At a rally in Iowa earlier this year, the 700-strong audience gleefully reprised an old chant: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Their target was Hillary Clinton, obviously. On stage, the hosts attacked
Another interesting piece in the Times - good to see the non-woke trying to reclaim the left, hope it's not just newspaper bullshit.
Goodbye woke liberals, hello dirtbag left
A raucous brand of left-wing activism is taking over from our pious, politically correct youth
At a rally in Iowa earlier this year, the 700-strong audience gleefully reprised an old chant: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Their target was Hillary Clinton, obviously. On stage, the hosts attacked Democratic politicians: Pete Buttigieg was denounced as a “bloodless asexual”, Michael Bloomberg as a “midget gremlin” and supporters of Joe Biden as “gelatinous 100-year-olds”. Afterwards, a journalist from The New York Times went home and wrote a disapproving report of what she’d seen. But she was not writing about a fringe event for supporters of President Trump, she was getting to grips with the new face of left-wing politics.
The five schlubby millennial hosts of Chapo Trap House, the podcast behind the rally, are the most prominent exponents of a burgeoning political faction known as the “dirtbag left”. With their hipster beards, incipient paunches and attitude of ironic slacker cool, they seem almost to physically embody the movement.
The dirtbag left is characterised by redistributionist economics, vulgar jokes, brutal (possibly ironic) political abuse and — as the tone of that Iowa show suggests — a dismissive attitude towards the niceties of liberal political correctness. The growing popularity of Chapo Trap House is a remarkable reminder of the limitations of wokeness as a political force, even on the left.
With almost a quarter of a million listeners per episode, Chapo Trap House is a phenomenon. The show is the highest-grossing member of the subscription service Patreon and made $160,000 in February alone.
Red Scare, another dirtbag left podcast which specialises in the trolling of liberal sensibilities, boasts an audience and an income almost as vast. A constellation of smaller associated shows (many with names too rude to print in The Times) stretches away beneath them.
In an interview with the right-wing online magazine Spiked, Chapo Trap House’s sole female presenter Amber A’Lee Frost summed up the movement’s concerns. She spoke about her disdain for “Guardian feminists” and her belief in the political importance of class. “The majority of people are not woke,” she said. “Why would we dismiss the majority of people as hopelessly reactionary?”
Polling suggests that Frost’s analysis is correct. Liberal politicians have overrated the electoral appeal of political correctness. According to a survey reported in The Atlantic, 80 per cent of Americans agreed with the statement that political correctness is a “problem in our country”, a figure that included 74 per cent of people between the ages of 24 and 29. The idea that millennials are overwhelmingly woke is as misleading as the notion that all baby boomers spent the 1960s on LSD. In Britain, a YouGov survey found that two thirds of people agreed that “too many people are too easily offended these days over the language that others use”, a figure that included 57 per cent of respondents who identified themselves as Labour voters.
The prominence of political correctness over the past decade owes something to media hype and something to the success of small pressure groups operating on social media. Any MP with a Twitter account knows what happens if they stumble into the wrong side of a debate about pronouns or trans rights. Accordingly, Jeremy Corbyn announced his pronouns at an event, former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson promised to recognise non-binary gender identities, and Labour leadership candidates backed a pledge to expel “transphobes” from the party. We may look back on these events as the political high water mark of wokeness.
The rise of the dirtbag left is less the result of a public debate on political correctness (the public was always underwhelmed) than a consequence of the changing nature of the internet. Wide open spaces like Twitter timelines and Facebook news feeds, where anyone can see what you’re up to and publicly punish you when they disapprove, are diminishing in importance. Growing in significance are relatively hidden places which are more amenable to free speech and outrageous jokes, such as Facebook groups, Reddit (whose active monthly user base grew by 30 per cent last year) and podcasts (whose audience grew 24 per cent in the same period). It’s no accident that the most important figures on the dirtbag left made their names on podcasts.
In America, the anti-woke left is a fully-fledged political force. Bernie Sanders’s rivals for the Democractic nomination this year complained of trolling from his dirtbag left supporters. His campaign was forced to fire an operative for setting up a Twitter account which bombarded Buttigieg with scatological abuse. Already there are signs that the movement is taking off in Britain. Both Chapo Trap House and Red Scare have staged sold-out shows in London and imitators have followed: Reel Politik apes the anarchic style of Chapo Trap House albeit with less popular success and the show Trash Future is similar but more politically correct.
Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that many of the aspirations of political correctness, however annoying they sometimes seemed, were laudable: sexual equality, the rights of minorities and an awareness of the limits of free speech. As even the left begins to move on, some things are worth salvaging from the wreckage of that strange, short-lived revolution.