||[Feb. 17th, 2017|08:27 pm]
Today was a dark day. Not because of anything that happened to me or mine; in that respect, it was actually a perfectly fine and placid day. No, today was a dark day because today I became persuaded that one of my worst fears has come true: The evils contained in the conservative movement have metastasized and reoriented themselves in a way that has completely possessed people under twenty years old and to a lesser extent younger millennials. Without actually transforming into conservatives, these people have adopted some of the most destructive ideas coming out of conservatism in recent years. What was previously a force dying out by the old age of its victims, has successfully crossed the generational barrier and found a new kind of host.|
If that is true, and I now suspect it is, then we may have reached the high water mark for justice in this country, for a long time to come. At the very least, it means we are doomed to fight these same battles for the rest of our lifetimes.
All the progress we’ve made in my lifetime isn’t illusory, but it might not be part of the inexorable march of progress that I once thought—and I’ll get into the why later (short answer: we have become disconnected from truth and consequence)—but instead a sort of pendular extreme which, ultimately, cannot hold.
The pursuit of social justice, what a noble cause that was. Safe spaces were nice while they lasted, weren’t they? And trigger warnings, those were a useful tool. Many of these ideas are brand new! I didn’t even know about them eight years ago. But they would appear to be unstable, because the tolerant, respectful society upon which they rely…does not exist.
The right wing has succeeded in appropriating and subverting all of that language (see trends), as well as caricaturing the customs and budding institutions bearing those labels, in addition to its victories in vilifying feminism, stigmatizing the shaming of hate speech, and discrediting the traditional media for many Americans (thus depriving people of one of their key recourses to the truth), even as more and more Internet comments threads abound with far-right jargon like “cuck” and “redpilled” and “political correctness.” A few years ago this stuff was on the fringe, the province of hardcore radicals like men’s rights activists, white supremacists, and straight-up Neo-Nazis. But it’s not the fringe anymore, because a new generation of people are coalescing their worldviews, and those views lack the perspective and factual grounding to understand why not to associate with such deplorables.
So, why today? What happened today to set me at such unease? Of all things, it was the damn Pewdiepie scandal. I’d seen the headlines in the news over the past few days, but hadn’t paid any attention to it. I don’t care about Pewdiepie. I’d never watched one of his videos in full. They’re not my style.
But this morning I saw an interesting headline on Google News and clicked through to find an incredibly fascinating feature on Buzzfeed (yeah, I know). This feature, by a Jacob Clifton, despite having a disheveled thesis that doesn’t entirely succeed in the heavy lifting that he wants it to, is framed in such a way that it really shed some light for me on some observations and conclusions that have been percolating in my political mind for quite a while now. In the piece, Clifton draws an association between the Gamergate Internet types and what we’re calling the “alt-right,” on the premise that what they share in common is being redpilled edgelords who see through the supposed lies of politicians, the media, and “far-left political correctness.”
The online alt-right is built on lulz, and on an insulated privilege enjoyed by people without any personal context for or historical understanding of the things their privilege lets them say. Rewriting Felix Kjellberg’s history to make him a monster — pulled along by the gravity of recent high-impact cautionary tales like those of Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer — is investigative laziness that obscures a much more important fact: that “edgelords,” the boys and men who group together online for the explicit proliferation of hate speech and misogyny, will almost inevitably keep pushing the line until they end up in a truly dark place.
It’s just a short step from like-minded victim-heroes linking up to edgelords radicalizing each other, just like men’s rights activists, or creepy pick-up artists: Nobody else gets their embattled perspective, their need for validation, their need for help. In fact, they’re vilified for it. And so they urge one another on, and because all humor is based on seeds of discomfort, and seeds can eventually bloom, the joke hate eventually evolves into real hate.
This is the mechanism by which the ideological diseases of the degenerate, zombified conservative movement have transmitted over to the younger generation. These kids have grown up on YouTube and social media, and trust their chosen authorities on these new media so completely that the world of the traditional media and pre-Internet cultural formations are almost an afterthought. For them, the traditional media serves no purpose whatsoever except to validate things they already believe. We all contribute to this reputation, too—I do it myself, every time I click that “Like” button on a news story—because, whatever our motives may actually be, people who aren’t looking for motives will ascribe the simplest one: anything we post is something that we endorse in some way—be it a viewpoint or factual claims.
With each generation, as people have, become farther removed from the moving pieces that make society work, amid an environment of increasing plenty and increasing personal empowerment (or at least the perception thereof), people have gradually lost their understanding of the consequences of civic negligence. When I was coming of age it was popular for people to dismiss politics as a parlor game that didn’t matter; today, people dismiss not just politics but the whole civil arena, including investigative journalism and the responsibility upon everyone to be informed and engaged.
This isn’t a “Kids these days!” screed. My generation and all the generations above mine have these same problems. But the degree is a problem. The youngest generation has cut itself off from the readiest sources of good information—exactly as the far right has done. In their fixation on their own made-up world of “truth,” their inevitable lack of interest in the real truth has deluded them, and cost them the ability to understand why things like feminism and the shaming of hate speech is important. There’s no personal stake; none of them are going to be carted off to concentration camps. They’re going to be clothed, fed, and logged in, and that’s enough to make them complacent, and apathetic to the abounding woes in our world right now.
The fact that the online backlash to the Pewdiepie scandal has had the same tenor as that of Trump’s supporters’ venomous disparagements against “fake news” and “hit jobs on Trump” is starkly illuminating, and horrifying.
So let me talk about Pewdiepie for a bit. Because it wasn’t that Buzzfeed article that caused my chilling epiphany today. It was a couple of YouTube videos, many hours later: I was checking out YouTube, my day’s labors complete, when I found a thumbnail on the Pewdiepie scandal from a YouTuber who used to make content that I enjoyed: My Little Pony compilation videos. I was puzzled to see him weighing in on something so political, and, if the look of the thumbnail and video title were to be believed, to see that he was coming in on the side of the edgelords. Sure enough, he revealed himself to be a full-on right-wing wanker. I don’t understand how you can be one of the Internet’s leading bronies and end up hating feminism and Hillary Clinton, but there you go. And from there, I saw YouTube recommending another video, this one featuring a bunch of famous YouTubers going
The same thing had happened, in a much more publicly explosive way, just weeks earlier with another YouTuber whose work I used to enjoy: JonTron. He had done an interview with a fascist YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad, one of those chillingly articulate, calm-toned, intellectual-sounding people who also happens to be a complete fucking Nazi. The scariest kind of Nazi, as it so happens: the one who disavows Hitler and fascism so convincingly that you almost don’t notice that he supports all of the same ideological positions that the Nazis once held.
For people who know better, going on Sargon’s show is crossing a red line. You don’t associate with Nazis. You don’t lend them your star power. You don’t validate them with your presence. But JonTron did, and not only that but he had a veritable volcanic eruption. After years of concealing his politics from public view, JonTron went on a right-wing screed, and has been hitting his Twitter account hard with the right-wing memes ever since. For him, going on Sargon’s show was an act of self-liberation.
Mind you, this was only a few weeks ago. When I saw it—and listened to some of the interview, just to give Jon a fair hearing—not only did I lose the respect I had had for him, but I recognized that, from that day on, his primary fanbase would be something very different from what it had formerly been: No longer would his core constituents be generic gamer geeks who love his comedic send-ups of video games and movies. No, from now on his core constituents would be edgelords, for he himself turns out to be one of them.
I thought it would lead to him being shunned by the broader YouTube community, the way he laughed when Sargon trotted out the n-word, the way he bashed the media just as right-wingers do, and the way he said he didn’t consider Trump’s apologetics for sexual assault to be a serious issue, considering the threat facing America were Hillary Clinton to be elected.
But JonTron wasn’t shunned. He took some flak, but in general his fans were hugely supportive of him, and so was his fellow YouTube celebrity community.
Fast forward to today, when I saw that video by the Pony guy, and virtually all of the comments were congratulatory to him and vindictive against the media and the “far left” and “SJWs.”
That was the moment that shook me. That moment when you realize that this isn’t just a raid from some right-wing website, that these aren’t paid trolls, that, instead, something very scary, which used to be radical and far out on the fringe, is now so incredibly popular that it has mainstream support even on a channel from a person who makes My Little Pony videos.
It’s the sinking feeling you get when you realize that you’ve just lost a war that you had no expectation of losing. It’s like what happened on November 8, except, to me, a far more serious and far-reaching defeat.
The proverbial signature on the death warrant was that the Pony guy, in his video, talked about how a bunch of other YouTube celebrities had gone on Sargon’s show a couple days past to defend Pewdiepie—including one YouTuber, boogie, who, for one thing, I still like and respect, and, for another, is a flippin’ unapologetic progressive. But he went on Sargon’s show for a group interview.
Sargon of Akkad—and more specifically the once-forbidden ideological cathedral of ultraconservative nationalist supremacy—has been normalized.
I went and watched Pewdiepie’s own response video to the scandal. In it, he was highly articulate and made a very well-constructed argument in his own defense, which included numerous attacks on the media for attacking him. (Sound familiar?) What Pewdiepie didn’t do, despite apologizing for making jokes that “went too far,” was address the entirety of the charges against him. He hacked at the charges that were easy to refute. He didn’t address the charges that he does indeed exploit anti-Semitic humor to entertain his audience.
People watching that video who didn’t know better—who didn’t do any due diligence, and wouldn’t trust the media’s coverage anyway—would have no way of knowing that. And, overwhelmingly, the response among his fans and supporters was congratulatory to him and vindictive against the media, etc., etc.
The fact that the YouTube celebrity community has almost universally come out in Pewdiepie’s defense, citing such noble reasons as free speech and media accountability, belies their true motives, of which there are exactly two: First and foremost, most of these people just want to protect their revenue streams. They make money, and they want to keep making money. They see a “hit job” on Pewdiepie as a threat to them. And secondly, many of them not only don’t understand how and why Pewdiepie was in the wrong, but they in fact actively buy in to the new culture of delusion which says that the media is just a bunch of liars. They don’t understand that it’s a serious problem when somebody who makes millions of dollars and has millions of fans and exerts influence over his entire industry taps into latent genocidal hatreds and bigotries in order to push his already-detached-from-reality fanbase farther and farther into edgelord extremism. Pewdiepie’s feeble defense—“It was only a joke”—is something that thinking people would never accept at face value, yet, among the emerging generation, not only is that something to be taken at face value, but it’s a sacrosanct proposition! Down with political correctness. Make jokes about anything!
God, some of them even invoke bygone luminaries like George Carlin to make their case, and in so doing completely fail to realize that Carlin’s crude and hurtful humor was deeply subversive on behalf of shedding light on social injustices, whereas today we’re fighting for it to be socially acceptable to make jokes about baking Jews in ovens and raping people.
Anyhow, it all came together for me, today. I understand what’s happening a lot better. Or, at least I think I do.
And I would be remiss not to make at least one, mournful “I told you so.” We on the left share much of the blame for this. We abandoned unionism, inclusiveness, and humanism in favor of identity politics, hatred, and derision. Well, no “we”; I fought it every step of the way. But enough of us did it, and did it so well, that we ended up galvanizing the enemy. And, surprise surprise, it turns out that privileged classes of people, when they band together, can exert quite a bit of influence.
So now we have this odd situation where the older millennial generation and younger X’ers are staunchly liberal and still hold dear all of these sociological frameworks and narratives we’ve built about social justice and so on, but, right on our heels, is a generation who is going to oppose social justice at every step unless we can find a way to completely change the language of the debate. Good luck on that.