Leonard, the hero of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, cannot form new memories. This poses something of a problem when you’re trying to find the guy who killed your wife. Her brutal murder is the last thing Leonard remembers, and he has been hunting for the perpetrator ever since. To survive in the present, he has a stack of Polaroids that he uses to identify friends and a carpeting of tattoos on his body, including the words JOHN G RAPED AND MURDERED MY WIFE draped across his collarbones. This is written backwards, so that he can read it every time he looks in the mirror. It is his purpose. It tells him who he is.

Because a human epidermis only has so much square footage, Leonard has to be ruthless about retaining only the information that serves his purpose, resigning the rest to the abyss. But the twist of Memento, when it comes, reveals more than the limits of a life defined by a quest for vengeance that will be forgotten as soon as it is achieved; it reminds us that memory can be treacherous, that history is narrative, and that sometimes, in the single-minded pursuit of justice, we do things we’d rather forget.

I was reminded of the film while reading Morning After the Revolution, the new book by journalist Nellie Bowles. Described as “a moment of collective psychosis preserved in amber”, it is a look back at the social justice movement which had been simmering under the surface of American society since roughly 2014, then exploded into a reckoning four years ago tomorrow, when George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. The book is, among other things, a historical record — one that the movement in question would definitely not choose to permanently inscribe on its skin. The fact that Bowles used to be a New York Times writer and card-carrying member of the woke crowd herself makes her account at once more credible to the reader and less convenient to its subjects.

If the summer of 2020 was a party that eventually devolved into a chaotic rager, Morning After the Revolution is the album of unflattering photos taken by a guest who left before the police showed up. Look: there’s the moment from the pandemic where Donald Trump said he wanted schools to reopen, so we shut them down until 2023. There’s the time a male spa-goer displayed an erect penis in front of a 14-year-old girl, and media commentators hurried to dismiss the entire thing as a Right-wing hoax. There’s the one where we started recreationally destroying the lives of random white women who looked a little too much like manager-callers; there’s the $3,000 anti-racist dinner party and the “Defund the Police” banner!

The revolutionaries are in this picture, and they don’t like it. Even as early as 2022, there were signs that people were happy to forget the movement once the marching-shouting-posting action was over; when reporters discovered that the $90 million raised by Black Lives Matter had been squandered on, among other things, a party house in Los Angeles, the response was a studied incuriosity. But even then, it’s hard to exaggerate how much this attempt to defund, dismantle and drastically remake every institution in service of social justice has been… well, not-that. Four years after his death became the spark that lit the flame of revolution, George Floyd’s lingering impact can mainly be seen in the hastily-installed DEI programmes in corporate offices nationwide, where hourly wage workers sit through interminable sensitivity trainings — and where the main beneficiaries are 28-year-old college-educated white women from HR, who now receive six-figure salaries to lecture their coworkers on the importance of daily pronoun exchanges and the scourge of microaggressions.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the vacant gas station parking lot that was the site of Floyd’s death, and which used to be flooded with so many protestors that it had to be closed to traffic, is now deserted save for the occasional social justice tourist. They come to photograph the murals, the graffiti, the tattered plastic flowers around the perimeter of a former bus shelter, where a high-contrast portrait of Floyd’s now-familiar face has been painted on a piece of plastic sheeting — but there’s little to keep them there. The city has promised a plan to redevelop the memorial site, although it’s more like a plan to have a plan; the neighbourhood remains blighted by crime and vandalism, partially owing to lack of police presence. The third precinct police station in the neighbourhood remains permanently closed after being burned by rioters in 2020.

As for the anniversary of Floyd’s death, it has quickly faded from a national event to an afterthought; this year, the George Floyd Global Memorial will be hosting a “Self-Care Fair”, including “free wellness services including bodywork, meditation, arts and crafts”. The arc of the social justice universe is long, but it bends toward free massages and macaroni art.

“As for the anniversary of Floyd’s death, it has quickly faded from a national event to an afterthought.”

Nobody who proudly and vocally fancied himself on the right side of history back in 2020 wants to admit that this combination of corporate bloat and urban blight is the primary legacy of that moment — or indeed, that this was entirely predictable. What did we expect from a movement in which “doing the work” became synonymous with guilty liberal white women paying thousands of dollars to engage in racial struggle sessions? In which the lives of ordinary black people were overlooked in favour of more photogenic diversity efforts centered on politics, corporate boardrooms, and prestige industries like the arts, the media, and Hollywood? In which the mark of an enlightened ally was to cheer for policies, like defunding the police, which were not just unpopular with marginalised communities but often actively harmed them?

In the cold light of day (and with black men now dying from homicide at rates not seen since the Sixties), of course the people who took to the streets en masse in 2020 would rather not think about how much momentum they squandered. They would, like Leonard in Memento, prefer to remember the story’s origins: a grotesque injustice and surge of revolutionary zeal. As for what happened next, ah, well, who knows? Who could have known? Better to push it under the rug; there is, after all, a new election to worry about. 

But, as Bowles pointed out in a recent interview, this refusal to remember doesn’t change what was: “It happened. I was there. People did argue to abolish the police, that toddlers know their true gender and that 15 years old is fine to begin cross-sex hormones, that accelerated math is racist.”

Bowles’s insistence on pursuing the truth — on being curious about what is true, and what is going on — is an animating feature of Morning After the Revolution, much as it was the animating feature of her journalism at the New York Times. This, as she writes, was a boon to her career until it wasn’t, as the questions she was asking became inconvenient to the increasingly partisan goals of the paper’s leadership. Among the dishier parts of the book is the revelation that Bowles’s proposed reporting trip to the anarchist “autonomous zone” that sprang up in Seattle, with the mayor’s blessing, was met with raised eyebrows; why on earth, an editor asked, did she want to go there?

“Antifa was nonsense, fake, a nothing-burger, a non-story, not interesting and not real, he said. The reason he doesn’t go to Seattle and cover things like this is because he knows right now is time for white people to sit certain things out. Some things that are not important things shouldn’t be covered. The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) and whatever was going on there wasn’t important. Antifa wasn’t important. Why do you care? No but seriously why do you care?”

Of course, Bowles would say this, particularly when stories like the one about a New York Times editor calling her then-girlfriend Bari Weiss “a fucking Nazi” were guaranteed to go wildly viral on social media, confirmation of every sordid rumour about how mainstream media had become nothing more than a middle-school lunch room ruled by adult mean girls. Perhaps it should all be taken with a grain of salt.

And yet, for people who did go a little mad in 2020, and particularly those who engaged in some of the more vicious forms of social policing while in the thick of revolutionary fervour, it’s not hard to imagine that Bowles’s account of the moment is an unwelcome, embarrassing reminder, and the critical response to her book from most mainstream media outlets has a definite air of hit dogs hollering. The New York Times declared it “an attack on progressive activism”; the Washington Post called it “a deeply anti-democratic document”; a New Yorker headline scoffed at Bowles’s “failed provocations”. 

This, too, made me think of a moment in Memento, in which another character tries to tell Leonard things about his life; things that would contradict the narrative he has indelibly inked on his body. In an impulsive act, Leonard takes a photograph of this man and scrawls an aide-memoire on the back. One gets the sense of this same message, the same desperate desire to forget, lurking unspoken beneath much of the contemptuous snarling over Morning After the Revolution.


view 5 comments


Some of the posts we share are controversial and we do not necessarily agree with them in the whole extend. Sometimes we agree with the content or part of it but we do not agree with the narration or language. Nevertheless we find them somehow interesting, valuable and/or informative or we share them, because we strongly believe in freedom of speech, free press and journalism. We strongly encourage you to have a critical approach to all the content, do your own research and analysis to build your own opinion.

We would be glad to have your feedback.

Buy Me A Coffee

Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: https://unherd.com/