Two items of note:
First, Wonder Woman was recently defrocked of her position as an “honorary U.N. ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.” Evidently, the United Nations is such a serious place these days that it appoints fictional ambassadors to represent what it deems to be critical issues. I kid you not: In March of this year the U.N. made one of the characters from the game Angry Birds an “honorary ambassador” for climate change.
Because feminism is at least as important as climate change, the U. N. granted Wonder Woman her honorary title in October. But employees in Turtle Bay revolted and had the title revoked less than two months later. Why? They explained in a petition,
Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent “warrior” woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif . . .
Thousands of people signed the petition and less than two months into her term, Wonder Woman was officially defenestrated.
In other news, the semi-famous liberal comedian Margaret Cho got into a public spat with the semi-famous liberal actress Tilda Swinton over Swinton’s role in the recent Doctor Strange movie.
In the comic-book source material for Doctor Strange, the lead character is mentored by a mystical Tibetan man known only as “the Ancient One.” In the movie version, the Ancient One was re-imagined as a mystical Celtic woman, played by Swinton. This small victory for feminism was seen, higher up on the pyramid of grievances, as a micro-aggression against Asians. And so, upset at finding herself on the receiving end of some social justice, Swinton reached out to Cho over email to ask her advice on what to do.
Swinton did her best to prove her bona fides as a fellow traveler to Cho. For instance:
The biggest irony about this righteous protest targeting this particular film is the pains the makers went to to avoid it.
A—personal—irony to my being even remotely involved in this controversy is what I stand up for and always have. Whether it is challenging the idea of what women look like, or how any of us live our lives, or how we educate our children, diversity is pretty much my comfort zone. The idea of being caught on the wrong side of this debate is a bit of a nightmare to me.
I am as sick as anybody at the lack of a properly diverse cinematic universe. Pretty much sick of the Anglophone world in general, sick of all the men’s stories, sick of all the symmetrical features and Mattel-inspired limbs.
But Cho was having none of it. She told an interviewer that, at the end of the exchange, she felt like “a house Asian, like I’m her servant . . . like I was following her with an umbrella.” “Asian actors,” she said later, “should play Asian roles.”
As amusing as this red-on-red violence is, there’s something interesting going on sociologically. Both Swinton and the people behind the Wonder Woman ambassadorship thought they were acting according to progressive principles. Instead, they found themselves attacked and vilified by their allies for deviationism. This suggests that among today’s left, intra-squad disagreements will be settled in the same manner as fights with the actual enemy side (i.e. conservatism).
Scott Alexander is a psychiatrist and blogger (think of him as the liberal version of the great Theodore Dalrymple) and earlier this year he wrote a long essay in which he argued that the classic in-group vs. out-group paradigm has been warped by the creation of “near groups” and “far groups.” He uses the example of ISIS: Viewed through a long-enough lens, both liberal and conservative Americans are part of the same in-group, with the same value set. ISIS, on the other hand, represents a classic civilizational out-group, with different and violently conflicting values.
But ISIS is also a far group—located on the other side of the world with minimal impact in the day-to-day life of most Americans. So the large-scale differences between liberal/conservative Americans and ISIS shrinks in our imaginations while the small-scale differences between the two near groups—conservative and liberal Americans—becomes magnified. That’s why most political partisans see their opposite numbers as a greater threat than ISIS.
What Alexander posits is that the bubble-ification of America has led to “people dividing into political tribes, and cutting off contact with people on the other side.” Which has an interesting effect:
Cultural, geographic, and social differences isolate people so completely that, for example my Facebook feed tends about 95% liberal; I’m sure there are other people out there with the opposite problem. I think that as bubbleification increases, the other party becomes less and less of an outgroup and more and more of a fargroup. . ..
I have yet to meet anybody in person (other than my patients) who supports Donald Trump. On the other hand, I’ve met a bunch of people on both sides with strong feelings about Bernie vs. Hillary. The Bernie vs. Hillary conflict is real to me in a way that the Hillary vs. Trump conflict isn’t. It has the potential to split my friend group. There are social advantages for me of taking either side, and I could reasonably take either side without people looking at me like I went to work stark naked. This is the kind of socially relevant conflict that produces ingroups and outgroups in a way that America vs. ISIS never will.
I doubt that either Margaret Cho or anyone at the United Nations has much contact with people who fundamentally disagree with their worldviews. So their out-group—conservatives—becomes a far group; and the people in their near group with whom they have subtle disagreements (Wonder Woman, Tilda Swinton) now get treated like an out-group.
And unless something in the culture changes, this ugly hyper partisanship is the future.