with a reluctance by voters to give a third consecutive MVP to a guy who had, at that point, never won a championship.

Yet, for much of the 2022-2023 season, including up through at least the midseason, Jokic was the favourite to win his third NBA MVP. In another words, at least until then and more, markets expected that voters were more than fine with rewarding Jokic his third consecutive MVP. The race-card playing that began a few weeks later corresponded to a drastic decrease in his chances.

To be fair, Embiid was on fire the last couple months of the season last year, and the race baiting wouldn't have worked if it wasn't at least a close race.