A few months ago, I wrote about a notable victory in the culture wars: a group of science fiction writers had pushed back against the politicization of the Hugo awards, the most prominent literary awards in the sci-fi genre. The “Sad Puppies” campaign and its more radical offshoot, the “Rabid Puppies,” promoted their own slates of candidates for this year’s award nominations and achieved a spectacular success. So it was assumed that, having swept the nominations, the Sad Puppies would stack up a large number of wins in the voting for the final awards.
The response from the cultural left, such as Marxist Philip Sandifer, was to propose a slate of negation: to vote en bloc for the “no award” option rather than let any of the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies nominees win. This has been called the “Puppy Kickers” campaign. And it succeeded. In the final awards ceremony held on Saturday, there were five categories in which the final result was “no award.” For context, there have been a total of five “no award” results in the entire 60-year history of the awards.
In other words, the left would rather have no awards than let them go to the wrong people. This approach has been summed up as “Burn the Hugo to Save It.”
Yet there is something appropriate, almost poetic, in this result. It represents the modus operandi and end goal of the cultural left. Their “counterculture” is not about creating a new culture. It’s about destroying the culture of their opponents.
Take, for example, the decision to remove Alexander Hamilton from the ten dollar bill. He is not being kicked off because we have found someone who is clearly more worthy. He was kicked off in favor a woman to be named later—which, when you think of it, is kind of condescending, as if nobody could actually think of a woman who had actually accomplished anything. But the negative form of the decision is typical of the cultural left. The dictate came down is that it is necessary to put a woman on a piece of paper money, but it doesn’t seem to matter who the man is that they take off—or who the woman is who goes on. It’s about smashing the patriarchy, and who cares what takes its place.
Or consider the Democratic Party’s purge of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson from their annual fundraising dinners (and from the party’s history). It’s not that they have better options to put in their place; I’ve already run down all the problematic possibilities.
And that’s the dead end of the cultural left. Everything is “problematic,” even the cultural left’s own creations. Drag queens are banned from gay pride parades for being insensitive to the “transgendered.” A movie about the gay rights movement is attacked for failing to give enough credit to “people of color, hustlers, lesbians, drag queens, and transgender people.”
This is what happens when art serves a political master, particularly such a fickle master.
I recently argued that if we’re going to have a “culture war,” it should be more of a culture competition: you put out your best, most appealing visions of your ideal, we’ll put out ours, and we’ll see who wins more converts. That, in essence, is the challenge the Sad Puppies posed to the cultural left, and now we see how they responded. The only way they can win a cultural competition is by suppressing the alternatives.
Or to be more accurate, the only way they can win is to make everyone else lose. It’s the culture of “no award.”
Follow Robert on Twitter.