I don't know who coined the phrase "virtue signaling", but this column is here to salute the individual who came up with it. Not, of course, because it is, in and of itself, so wonderful a phrase, but because "the right" needs a phrase or two of our own to use when the left, as they are wont to do, get just a teeny bit, you know, pompous, overbearing, self-righteous, know-it-all, that sort of thing.
You have probably heard the term, but as conservatives are not too fond of actually using pet phrases to make our points -- we try to be more creative than that -- you may not have realized that it is being gradually brought into the official lexicon in a concerted fashion. You may not even quite get what it refers to.
So I will point you back to this column I did not long ago as a decent example of the practice. In the left's abysmal attempt to make victims out of all of us, except for white males (victims, after all, need a villain), so that they can make the case that we all need lots and lots of government, they have to send messages.
First, you have to explain to the victims why they are victims. Your lack of success is not because of lack of talent or ability or ambition or effort. No, it is because of your race, or your religion, or your immigration status or lack thereof, or your gender (or lack thereof).
Then, especially if you are a white male, or a famous person reliant on getting people going to your movies or buying your recordings, or attending the games of the team you own, you have to show that it is the other guy who is the racist, homophobe, xenophobe, sexist, misogynist -- surely not you. And you have to show that LOUDLY.
So you "virtue-signal." You take on some ostensibly self-sacrificial act to make sure that everyone knows that you just hate bigots, and you just love illegal immigrants, or Muslims, or black people, or LGBTQVFR people, or essayists. OK, no one virtue-signals their love of essayists, but if you want to be the first, there is a Comments section below.
But I digress.
In a column a long time ago, before I had even heard the term, I brought up what happened when Ben Affleck, the actor, discovered that a long-dead ancestor had actually -- gasp! -- owned slaves. This all came up at a TV look-up-your-ancestors show. Affleck promptly virtue-signaled by deciding that he, who had never owned an actual slave, would do acute penance for the sins of his 200-year-back ancestor.
In the column I linked to, the owners of the Boston Red Sox, a team of 40% Latinos and black players, but owned by older white men, decided to be embarrassed by the name of the street on the first-base side of Fenway Park. The street is Yawkey Way, named after the long-time owner of the team. Yawkey was a devoted philanthropist, but he was quite late to integrate his team (the last in the majors to do so, in the mid-1950s), and therefore has been branded a racist, applying 2018 morality to 1955.
So the owners -- John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner (who brought us The Cosby Show, by the way) -- decided that they just had to show us how non-racist they were by petitioning the City of Boston to change the name of Yawkey Way back to its previous name -- Jersey Street. I know what you are thinking. Don't go there.
That was virtue signaling in its full flower. Now we all know how offended the Red Sox owners were at the embarrassing legacy of Tom Yawkey. They have signaled to us that they are not racists at all, but virtuous human beings, embarrassed at the history of the team they own, and for being white males, and all that. They have virtue-signaled. It is OK to go to ballgames now. Whew.
I like the term. I don't like the actual signaling, of course. If you are afraid of what your customers think, and are afraid they may not attend your games, or buy your recordings or go to your movies, then take the Dolly Parton approach and just concentrate on your music (or your baseball team, or your acting), and shut up about things that don't concern your business.
Of course, it's 2018, and people who don't like President Trump just have to show it, lest people think they might ... well, those people don't actually think, so actors and performers and sports-team owners shouldn't be worried about what they think.
But they will continue to virtue-signal, and we will continue to call them out on it. Now we have a term that we can use, and it's great. "Virtue signaling" sounds as pompous as the people practicing it are acting, so it is the perfect term. It also calls out its practitioners for hypocrisy, since we know that John Henry and Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino really couldn't care less about the legacy of Tom Yawkey; they just want to act like they do, so no one will shy away from buying tickets.
Because, of course, Greater Boston is just chock full of people who refused to go to Red Sox games because one corner street was called Yawkey Way. Yeah, sure.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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