Bethany Mandel is one of the many folks who is making an excellent living peddling right-wing outrage in the form of articles, podcasts, books, etc. Her newest, in the latter category, is entitled Stolen Youth: How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation. Mandel says the book is about the "sort of a woke reimagining of our society" that is currently underway.
Given that she's got a book coming out, Mandel is doing a book tour right now. It's a two-fer, as it gives her a chance to expound on her political views before an audience, and it also helps her sell books. Among her appearances was one on The Hill's streaming show Rising. And after Mandel introduced the new book and explained how it's about fighting wokeness, host Briahna Joy Gray asked Mandel to explain what she means by the term "woke."
Now, let us pause for a moment and note that, as college teachers, we know it can sometimes be difficult to answer questions in the moment. Those with simple answers are no big deal, but those with complicated answers are tougher, since you didn't prepare, and time is limited. Just this week, for example, (Z) got this question from a student: "How many women have run for president of the United States?" That's not so easy to answer, because the meaning of "run for president" is fuzzy. And so, (Z) had to pause for a few moments to formulate an answer. That said, he was ultimately able to come up with something satisfactory.
(In case you are interested, it was: "Well, every year, there are hundreds of people who run for president; you just don't hear about most of them because they aren't going to get many votes and they have no chance of winning. So, if we just mean 'ran for president in any way whatsoever,' then the answer is 'hundreds,' starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1872. If we mean 'mounted a serious enough campaign to get some press attention, and to get opportunities like participating in candidates' debates,' then the answer is 'about 20.' If we mean 'got actual delegate votes for a major-party presidential nomination,' then the answer is '10 or so.' And if we mean 'got the nomination of a major party,' then the answer is 'one—Hillary Clinton.'")
The point is, we are sympathetic to the challenges of curveball questions. But this was not a curveball question. If you are going to write a book about wokeness, you better damn well know what you mean by that, and you better damn well be able to define your terms. It's just like every grad student is told: "Be able to summarize your dissertation in three sentences or less."
Needless to say, Mandel was not able to answer the question. She stuttered and hemmed and hawed and made clear that she wasn't going to be able to answer, even if given unlimited time. We don't love linking to Twitter, but that's the only place that the clip can be found right now. So, here it is:
LOL: Briahna Joy Gray BREAKS the brain of Rising guest Bethany Mandel by asking her to define "wokeness" pic.twitter.com/uwRSSH0LaM— The Vanguard (@vanguard_pod) March 14, 2023
In case you don't care to watch, here's a transcript:
So—I mean—woke is sort of the idea that... [long pause] I—this is going to be one of those moments that goes viral. [another pause] I mean, woke is something that's very hard to define. And we've spent an entire chapter defining it. It is sort of the understanding that we need to—totally reimagine and re—redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression. [yet another pause]. Sorry. It's hard to explain in a 15-second sound bite.
She was right about one thing: It did go viral. That tweet has been viewed over 30 million times already.
It seems to us there are two possibilities here: (1) The term doesn't really have a meaning, or (2) it does have a meaning, but that meaning is offensive to a non-right-wing audience, and Mandel couldn't figure out a way to talk her way around that.
The upshot is that someone who has weaponized attacks against "the other," which is nearly always a reprehensible thing to do, has just had her "emperor has no clothes" moment. And tens of millions of people have clearly found some schadenfreude in that. (Z)