Woke Me When It’s Over
In the humorless world of Woke, the satire is never funny and the statute of limitations never expires, even when it comes to hamantaschen.
By Bret Stephens
In 2015, Bon Appétit ran an article by the food writer Dawn Perry about hamantaschen, the triangular cookies that are a tradition during the Jewish festival of Purim*. It was headlined — brace yourself for outrage — “How to Make Actually Good Hamantaschen.”
Six years later, a woman named Abigail Koffler found the article while researching hamantaschen fillings. She was not amused.
Perry, Koffler wrote on Twitter, isn’t Jewish. Perry’s husband, Koffler added, had been forced out of his job at Condé Nast last year based on accusations of racial bias. Above all, Koffler objected, “Traditional foods do not automatically need to be updated, especially by someone who does not come from that tradition.”
Most Jews would probably be grateful for an “actually good” hamantasch. Yet within hours of Koffler’s tweets, Bon Appétit responded with an editor’s note atop the article, now renamed “5 Steps to Really Good Hamantaschen.” It’s a note that defies summary, parody and belief.
“The original version of this article included language that was insensitive toward Jewish food traditions and does not align with our brand’s standards,” the editor wrote. “As part of our Archive Repair Project, we have edited the headline, dek, and content to better convey the history of Purim and the goals of this particular recipe. We apologize for the previous version’s flippant tone and stereotypical characterizations of Jewish culture.”
Behold in this little story, dear reader, the apotheosis of Woke.
No transgression of sensitivities is so trivial that it will not invite a moralizing rebuke on social media.
No cultural tradition is so innocuous that it needn’t be protected from the slightest criticism, at least if the critic has the wrong ethnic pedigree.
No writer is so innocent that she should be spared from having her spouse’s alleged failings trotted out to suggest discrimination-by-association.
And no charge of cultural insensitivity is so far-fetched that it won’t force a magazine into self-abasing self-expurgation. What Bon Appétit blithely calls its “Archive Repair Project” is, according to The Associated Press, an effort to scour “55 years’ worth of recipes from a variety of Condé Nast magazines in search of objectionable titles, ingredient lists and stories told through a white American lens.”
George Orwell warned in “1984” of a world in which “the past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.” At the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith was obliged to rewrite what had been said about sweets — chocolate, not cookies — to hide the fact of ever-dwindling rations.
What Bon Appétit — which saw its editor depart last year after a 16-year-old Halloween photo of him trying to look like a Puerto Rican stereotype resurfaced on the internet — is doing with its recipe archive may seem like a farce. But it’s a telling one. If a major media company like Condé Nast can choose to erase and rewrite its food archives for the sake of current Woke sensibilities, why stop there?
In the summer of 2008, The New Yorker ran cover art of Barack and Michelle Obama giving each other a fist bump in the Oval Office. He was dressed in Middle Eastern garb. She had a machine gun slung over her shoulder and wore her hair in a big Afro. A portrait of Osama bin Laden hung over the mantel, and an American flag was burning in the fire. Even by the comparatively liberal standards of 2008, the cover was considered egregious.
At the time, The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, defended the art by saying that it was satirical. But in the humorless world of Woke, the satire is never funny, the statute of limitations never expires, Remnick’s intentions are irrelevant and his judgments inherently biased. If Condé Nast is serious about “repairing” its archives for the sake of rectifying past sins, there’s no good reason not to erase that cover, too.
What comes next? In January, Jason Kilborn, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was placed on indefinite administrative leave, barred from campus and kicked off his committee assignments after students protested that he had included “n____” and “b_____” as part of his semester exam on civil procedure.
No, he didn’t use the slurs themselves. He just wrote the first letter followed by a line. It still didn’t spare him.
“The visual of the N-word on Professor Kilborn’s exam was mental terrorism,” claimed a petition from the Black Law Students Association.
Whatever happens to Kilborn, every professor in America has now been put on notice: In the game of Woke, the goal posts can be moved at any moment, the penalties will apply retroactively and claims of fairness will always lose out to the perpetual right to claim offense.
A friend of mine, a lifelong liberal whose patience is running thin with the new ethos of moral bullying, likes to joke, “Woke me when it’s over.” To which I say: Get comfortable.
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Bret L. Stephens an Opinion columnist with The NY Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.
*Purim in 2021 is Feb 25 - 26 when article was published