Abort, retry, ignore, fail?

In an incisive newsletter edition about cancel culture, Charlie Jane Anders says a thing that had it come just a day or two earlier would have made it into the post with which I restarted this blog, about living in an age of hypervigilance.

It turns out that living through a plague, a barbaric war, a slow slide into climate apocalypse and an ongoing attempt to subvert our democracy is fucking stressful. Who knew? People are on edge, and it’s harder and harder to believe that we can do anything to fix these messes before it’s too late. Traumatized, anxious people don’t always handle provocation well. Shocking, I know.

I don’t especially want to rehash any arguments about counter culture itself, and I don’t especially have any quibble with what Anders writes about it. I’m distracted, though, by that word “provocation”.

Once upon a time, on an earlier blog (I can’t even remember which incarnation or which domain) I complained about a comic book writer who wanted to be able to write a provocative story but not have to deal with readers being provoked by it. This is a frequent mindset of self-described provocateurs who are “just telling stories” or “just telling jokes” or whatever “just” they think serves as their particular insulation.

(The particular bugbear at issue for me in that instance was, and is, a long-standing one: if you’re going to tell serialized stories, you have to accept serialized reaction.)

I’ve started to wonder if, in fact, many of these provocateurs don’t actually understand that provocation literally comes from the word provoke. Maybe it’s that one has a “c” and one a “k” that confuses them. Do they somehow just not know what the word means?

Anders, to get back to the topic, dislikes the passive phrasing common to cancel culture in which someone “has been canceled”, suggesting instead saying that someone has disgraced themselves, if only because “disgrace implies the possibility of grace”.

I’m not sure why, but the entire thing randomly made me think of an old MS-DOS drive error.

General failure reading Disgraced Person.
Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

Thanks to this, I’ve started re-reading the classic 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? by William Strauss and Neil Howe (which never has been released as an ebook), available as a scan on the Internet Archive. Memory is not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure I was fairly deeply enamored of this book. I do know for a fact that I wrote to Strauss and Howe about it, although I’ve no idea what I said.

It’s worth noting here that in some ways 13th Gen is a provocation, and one they anticipate: it’s answered by the book’s third pseudonymous author, Ian Williams, who as the provoked online persona and Gen-Xer known only as “crasher” interjects throughout the book.

Lest you think that surely I can’t manage to tie all this together: America’s right-wing media somehow just last year implored Gen-X to save the world from cancel culture, a suggestion which landed on members of my generation—a generation which in many ways itself was canceled—just about how you’d expect.