AMAC Exclusive By: Daniel Roman
The hard realities of the real world often have a way of exposing foolish ideologies for what they are. Everyone has relearned this lesson over the past week, as America’s 20-year effort to transform the culture of Afghanistan has crumbled and the Taliban has retaken control. As that actual war for the future of a country concludes halfway around the world, many Americans may also be finding themselves disillusioned with the woke left’s not entirely incomparable crusade to transform American culture here at home. Recent polling shows that, for the youngest generation of Americans, the campaign to impose “wokeism” on the American people may already be running into nearly as much trouble as did the effort to impose liberalism on Afghanistan.
Morning Consult recently released a survey of cultural attitudes broken down by age. When it came to “Cancel Culture,” the breakdown was staggering. Overall, no one liked it. The only group for whom more respondents viewed it positively (19%) or neutrally (22%) than negatively (36%) was millennials. Predictably, more members of Gen X (1965-1980) and Boomers (1946-64) viewed it negatively (46% for Gen X, 50% for Boomers) than positively or neutrally (29% for Gen X, 27% for Boomers).
Culture wars are by their very nature a fight for the future, and have therefore historically been fought along generational lines. “Cancel Culture” is part of a broader left-wing reaction against the traditions of the Enlightenment, which have been under sustained assault by a mostly millennial generation (born 1982-1995). Many in this generation believe that words are weapons, and that “problematic” speech should be “canceled” along with those who utter it. These ideas have infected corporate HR departments, the media, and even schools. Yet perhaps surprisingly, the millennial effort to transform America seems to be hitting a wall not only with their generational seniors, but with their younger brothers and sisters as well.
The real shock is the Morning Consult poll came from those born between 1997 and 2008. Only 8% viewed Cancel Culture favorably, while 55% had a negative view. That was higher than for Gen X or Boomers.
How is it that those aged 13-23 have a much more negative view of “cancel culture” than older generations? The answer may be that familiarity breeds contempt. While older Americans are exposed merely to the concept of “Cancel Culture” in the abstract, Generation Z is exposed to it every day. Their heroes and idols are regularly torn down, often by what seem to be depressed and resentful 20 and early 30-somethings who lecture younger Americans about how they are bad people for liking what they like.
An interesting example may lie in the experience of the unlikely conservative icon of Scott Cawthorn, the creator of the videogame series Five Nights At Freddy’s. Cawthorn might initially seem like an odd figure to represent conservatism in pop culture. His videogame series is about a fast-food restaurant where animal robot mascots go on murderous rampages at night, and the player, as a security guard, must avoid being killed in gruesome manners. On paper, it is exactly the sort of violent videogame that parents in the early 1990s would have sought to “cancel,” lest it corrupt their kids. And today it has established an enormous fanbase among teenagers, including, for some reason, gay and lesbian teens.
When it was revealed that Cawthon had donated extensively to both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump, however, he came under sustained attack online from publications accusing him of “betraying” his “LGBT” fanbase. But something interesting happened. While most media publications, generally staffed by millennials, rushed to condemn him, on social media, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok, Gen-Z users rallied to his defense. So after initially condemning Cawthon, many of the millennial journalists quickly shifted to expressing horror that teenagers could possibly defend Cawthon on Twitter and in public, attacking them instead.
The progression from attacking an adult videogame developer for donating to Republicans, an extreme and nutty position, to one of attacking random 15- and 16-year-olds on Twitter for not joining in on “cancel culture,” an even more absurd stance, illustrates the way in which the heavy hand of “cancel culture” is felt by Generation Z, and probably also explains why only 8% of them report a positive view of it. If the same people who argue that the words “there are two genders” amount to violence against others also think it is alright to attack teenagers on Twitter or YouTube for insufficient fealty to far-left orthodoxy, it becomes obvious why they would associate the entire concept, and generation, with hypocrisy.
More stunningly, attitudes toward Cancel Culture get worse the younger members of Gen Z are. Whereas 13% of those 21-24 have a positive view compared to 48% who view it negatively, those numbers fall to 7%-57% among those 17-20, and 6%-59% among those 13-16.
This is not to say Generation Z is “conservative” per se. The same Morning Consult Poll found they were the only group with a more negative view of Capitalism (31%), than positive (22%), a major contrast from even millennials (34% positive/26% negative), much less Generation X (40% positive, 23% negative) or Boomers (54% positive, 19% negative). And while Critical Race Theory is largely unknown, with 41% of Generation Z having no opinion on it, more view it positively (22%), or neutrally (20%), than negatively (19%).
This too may be a generational reaction, and one many AMAC Newsline readers will be familiar with. Young people tend to rebel against their parents, and the very association of discussion of “Critical Race Theory” with much older individuals, combined with a lack of familiarity with what it actually means, may contribute to this result.
Cancel Culture, however, is a different matter. Generation Z is directly exposed to it, and few of their parents are millennials. For them, this is a reaction against something they experience. It may even be driving their opposition to capitalism (so too may be their youth, most of them not having entered the workplace). Right now, if their exposure to corporate influence is through corporations’ efforts to enforce wokeism through “cancellation,” then they could seriously ask themselves what “capitalism” does for them if it seems to exist to attack people and products for being insufficiently woke.
Generation Z is far from won for conservatism. In fact, if conservatives cannot break the linkage in the minds of teenagers between Cancel Culture and capitalism, then they may face a threat from a much more dangerous future variety of Marxist who can and will exploit that by offering an anti-woke, more culturally traditional communism. But there is clearly opportunity here for conservatives—and thankfully, when it comes to Cancel Culture, it appears that the kids are alright.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.