by Michael Smith
I’ve always been intrigued by Thorsten Veblen, the economist and sociologist, who made observations about social class in the late nineteenth century. His idea that there is a “leisure class” that holds “luxury beliefs” is quite interesting.
In “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, he stated that the “leisure class” – affluent people – display their membership in the upper class with their material accouterments. For example, expensive designer clothing or driving an Aston Martin convey such “membership”.
I have previously noted that I think that Veblen’s theory applies across all political, economic, and social classes – as always, there is a segment of each social and economic class (upper, middle, lower), who send the same signals to their cliques that they are moving up. That is why we saw looting of certain stores during the “mostly peaceful protests” and the theft of flat screen TV’s and other luxury goods first before basic sustenance needs were stolen. The “five finger discounts” have more to do with status among certain classes than need.
Of course, membership might also consist of professions of a certain belief common to a desired group but just like Veblen’s theory, once you are in the game, you are in the game. If you are going to stay in, you must continue a progression of more expensive things as your peers catch up with you. From a sociological perspective, simple profession of a belief is the buy-in, and increasingly dramatic professions are required to stay ahead. Trumping the fellow members of your group by aggressively escalating your positions could be the equivalent of buying a nicer car or a larger home.
Radical positions have a social cost, especially when they rise to ridiculous heights – but those costs can be also monetized through subscription costs, the actual cost of joining a group (membership fees), they cost of Internet and software – or even the opportunity costs of time.
For entertainment and media companies, that cost is things like content creation and personnel, both on-air talent and the people behind the scenes.
Take Netflix for example.
We all know how Netflix was throwing money at the Obamas and producing shows about pregnant men, pedophilic programs featuring underage girls and series featuring tender age drag queens. The truth is that they assumed that train was just going to keep on rolling down the line to increasingly “woke” destinations, and boy, did they ever want to be on that train.
The truth is that progressive, postmodern beliefs - like wokeness - are luxury beliefs with a cost that is only affordable in times of prosperity. They are just signals to the other wokesters that "We belong, and these things are evidence of our street cred!".
For Netflix to keep their street cred valid, they had to dive deeper and deeper into radical subjects, including those that a few years ago would have been considered taboo or simple pornography. The cost of the virtue signaling was attempting to destroy every long-held tradition and social more, as well as obliterating every boundary of propriety and good taste. It was a race to the bottom.
One can certainly question what audience Netflix was targeting.
If you add up the total number of people who claim to be gay, bisexual, gender fluid, transsexual or "other" and it is something less than 5% of the total population of the US, so to whom are the woke marketing their product? 16.5 million sure doesn’t seem much of a sustainable market for a company that pulled down $30 billion in 2021.
So, they must be chasing after those who are not necessarily a member of the 5%, but those who can afford to profess they believe nonsensical things - like a man can be pregnant, or he can be a woman if he just wishes upon a star and believes hard enough.
At least up until now, there was no real downside to their actions. Now that there are, most of the "support" for the progressive agenda appears merely performative. It is by and from people desperate to belong, performing what amounts to their gang initiations…proving they “belong”.
How do I know?
Because displaying such beliefs has no intrinsic value unless you want to join the club. Outside the club, they are worthless.
Now Netflix is (as are other companies) trying to go unwoke in a hurry. This process has nothing to do with morals, largely because they have proven to have none, this is about survival. Real, material losses are being imparted to these clowns.
Luxury beliefs have no place when budgets are tight - losing 2 million subscribers has way to tighten the purse strings, increase pressure and focus the mind. Paying for content that signals you are a “woke” company but nobody watches is out. Making $300 million deals with a former president and his wife are off the table. When the gruel gets thin, buying an expensive Wedgewood bowl to put it in only makes for a nice-looking last meal.
One aspect of his theory I didn’t consider was how the externalities of an economy could have impacts on the nouveau riche and people who pretend to be. I never considered the impact of a downturn in the economy, brought on by people who thought their actions would put them in a stronger position.
All of this has started within the last couple of months with the strong public pushback on the progressive agenda. Given that they have been at this for 50 or so years, that it is falling apart so quickly lets us know how weak they really are.
As our economy weakens, there are going to be even fewer people who will continue to pay 15 bucks a month to have things in which they don't believe rammed down their throats (if you will pardon the unfortunate turn of phrase).
If you are struggling to pay for gas and food, you can’t buy things because there are no things and what savings you have are being eroded every day, transgenderism and CRT aren’t really going to be at the top of your list of immediate concerns.
I understand we on the right want to think that Ron DeSantis’ battle with Disney, the SCOTUS possibly overturning Roe and parents taking over school boards are kicking wokeism in the gonads, but these seem a bit too localized to have caused the broad retreat we are beginning to see.
All those things are right and good, but it might be that the economy is playing a significant role.