I have no intention of watching Amazon’s Rings of Power. This refusal is not out of any principled stand, but simply because it looks tremendously boring. What interest is there in an insipidly woke Lord of the Rings prequel starring warrior Galadriel going on a tedious feminist journey that changes nothing about the outcome? And that’s on top of the fact that the project only got off the ground over Christopher Tolkien’s literal dead body. It’s too uninteresting to even hate watch assuming I actually had time for that sort of thing.
That said, the meta-conversation does hold some interest for me–and I don’t just mean listening to the Critical Drinker trash it at some point. What caught my interest was Amazon’s defenders using the curious tactic of claiming that “woke” doesn’t mean anything at all. Of course, they say this with the same level of good faith as those who claim “White” is a meaningless category but simultaneously know exactly who should pay reparations. In both cases, they know what the word means; they just hope that you will be too scared to admit it.
But clarity and boldness are both in short supply these days, so it’s good exercise to practice in minor battles like this. So let’s define “woke” and see how it applies to the Lord of the Rings franchise and media in general. At it’s most basic level, woke means making the false values of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity (let’s just abbreviate it as “DIE”) paramount in both the production and end product. The more woke something is, the more this unholy trinity trumps any other concern.
Diverse casting is one of the most obvious indicators that a production is woke. Now obviously, a cast must have some diversity–otherwise you end up with one of those movies where Eddie Murphy plays every role. But there’s a difference between diversity which serves the film and a film which serves diversity. When DIE is paramount, the cast must be diverse above any other concern. Does an actor faithfully represent an established character? Does he faithfully represent the lore? Is he consistent with the worldbuilding? Does he reflect the historical setting you’ve chosen? When a production is woke, none of those questions are allowed to be more important than DIE.
That’s why you have black elves in Rings of Power in contradiction to Tolkien’s well-articulated world. That’s why Wheel of Time has a small village isolated for centuries that’s as racially diverse as New York City. That’s why every revived franchise needs a new strong woman to take over as protagonist. Woke showrunners must supplicate to DIE first, and any other value a property might have can only be filled into whatever gaps are left.
But wokeness, of course, doesn’t stay confined to casting and other pre-production choices. The more woke something is, the more the end product is politically didactic–whether implicitly or explicitly. After all, DIE is not a random set of values, but values tied to the various forms of Critical Theory. Oppressed/oppressor mythology must always be served, and DIE is valued specifically because it undermines “oppressors” and elevates the “oppressed.”
So it is in Hollywood’s latest storylines. And the more intersectional (that is, blending multiple forms of Critical Theory together) the “better”. That’s why almost every relationship in CW’s Arrowverse is gay, multi-racial, or both. That’s why, whenever they depict a Christian who is both faithful and pale, you immediately know they’re going to be the bad guy. The only affect a film is allowed to have on a viewer is to instruct them to value DIE some more.
That’s why we have so many Mary Sues these days–because oppressed women must be shown casting off the shackles of male oppressors. So the woman must always be right in the end, and the man must always be wrong. She must be stronger, smarter, and more effective than the man. Luke Skywalker must be torn down so that Rei can be elevated even if it’s in complete contradiction to his character and accomplishments. She-Hulk must be better than regular Hulk at controlling her anger because women get systematically oppressed by cat-calling. This despite Bruce’s life being completely destroyed by his transformation and him going so far as eating a bullet to try and make it stop. It doesn’t have to make any sense because coherence is deemed a lesser value than DIE.
That, in a nutshell, is what we mean when we call a new movie or TV show woke: It is made in service to DIE.
That is why, contrary to another popular claim, nobody thought it was woke when Eowyn killed the Witch King in Peter Jackson’s first trilogy. That scene was in the books as well; and Tolkien didn’t add it for the sake of DIE in the first place. It was also depicted faithfully within reason. Yes, people who didn’t read the books might wonder why the Witch King was considered so invincible if stabbing his leg and face was sufficient. After all, they didn’t know Merry’s weapon was enchanted. Yes, the audience missed the part where Eowyn’s mindset that led her into battle was called into question. Even in the extended edition, the Houses of Healing only got a quick montage. Those are fair exclusions because you can’t possibly fit every detail from books like Tolkien’s into a film.
But let’s compare that to another scene in Jackson’s Trilogy–one that was genuinely woke and which did draw complaints at the time. In Fellowship, Aragorn is desperately searching for athelas to treat Frodo’s wound after the fight on Weathertop. Who should show up but Arwen, who immediately puts a sword to his neck so she can tease him about being off his guard. You can tell it’s there for DIE because A) Arwen wasn’t there in the books; B) it’s out-of-character for her in book and films alike; and C) it’s a ridiculously irresponsible thing to do in any situation, especially a life-and-death one. It sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s only there to make sure the audience knows men aren’t allowed to be stronger than women. Aragorn had to be put in his place.
Jackson’s Trilogy wasn’t woke overall, but like pretty much every film made in the late 90’s and 00’s, there were deliberately woke scenes peppered throughout. We hated it then and now. The only changes are the terminology and the degree to which DIE has intruded on pop culture.
Now that the easy job of defining woke is done, the aforementioned boldness must finally be addressed. SJW’s will always follow up that definition with “well, what’s wrong with DIE? Are you one of those -ist/-phobes who think those things are bad?” Responding to that argument is where we must diverge from the growing crop of anti-woke critics like Critical Drinker, Doomcock, or Nerdrotic who merely want the return of good entertainment. That kind of critic will always tell you that DIE is a good thing as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Now, it’s certainly true that DIE makes for bad entertainment because its narrow and boring set of values are, by themselves, incapable of generating real engagement in mentally healthy human beings. But that kind of critic doesn’t really understand what’s at stake.
The real problem is that DIE is actually bad. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (in the contemporary sense) are, at best, very minor values in the grand scheme of things. When they’re removed from their proper place and given the kind of prominence that belongs to ideals like goodness, truth, and beauty, they are more than just tedious; they become fundamentally toxic. But that toxicity is deliberate because the entire point of Critical Theory is to tear down civilization, which they see as systematically aiding oppressors.
Who are the oppressors? It depends on the specific flavor of Critical Theory. In Marxism, it’s the economically successful. In feminism, it’s the men. In critical race theory, it’s the whites. In queer theory, it’s the chaste. And across every single version, it’s always the Christians as well. For everyone who checks multiple boxes here, this is not a matter of mere entertainment. They are deliberately trying to rob us of our history, our culture, our heritage, our heroes, and our sense of identity. In short, they want us weak enough to either be overcome by them or to simply fade away on our own.
But God has made me a Christian. He has made me white and male. He has commanded me to strive for chastity and productive work. How, then, could I disrespect these gifts? How could I not defend them for the sake of my children, my neighbors, and my nation? In light of this reality, calling us -ists and -phobes ought to be entirely insufficient for making us back down from telling the truth: Yes, there is something very wrong with DIE.
DIE needs to die. Insofar as diversity, inclusion, and equity are legitimate at all, competently pursuing greater values will always make these lesser ones fall into their proper places. But elevating them to paramount importance will always be idolatrous–whether in media or elsewhere.