I recently published a piece with White Rose Magazine on what I call “trash culture” entitled, “TRASHED: GARBAGE, BARBARISM + SPECTACLE IN AMERICAN CULTURE.”

It is a topic that deeply concerns me and should concern all of you. I enjoyed writing it and articulating what worries me about where America is going based on the proliferation of “trashing” and barbarism going down (24/7) in American culture.

Here is an excerpt:

Today, we are faced with—in ways Adorno could never imagine—accepting or rejecting the ideology of trash culture. When our culture is obsessed with trash and trashing, barbarism is not far away. By saying no to it, we look to stop barbarism and the destruction of all that is good in America.  

Saying no is an expression of what Susan Sontag would call the moral sensibility, and as Freud noted, saying no is the beginning of freedom. However, saying no doesn’t mean we are trashing someone or something. It is more a way of preserving that which is dignified in humanity. It is an ethical act of moral sensibility, which is now called for because culture is moving in the direction of sensibility and has short-circuited Adorno’s double band. To preserve human dignity, we need to say no to trash culture and no to the spectacle. 

Trashing + the Spectacle

Culture—to use a verb—trashes things constantly, and the trash it produces takes on meaning and instantly becomes beautiful, exciting, and entertaining.   

People love rants these days because of what they do. The bigger the rant and the scene of disruption, the more attractive it is; especially if the rant is obscene and trashy. On the other hand, one doesn’t even need to rant in order to trash culture.  One can just appear in a photo on Instagram and trash it.  

Trashing is a gesture, an ideological signal (if you will) to the society of the spectacle. But the unseen effect (as with any ingestion of garbage) on the users, keeps them from reflecting on what has been trashed and why.  For it to be effective, trashing calls for one’s full attention on the spectacle.

From streaming services to social media, we can see the various ways popular entertainment and this or that influencer trashes ethics, history, and memory. But here is the blind spot: the more they trash these things, the more barbaric we all become.  

Since culture misses this tragic blind spot, culture feigns reflection and acts as if it is moral.  

To be sure, for culture, reflection is more aesthetic and theatrical than actual.   

So when influencers go on social media feigning reflection and deep insight, they make people feel as if they are in on some kind of “truth” or “secret.” As if they are partaking in something that will make them better; people take in trash ideas as if they are participating in something larger than life.  

But the bad news is that this is all an illusion.  It’s an empty spectacle that got you to look and pay attention. Trash culture, as an ideology, seems to be working.

Sadly, this leads to barbarism.   

If the “secret” we are partaking in is based on the act of dissolving the moral fabric of our society and our sense of trust in each other, we will become more and more polarized and barbaric.    

American culture, in many ways, is moving closer to barbarism because culture makes us think that we are thinking or doing something good or meaningful, when all we are doing is destroying something for the sake of destroying it, or for the sake of thinking that in doing so we are truly “woke.”

That delusion—based on an act of violence—can only lead to hyper-partisanship and, ultimately, to increased violence. This ideology divides the world between the people who trash and the people who are trashed.  

When these are your only two options, what becomes of America?

American culture, in many ways, is moving closer to barbarism because culture makes us think that we are thinking or doing something good or meaningful, when all we are doing is destroying something for the sake of destroying it, or for the sake of thinking that in doing so we are truly “woke.”

Sadly, trashing, an act of violence—as we might see on a reality tv show or on the streets—is entertaining and even enjoyable to most people who love consuming it. Just go to TikTok or Instagram Reels to see what is most popular or trending. As the data will show, millions of people enjoy trash and the violent act and spectacle of trashing things.

As the master of Pop Culture, Andy Warhol notes in the Philosophy of Andy Warhol, “some people, even intelligent people, say violence is beautiful.” 

If violence is beautiful, people will want more of it. Trashing is a violent art form of sorts that sews the seeds of division and divisiveness and calls for more of the same.

Kanye’s cultural barbarism

Kanye West has great expertise in creating American culture through “creative destruction.” He has made billions of dollars on the spectacle. His most streamed songs—49 million streams a month on average—demonstrate the aesthetic of trashing.   

Kanye is popular with my children’s age group. While we have taught them about anti-Semitism and talk about it often enough in our house, our children didn’t seem to take it as seriously as we did. But what Kanye did changed all that.   

It was the first time that my children have talked to me and my wife about how they feel about anti-Semitism and how Kanye used it to cast hate and suspicion on us. How could Kanye say anti-Semitic things about me, my family, friends, and people, they wondered?  

We were all astonished. How can this happen again, and in North America?  

Why was Kanye trashing the Jews?

It is wild to think that even if 5 percent of his 50 million fans would stand with him until the end, that would be over one million people who harbor anti-Semitism. They would hear the “truth” he was spitting (even before he said he “liked” Hitler on the Alex Jones Show).    

Kanye told the world in several different media appearances that “the Jews” had some kind of nefarious drive—built into them at birth, in their genes—to swindle people and control the “black voice.” Kanye—in effect—trashed the Jewish people.  

Who wants to hear this garbage? Who wants to be trashed? Trashing a Jew is anti-Semitism. It is exactly what Hilter and the Nazis did in Germany.  

Trashing Jews has demonstrable historical consequences.   

Toxic garbage can get telegraphed to alienated and dangerous people who travel to places like the synagogue in Pittsburgh, leaving 11 dead, or the “targeted attack” in Jersey City of a Jewish grocery and children’s school, killing five. Toxic garbage like Kanye’s rant leads to the beating up of Jews in the streets of Brooklyn and Los Angeles.  

To be sure, the highest hate crimes in NYC are against Jews, not gays, Muslims, etc. There are consequences to publicly trashing Jews. If Kanye cared about history—as Adorno wishes we all did, after Auschwitz—he would be more reflective and ethical; he wouldn’t trash Jews.  

But Kanye, as a major arbiter of culture, wants to trash Jews in order to get attention to his empty spectacle, his claim to have the “truth” and to have revealed the “secret” of the Jews.

However, there is no secret. It is actually barbarism since it doesn’t see Jews as equals, so much as overlords; it contradicts democracy and calls for vengeance. 

Anti-Semitism is the detritus of old Europe, which trashed democracy and notions of equality under the law, made Judaism into its foil, and led, eventually (after countless exiles from countries and cities all over Europe), to the Holocaust.   

But it didn’t die with the Holocaust. When major influencers like Kanye trash Jews and give this hateful garbage an after-life, it lives on…in America.

As we saw with Kyrie Irving and Dave Chappelle, post-Kanye, anti-Semitic trash is becoming normalized. Trashing Jews has value. 

Kanye created this double bind in order to gain power.  

Any resistance to his anti-Semitism was seen—according to his anti-Semitic framing—as a testimony to the “fact” of Jewish power and its will to suppress “the truth,” the secret that Jews, apparently, want hidden: that Jews have all the power, and want to have revenge on the “goyim.” Jews want to enslave and have power over them.  

This paranoid description of what Jews are and what they think about suggests that me, my wife, and children, are dedicated to doing everything we can to control “them.”  

Each morning that’s what I apparently pray for. To be sure, this is the most ridiculous and trashy read on Jewish life imaginable. It seems lifted from a cheap novel. But that’s the point.  It’s a paranoid fantasy.   

All eyes were on Kanye before, during, and after he was deplatformed and became more extreme with his anti-Semitic pronouncements, ultimately saying, on the Alex Jones Show that “I really like Hitler.”

This stupidity, based on trashing Jews, is exactly where Hitler went after he instituted the Nuremberg Laws, stripping rights from anyone who has Jewish blood. Trashing Jews, today, may lead us down the same kind of path, the path of barbarism.

Dave Chappelle’s racism

In the wake of the anti-Semitism coming from Kanye, the Kyrie Irving tweet about From Hebrews to Negroes, a movie that is demonstrably anti-Semitic, and after a march in NYC to the Barclays Center of more than a thousand “Black Hebrew Israelites” (calling themselves “Kyrie’s Army”) saying, as they marched through the streets of Brooklyn, that they are the “real Jews,” we shockingly heard Dave Chappelle tell an SNL audience that Jews have to stop picking on blacks.

Chappelle also said that the Holocaust is behind us. I paused and thought to myself (because I thought he was a reflective and intelligent comedian) that he simply doesn’t understand the epochal implications of the Holocaust, not just for Jews but for the world.  

href=””>Dave Chappelle Roasts Kanye West, Jews & Makes Woke Culture Cry during SNL Monologue 2022

Moreover, Chappelle intentionally turned Kanye’s anti-Semitism and Kyrie’s tweet into something arbitrary and went so far as to equate anti-Semitism with free speech, that “the Jews” (the two words one can’t say or will be punished) won’t allow.   

Strangely enough, this is like saying racism is free speech and that Dave Chappelle and all black people should approve of it.  But that is something he would never say.  These double standards are troubling. They are the result of trashing Jews. It leads to more of the same action.  

Chappelle also turned a vulnerable moment for the American Jew—in which they had to defend themselves against rising anti-Semitism prompted by major influencers—into a racist attack.  False and libelous, but it also denotes a dangerous misunderstanding and should give us pause to understand how art and entertainment, through indifference to anti-Semitism and its implications (something that can be learned from the Holocaust Chappelle downplays in this act) can become vehicles for hate.  

Sadly, this kind of trash talk—by a major influencer in American culture—demonstrates what worried Theodor Adorno about culture after Auschwitz.  

Adorno feared that “post-Auschwitz culture” would not allow itself to be challenged by the enormity of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. That since culture was “garbage,” it cannot refine itself and become reflective. Rather, as Adorno says, this trash—what I call the act of trashing—became “ideology.”   

To be sure, the cultural trash he worried about has to do with culture’s indifference to morality (or its fake espousal of it) in its celebration of entertainment and culture. This is an indifference to not just anti-Semitism but to all forms of excess and immorality. As I noted above, trash culture is concerned with aesthetics not ethics.   

Trashing the Jews, saying “I like Hitler,” or suggesting that Jews suppress free speech for fear of having their nefarious secret revealed, is theatrics. What anti-Semitism hates most—which happens, in America, to be the legacy of the Jewish people to modernity—is what Susan Sontag calls the “moral sensibility.”

On Sontag’s distinction between moral sensibility + camp sensibility 

But beauty and riches couldn’t have anything to do with how good you are, because think of all the beauties who get cancer.  And a lot of murderers are good looking, so that settles it.

Some people, even intelligent people, say that violence can be beautiful.  I can’t understand that, because beautiful is some moments, and for me those moments are never violent.

A new idea.

A new look.

A new sex.

A new pair of underwear.

Andy WarholThe Philosophy of Andy Warhol

In her famous essay, “Notes on Camp,” Susan Sontag equated modernity with a tension between the Jewish “moral sensibility” and the “camp sensibility.” As she notes, the camp sensibility is indifferent to morality and is dedicated to play, irony, and aesthetics. It has no moral limit. It defies them in the name of artistic and cultural freedom. 

“The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, in deed, a good taste in bad taste…. Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism.” (Susan Sontag Reader)

In terms of the tension, Sontag writes: “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony…. Jewish liberalism is a gesture of self-legitimization. So is Camp taste, which definitely has something propagandistic about it. Needless to say, the propaganda operates in the opposite direction. The Jews pinned their hopes on integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense. Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense. Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness.” 

While Sontag wrote this in the late 1960s, one can see that it has much relevance now, in 2023.  To be sure, the camp sensibility is ascendent over the moral sensibility and dominates much of Hollywood, TV, social media, and the Internet. 

Nearly every major event in Hollywood will include camp to promote woke ideology (as Sontag notes, it is propagandistic and self-legitimating).   

Strangely enough, today, it seems as if the camp sensibility and the moral sensibility have joined forces. Hollywood wears the veneer of the “moral sensibility” in its obsession with diversity, equity, and inclusion, featuring the transgender darlings of the camp sensibility as its shock troops.  

But that morality play is all theatrics. It is the theater of grievances.

Much of the garbage we see today has a lot to do with this tension, which has been imported into most of our culture. For instance, as we saw with Chapelle, he has no qualms with accusing Jews of trying to silence the black artist (a complaint made by Kanye, in his anti-Semitic tirade) on the one hand; or, on the other hand, coming from the anti-Semitic alt-right, seeing Jews as behind the sexual degradations of Hollywood and American culture.