I would ordinarily put something like this on my own blog, but because Dave Chappelle explicitly embraces his profession as an artist — and defends stand-up comics as a cohort of legit artists — the reaction to Chappelle’s last NETFLIX special has me thinking: are we finally at the much-anticipated tipping point where even liberal artists decide they’ve had enough of the Church of Woke? I mean, I get it that J.K. Rowling has been getting attacked for years, but she has so much money and fame there’s practically nothing short of a Cosby-style horrendous crimes in the closet discovery which could bring her down. They cannot cancel her, because she’s too big to be canceled.
But Dave Chappelle is not. By his own admission, Chappelle doesn’t bring in crowds to match Kevin Hart. Chappelle isn’t made of so many millions that he is bulletproof, should he never do a stand-up act ever again in his life.
Yet, Chappelle has chosen to say what he says anyway, and he’s done it with both a brilliantly humanistic approach, while at the same time mocking the absurdities of a political movement which has long since crossed over from being about victim advocacy, and is instead almost entirely about control: telling us what we can and cannot say, telling us what we can and cannot enjoy, and threatening to cost us our livelyhoods if we do not obey.
As Chappelle noted in one of his other specials, when you take away a man’s livelyhood you are killing him.
So what to make of the Rotten Tomatoes score with audience approval being off the charts, and the critics giving Chappelle the great green splat of death? And how does this apply to those of us who work as artists in the fiction biz?
First, I think it’s important to note that there are way, way more consumers who are tired of the Church of Woke, than the media will ever admit exist.
Second, I think it’s also important to note that these consumers are ready and willing to embrace artists who don’t immediately knuckle under at the first ruler-to-the-fingers rapping by the Woke nuns who are forever policing social media.
Third, I want to suggest that we are at that tipping point. And it’s not a sharp peak. More like, we’re rounding over the top of the hill, and more and more people on the liberal side of the house are simply becoming disgusted with Woke authoritarianism, and refusing to cooperate.
I hope (for heavens sake) that the Church of Woke is entering its decadent decline phase. Having gorged itself on Western culture since the late 1990s, its grown fat, lazy, slothful, and much too proud of its power — and there’s no question that Moral Majority 2.0 (the Secular Woke edition) is far, far more powerful and has far more adherents than Moral Majority 1.0 (the plastic-haired Televangelist edition) ever had. The Church of Woke has billion-dollar corporate PR in its hip pocket. The Church of Woke rules campuses from coast to coast, and beyond. The Church of Woke still tries to crush anybody who gets out of line, won’t drink the kool-aid, and decides to have an independent opinion about difficult, complex, or controversial topics.
But it’s been my thought for a long time now that even very powerful, very well-funded zealotry has a built-in expiration date. Because all zealotry (any nation, any era) invariably breeds contempt among the population. Mostly because such zealotry is almost always totalitarian in its approach while its practitioners too often show themselves to be monstrously hypocritical. It was no accident that Swaggart and the Bakkers were two of the biggest stars of Moral Majority 1.0, and their downfall presaged the great waning of Moral Majority 1.0’s power and influence in the United States.
Moral Majority 2.0 is way bigger. Much better funded. Owns more institutions, and has more people rabidly pushing it at multiple levels. But it’s not immune to the same inevitable forces of human nature which brought Moral Majority 1.0 down. Eventually, the Church of Woke just gets tired. People become fed up. The rules and expectations become too clownish, too impossible to follow, and the people speaking and enforcing them too ridiculous to take seriously. The rebellion gets underway. And in all rebellions, you need people to hold up lanterns to guide the way.
I don’t think Chappelle wanted the job. But he’s got it, now. Just because he refuses to quit.
And there’s a big lesson in that for each and every fiction writer in the Western world at this moment. Things may seem difficult or even impossible when the road is strewn with so many political landmines, but if you simply refuse to quit, and can continue to practice your art with grace, subtlety, humor, and creativity, you will gain and grow your audience. People are starved for such material. They’re sick to death of cookie-cutter box-checking stories which push the Woke politics to the front stage, and leave everything else in the dressing room. They want real storytelling back. In their books. In their movies. In their games. They are done with the religious sermon. Absolutely done.
And that’s where your market window is. That’s where you can provide quality product for an eager, underserved audience. Which is unafraid to respond with vigor when it gets what it wants.