The rise of sincerity as a progressive answer to the alt-right

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Wholesome circa 1998 was the ’50s. Wholesome was father knows best. Wholesome was a mother vacuuming in pearls and high heels.

And for most of the ’90s and the ’00s, “wholesome” and “pure” were nearly synonymous with sexual chastity, with wholesome family values and evangelical Christian purity. Girls would put on purity rings at purity balls, which were a “wholesome event” for fathers “bringing up daughters to live in purity and in truth.” Daughters would pledge to remain virgins until marriage, and fathers would pledge to protect their daughters’ purity. Wholesomeness back then was en vogue for evangelicals, but in mainstream culture, it was Moral Majority dull and dated. The Waltons was wholesome. The OC was not.

By the late ’00s, the left was pushing back vigorously against the evangelical right’s love of all that was pure and wholesome. In 2009, Jessica Valenti published The Purity Myth, arguing that American culture’s obsession with virginity was harming girls. Jezebel created a “purity” category that chronicled the purity ring movement’s worst offenses (sample entry: “The Purity Bear Will Cockblock You Until You’re Married”); those stories go back to 2008.

“Pure” and “wholesome” felt stale, and the words were used to neg. Pure as in puritanical. Wholesome as in bland. Nothing a teenager would want to self-identify as.

….The second half of wholesomeness’s journey came next, after those new connotations had been well established. The idea of wholesomeness as friendliness and warmth and support seems to have become not just salable but fashionable shortly after another movement began to gain momentum online. And that new movement was assuredly not friendly, warm, or supportive at all.

In the fall of 2014 — several months after Honey Maid’s wholesome commercial — the video game world erupted into a civil war of sorts called Gamergate, one that featured a massive group of gamers strategically organizing to target and harass those who they believed were trying to push a social justice angle onto video games. In a systematic campaign plotted on message boards, they sent out rape and death threats, and at least one of their targets went into hiding.

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