Day 6

'America loves to lie about itself': Lindy West roasts Trump, South Park and more in The Witches are Coming

In her new book, writer and comedian Lindy West asks pointed questions about who gets to play the victim in the age of Trump and calls for a more compassionate popular culture and a rigourous defence of the truth.

West's new book asks pointed questions about who gets to play the victim in the age of Trump

Lindy West's latest book of essays is titled The Witches Are Coming. (Hachette Books, Jenny Jimenez)

Originally published on Dec. 6, 2019.

At the start of her new book, Lindy West describes a drawing: three women are being burned over a flame as a bunch of men stoke the flames.

But in her new book The Witches Are Coming, West reinterprets that historical illustration.

"There's a popular reframing of the term witch hunt right now, where men who have been accused of a crime or a wrongdoing or an abuse of power have been claiming to be the victims of witch hunts," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

In her interpretation, men who identify as feminists are stoking the flames, "cruelly witch-hunting the innocent men," she said.

Through a series of essays, The Witches Are Coming tackles misogyny in media, the presidency of Donald Trump and responses to cultural movements like #MeToo with biting humour.

West spoke with Bambury about the book. Here is part of that conversation.

This is what you said about Trump and other American men: 

They get to "be the witch hunters and the witches and the witch hunter hunters who hunt down any witches who are [witch] hunting too hard." 

Can you unpack that without my mind coming apart?

It just seems really unfair that, for generations, women have been called witches as a pejorative to discredit us, to make fun of us, to silence us … to destroy us in some cases. 

And I think it's very convenient that suddenly when men are facing some kind of accountability, then suddenly they're the witches being hunted and we're the witch hunters. That doesn't seem fair. It seems like you should have to pick. 

In that framing — the complicated framing that we just sort of unpacked — everybody's wearing the victim hat there. Where does that leave everybody else?

I think it's a really effective rhetorical manoeuvre, not just to profess your innocence, but to push beyond that and claim victimhood when you're being accused of some kind of wrongdoing.

People don't really know how to navigate that because we're so conditioned — especially women are conditioned — to take care of men. And when men are suddenly saying "I'm being victimized," people don't know how to navigate that.

Obviously, we all need to be able to live our lives in a productive way, but I don't think that making up comfortable lies so that we can feel like we deserve what we have is a healthy way to live.- Lindy West, writer

You write that everyone is complicit in this practice because "America loves to lie about itself." What do you mean by that?

The book is in many ways very silly. There's a lot of sort of pop culture and analysis — you know, I'm talking about internet cats, I'm writing about Adam Sandler — and I just started to think about all the different ways that ... Americans love to self-mythologize and to tell ourselves comforting stories about who we are that really paper over some fundamental horrific truths.

The fact that America is built on brutal colonization and genocide; that American wealth and white American stability is built on slavery; that racism in America has not remotely been repaired.

And I just think the fact that any white person in America even allows themselves to feel comfortable for one second is just this massive amount of denial.

Obviously, we all need to be able to live our lives in a productive way, but I don't think that making up comfortable lies so that we can feel like we deserve what we have is a healthy way to live.

You say that the TV show South Park is an example of one of the biggest lies that people tell themselves. What is the lie that South Park is feeding us?

South Park is obsessed with irreverence. ... But I think that irreverence needs to be deployed strategically, tactically.

And I deploy irreverence to tear down, or to sort of puncture ideas that I think do not deserve reverence, whereas South Park has always fetishized irreverence in this way where it's like irreverence for irreverence's sake — anything that anyone holds sacred deserves to be lampooned and satirized. 

And the right and the left are equal when it comes to sacred cows, right?

Exactly. So the far-left is just as bad as the far-right, and everyone's annoying, and if something annoys you, you should destroy it.

I just think the idea that everything's equally bad, everything's equally deserving of mockery, is so dangerous because, of course, that's not true.

But you seem steeped in comedy. It seems like since you were a kid, that you were involved deeply in the sort of American comedy machine. So when did you start to identify that there were some issues with these comedy institutions?

Probably not until I was in my 20s, and you're totally right. The reason that I write about comedy so much is because I love comedy. 

I loved South Park. It's not like I am writing critically about South Park because I hate it.

I think it's really tragic that we've sort of let some of these institutions be so completely defined by a certain white male sensibility that they become inaccessible to everyone else. I can't watch South Park and not feel kind of gross. 

If we're also addicted to selectively screening our reality, how do you push against that?

It's hard, but I think people need to start getting comfortable with discomfort. And the way that you do that is to force conversations in your personal life, seek out diverse perspectives, and don't be afraid of feeling uncomfortable, because if we're going to fix any of the vast mountain of problems that we have, we have to be able to look at the pile.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Lindy West, download our podcast or click Listen above.