Friday, October 19, 2018

Taylor Swift has finally made some kind of political statement ... perhaps thereby joining the priesthood of publicly known entertainers and artists

Swift became a star as a teenager, when her political sensibilities were presumably not yet fully formed. Moreover, her early success was in country pop, a genre closely associated with more rural corners of the country. In this phase of her career, she and her team would have had good reason to believe that many of her most devoted admirers were conservatives who appreciated her upbeat lyrics and wholesome image.

Since then, however, Swift has sought to broaden her artistic horizons and, as you might expect, to transcend her middlebrow origins. Having achieved unsurpassed celebrity, she now finds herself in the uppermost echelons of the culture industries, where woke liberalism is de rigueur and departures from it are stigmatized. Her reluctance to explicitly embrace left-of-center politics was, I imagine, somewhat costly to her reputation among tastemakers. Critics who delighted in the enlightened political interventions of her peers took note of Swift’s reluctance to definitively affirm their view of the world, and it informed how they received her work. Politics aside, her seeming conventionality—her basicness—already made her suspect, and less interesting than performers who could more plausibly claim marginalized identities. At best, Swift could be an ally to those who, in the theology of woke liberalism, command the most sympathy.

Given these incentives, I’m not sure Swift had much of a choice in the matter. Declaring that Republican Marsha Blackburn’s conventionally conservative voting record “appalls and terrifies” her was close to the least she could do. Indeed, I don’t doubt there will be many detractors who will demand she offer further denunciations of the political right, thus distancing herself from the shrinking slice of her global audience consisting of conventional conservatives. It helps that most conservatives are so accustomed to enjoying the work of people who hold them in low regard that denouncing them is unlikely to exact much of a cost and that, as the columnist Josh Barro has observed, the most affluent and influential consumers “are more disproportionately left-of-center than they used to be.” From a purely commercial perspective, Swift would have been foolish not to have made her political gesture. Otherwise, she would have left herself open to the charge that she does not detest the GOP and all that it represents, which would have posed an unacceptable risk to her standing in the eyes of those she cares to impress.

What is new, I would argue, is the second development: that the number of people who are susceptible to elite influence has grown larger. Here is where I must tread lightly, as what follows is necessarily impressionistic. I get the sense that the most aggressively “woke” young people are precisely those who find themselves in the most fiercely competitive environments. Status and prestige matter to everyone, of course, but they matter to some more than others. Most of all, they matter to those who find themselves in precarious industries where one’s reputation counts for a great deal and, just as importantly, to lonely, unattached people who long to feel valued and desired. Delayed marriage and child-rearing ensure that many more young people spend many more years in the mating market and, by extension, orienting their lives around fulfilling their own social and sexual appetites over the care and feeding of children. This is especially true among children of the culturally powerful upper-middle-class, who’ve been trained to fear downward mobility in a stratified society as much as our primitive ancestors feared being devoured by toothy predators. The result is what you might call a culture of “competitive wokeness.”

Swift, of course, is at liberty to endorse whatever views she sees fit.  It's strange to consider in the last five years or so the degree to which journalists found fault with her for NOT articulating a social or political view they agreed with.  For a few years she didn't self-identify as being a feminist and that was held against her.  For the last few years since 45 got elected she has been described as some kind of Nazi barbie or as tacitly endorsing Trump by NOT denouncing Trump.  

But as was said at longer than probably necessary in the article above, Taylor Swift speaking up to endorse a Democratic candidate or Democratic policies makes her less rather than more distinctive.  There's a sense in which she has fallen into order whereas West, ironically perhaps, has made a point of finding nice things to say about 45.   That has been met with declarations or jokes that West is in some way mentally ill ... . 

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