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‘Woke’ Is Just Another Word for ‘Things That Make Us Mad’
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‘Woke’ Is Just Another Word for ‘Things That Make Us Mad’

Another beer ad is triggering the right.

Hi,

As you might recall, back on April Fool’s Day, Anheuser-Busch enlisted Dylan Mulvaney to be a spokes…person for Bud Light. But it wasn’t a prank. 

Measured by the cutthroat metrics of late-capitalism, the company chose poorly. Bud Light sales plummeted—and still show little sign of getting off the mat. One of the more popular lines about the debacle was that Bud Light chose a “fake woman to sell fake beer.”

Now, for my purposes it doesn’t really matter what you thought—or continue to think—of the whole controversy. You can think Mulvaney was a brave and wonderful choice and the backlash bigoted and stupid. You can think it was a ridiculous choice and the subsequent boycotts are a culture war triumph. My own view is closer to the latter, less because of my positions on transgenderism, and more because I think it’s always helpful when big corporations are reminded that their customers can’t be so easily manipulated—or replaced—as some might desire. 

From the sound of it, Marketing VP Alissa Heinerscheid had a certain Brechtian attitude about Bud Light’s customer base. Bertolt Brecht had quipped in a poem, “Die Lösung,” that things might go easier for the East German government after the 1953 uprising if the government dissolved the people and elected another. The brewing world’s Brecht Girl sought to “evolve and elevate” the brand away from its “fratty” image and shrinking customer base by having Mulvaney dress like Audrey Hepburn to celebrate “365 Days of Womanhood” while quaffing some celebratory cans of Bud Light with Mulvaney’s face on them. 

“Representation is sort of at the heart of evolution,” Heinerscheid said on a podcast in March. “You’ve got to see people who reflect you in the work, and we had this hangover. I mean, Bud Light had been kind of a brand of fratty, kind of out-of-touch humor, and it was really important we had another approach.” 

Well, she did change the branding and did find another approach. Just not in a profitable way—which is why she’s on leave from the company as her superiors have tried to climb out of this mess.  

Again, you can think this was all unfair to Mulvaney, Heinerscheid, and Bud Light, or you can think the opposite or some combination. 

What I want to understand is why the folks who mocked, hated, and ridiculed Bud Light are convinced they should do the same thing to Miller Lite.

I’m referring to an ad Miller Lite released celebrating women and female brewers.  The whole gimmick centered on the claim—I have no idea if it’s true—that many of the earliest brewers were women and the world owes women for their pioneering work on this front. But instead of gratitude and respect, the beer industry put really hot women in bikinis in order to sell beer to dudes. 

Watch for yourself: 

This ad started making the rounds on Monday on social media and very quickly the “Hey Bud Light, hold my beer” jokes started popping up all over the place. “Miller has gone Woke too! Arroogah! Arroogah! To the battle stations!”

Joe Rogan, leapt in “Does no one learn?” he asked.

Now, I don’t love the ad. I don’t hate it either. I just think some folks on the right have gotten a little drunk on success with the Bud Light thing and haven’t really thought this through. 

First of all, the Miller ad came out weeks before the Bud Light ad, as part of Women’s History Month. So, claims that Miller was doubling down on Bud Light’s mistake doesn’t make sense chronologically. Such mistakes are common in a feeding-frenzy type environment. 

Second, in important respects, the Miller ad is the opposite of the Bud Light ad. Dylan Mulvaney, all of the conservative critics insisted, is not a real woman and acting like an immature caricature of one is insulting to women—and to our intelligence. Rich Lowry offers a very good example of this argument. 

Well, the Miller ad does none of that. Sure, it’s broadly speaking feminist. But so what? I mean lots of conservatives have been embracing so-called “TERFs”—the acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminists.” But the feminism in the Miller ad isn’t particularly radical. It’s all pretty jokey. And the underlying message that women are more than mud-wrestling bikini models is pretty widely accepted by most conservatives I know. Even the feminist scolding is at least a little self-mocking. 

Most importantly, unless I am misinformed, all of the women in the ad are in fact, women or cis-women, or biological women—whatever term you like. That should matter if you’re going to roll your eyes and say “there they go again” about the Miller ad since the Miller ad’s message is wholly different from the Bud Light one. 

(Not) everything you don’t like is woke.

“The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” George Orwell famously wrote in 1946. 

For many on the right, “woke” plays a similar role. It’s so much more versatile than “communist,” “socialist,” “fascist,” “Marxist,” or even “politically correct.”  People misuse these terms all of the time. But with the exception of politically correct, there are at least some fairly objective sources to which one can appeal to back up your objections. Raising taxes a few points may be wrong or unnecessary, but it’s not “communist.” As for political correctness, its original meaning is still the most useful: the effort by ideologues and activists to enforce or compel the use of certain terms so as to clear away undesirable ideas without having to debate them. But it’s worth bearing in mind that enforcing certain standards of language isn’t always wrong. Sometimes it’s called “good manners.” 

The left uses woke as a kind of replacement term for political correctness. It assumes that if you are “awake” to society’s problems you will agree with the left on what to do about them. It’s a folksier term for “consciousness-raising” or, perhaps more accurately, it’s the intersectional version of “class-consciousness.”  

But the right seems to simply use it as “anything the left says or does” that I can get angry at or make fun of.  

Let’s go back to feminism. Again, I have no problem with the folks who merely don’t like the Miller ad. But it’s a private business trying to figure out how to get women to buy more of their beer. Is it really outrageous to run a tongue-in-cheek ad during Women’s History Month aiming to do that? I mean all the brotastic dudes who are offended by the ad missed it entirely when it was released—probably because it was targeted at a very narrow segment of the market. Moreover, the ad highlighted female local entrepreneurs, working with their hands, growing crops, etc. Is that really all that woke? I mean, from a certain Marxist perspective, the ad is positively right-wing. 

Think of it this way, feminism is way older than wokeness. And, whenever you think feminism began, the idea that women are more virtuous or have special moral insights is really, really, old. Yeah, it’s also often a sexist idea to one degree or another, depending on the specific context. But I can assure you that many non-feminist, ultra-traditional women, would also roll their eyes or wag their fingers at using bikini-clad supermodels wrestling in mud to hawk beer. “Boys, please.” 

In other words, just because feminists are mocking bro culture doesn’t mean that bro culture isn’t eminently mockable from a conservative or traditional perspective. There’s more horseshoe theory than anyone wants to discuss connecting humorless church ladies and even more humorless feminists.

How dare you assume the best about me?

We’re all accustomed to people taking offense at being wrongly accused of holding various beliefs. But we don’t talk enough about how people often take offense at being rightly accused of holding certain views. 

There needs to be a word for beliefs that partisan ideologues hold quite firmly—unless someone suggests they hold them. Lots of left-wingers—lots!— believe in the importance of religion, family values, capitalism, the value of healthy masculinity, etc. But if a right-winger tries to appeal to them on these terms, the left-winger recoils in horror. Similarly, there are lots of right-wingers—lots!—who believe in basic notions of equality, tolerance, the need for a social-safety net, and feminism—but if you try to appeal to them on these terms, they come at you with a “Oh, hell no” attitude. 

And I get it. I’m guilty of it too. I often suspect that what the left means by fairness and tolerance is very different from what I mean by it. And sometimes my suspicions are entirely right. 

But this common tendency toward being triggered by concepts people agree with in practice if espoused by people they disagree with in theory can be quite tedious. And feminism is one of the great examples. Nearly every conservative—male and female—I know adheres to at minimum some form of “first wave” (the suffragette stuff) or equity feminism. Most subscribe to large swaths of so-called “second wave” feminism (the 1960s and 1970s stuff). But they’d rather drink warm Bud Light out of Dylan Mulvaney’s navel than call themselves “feminists.”  

Yes, I know, there’s a rich tradition among the attention-seeking right to pretend to be serious about how it was a mistake to give women the vote. And some of the dumber among this crowd might actually sincerely want to repeal the 19th Amendment. But none of them are doing anything about it. And in politics you should judge factions by what they prioritize more than what they say in their Rumble rants or on their YouTube channels. 

Most conservatives—male and female—are entirely at peace with nearly all of the feminist gains of the last 100 years because they’re simply part of the culture now. Sure, there are still disagreements—abortion is the most obvious—but the biggest objection most right-wingers have to the bulk of traditional feminism these days is the word “feminism.”  

Most of the supposedly toxic male anti-wokesters aren’t saying that Sarah Palin, Megyn Kelly, Kellyanne Conway, Candance Owens, Laura Ingraham, Kayleigh McEnany, Maria Bartiromo, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Marjorie Taylor Greene, et al. should shut up and make them a sandwich. Nor are they trying to get rid of birth control, never mind the 19th Amendment. 

Indeed, second only to the objections to “gender affirming” treatment of kids, the main “anti-trans” arguments on the right are essentially feminist. The idea that women should have spaces free of biological men to feel safe from sexual assault is broadly feminist (and—egads—traditional). Feminists spent a half a century pushing for the inclusion of female sports in college athletics. Almost immediately after they achieved remarkable success, the new progressive priority became forcing women’s sports to accept biological men. I have no doubt if you told 1990s feminists this would happen, they’d either laugh at you or be horrified. 

Anyway, I’m not sure that “woke” is the right word for the Bud Light ad, but if the Bud Light ad defines wokeness, then the Miller Lite ad doesn’t fit the definition. Unless woke just means stuff you don’t like—even if you basically agree with it.  

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.