We were seeing the attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that the society’s atomization could be reversed. This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values. They are children who have moved around a lot, San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.
— Joan Didion “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” 1967
People are still flailing around trying to understand “how this happened.” How did the US elect a (rich) bowling league captain from Dayton into the most powerful political post on Earth? As usually occurs when they don’t get their way, liberals have decided that rural working class whites have been duped into voting against their own interests. The only problem with that explanation is that economically insecure rural white people only account for 17% of the electorate.
What actually occurred belies that explanation: every honky in the United States who wasn’t actively campaigning for Clinton and Tim Kaine voted for Trump, many Bernie Sanders supporters included. The DNC and the average urban leftist have done little to counter the image the right and the alt-right have created of the derisive Democratic elitist who spends half their time blaming rural whites for all of the country’s ills and the other half shopping for faux-folksy luxury goods while completely ignoring the realities of the people whose lives they’re romanticizing. That’s a level of full-of-shit that very few people can stomach, much less identify with.
But that isn’t enough to explain why so many white people of every social class and age decided to overlook or — in most cases — embrace the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia of the MAGA crowd. Bernie Bros and the actual left argue that this was a vote against neoliberalism; how many people you know know what the fuck neoliberalism is? How many people you know give a fuck about neoliberalism? (Say that like Steve Harvey.)
They also argue that this vote was a reaction to Obama’s failure to address the root causes of the economic crisis of 2008/9. Uh huh. I mean, he did fail to do so, but no one who voted for Trump could tell you what the root causes of that crash were or who Obama kept around despite their obvious complicity in the crash. Further, the idea that a billionaire would step in and break the bond between Wall Street and Washington, DC is too absurd even for a Trump supporter to take seriously.
Then there’s the theory that people were tired of the status quo and chose Trump because he was an outsider once Bernie Sanders lost the primary. That part may be true, but not in the way it’s usually presented. It isn’t as if Joe Six Pack is sitting in the Oval Office right now. A rich, old, white man is not capable of being an outsider in an old, rich, white man’s FUBU system. The only thing that makes Trump an outsider is his willingness to make brazenly racist and sexist comments in public. (Oh, that and the fact that he’s probably mentally disabled. But that criterion would make Ronald Reagan an outsider in US political culture, so nah.)
No one is confused about why old white men voted for Trump. The world is changing, their position at the zenith of the social hierarchy seems imperiled, women and people of color are getting WAY too uppity, and they weren’t about to see a woman take the place of a black guy in the White House. (If you’d like to learn which variant of Stockholm Syndrome drove old white women to vote for someone who openly admitted to sexual harassment and assault, read Right-Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin; I don’t have time to get into that here.)
But, again, old white people couldn’t have done this by themselves. The DNC was so sure it had a lock on the youth vote that no one bothered to pay attention to what young people are even up to these days. And that’s what we’re here to discuss.
I’ll begin with a few caveats. First, I’m not a beta cuck, so I don’t spend 27 hours a day consuming media. That means that I’m not familiar with every layer of the inside jokes on 4chan, YouTube, and Reddit, so please forgive any minor gaffes I may make by dint of not being a complete dork.
Second, I’m not a millennial. I was born at the tail end of Generation X (thank Christ), which means the Internet and POV video games have only existed for half of my life. I had complex thoughts and experiences before the rise of interactive, neurologically manipulative media platforms, unlike people born, say, ten years after me. Who cares, right? Well, the world mistakenly believes millennials hold a patent on “irony” in the sense that the term is currently used, which is incorrect. Gen X counterculture in the early 90s created that phenomenon. Irony, as it developed in the 90s, consisted of making an ass of oneself on purpose in order to take away the power of materialistic, authoritarian bullies. It worked. That being said, it has gotten away from us and has morphed into the opposite of itself; rather than poking holes in conformity and undermining philosophically empty modes of living, it has been taken up by people who are missing the fundamental understanding of its usefulness. In other words, one of our most effective weapons against political and cultural authoritarianism now serves to further them both, whether on purpose or as a result of the clueless nihilism of those who deploy it (more on that later).
Third, I’m not a liberal. What used to be the party of Mr. Rogers types has become a competitive credulity and self-effacement league that is so repellent to anyone with any common sense or self-respect that I’m surprised there are any members left. Remember, shortly after the election, when Colin Jost joked on Saturday Night Live that Tinder now offered users 37 gender options and that the program was called “Why Democrats lost the election”? Well, that was fucking funny because it’s true. At some point, Democrats are going to have to confront the reality that ideologically and legally dicey propositions such as subjective self-reporting on gender identity are going to drive even diehard liberals out of the tent. I mean, really, who can tolerate listening to some North Face prick make hackneyed, obvious jokes about the stupidity of American Christians he’s completely unfamiliar with and then — in the next breath — demand that everyone show respect to Islam? The Democrats are literally playing themselves and feeding ammo to the alt-right like it’s their raison d’être. Any party that operates on game theory without any cognizance of the aims of the players is bound to lose.
With that shit out of the way, let’s get to lumping people into broad and blunt categories. Everyone’s favorite gay, half-Jewish, Supreme-sponsored misogynist, Milo Yiannopoulos (who would be a misceginator if he weren’t gay), in his “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right” divided the alt-right into “Intellectuals,” “Natural Conservatives,” “The Meme Team,” and “1488ers.” I’m going to largely ignore most of these people for a few reasons.
“Natural Conservatives” and “1488ers” are nothing new. Radical-right white separatists have been around for decades, as have the wide array of non-ironic neo-Nazi organizations everyone is pretending just emerged onto the political scene. No one in, say, North Idaho is surprised at the disillusionment of white separatists with the pro-immigration stance of a Republican party that exists to serve the interests of corporations who need immigrants to suppress wages. The only new development in the world of earnest far-right white separatists/supremacists is that they’ve been given the signal that it’s OK to make a scene of themselves in public again for the first time since the 80s.
Milo’s “Intellectuals” don’t really merit the label, either. Steve Bannon may be a wet-brain alcoholic, but he isn’t stupid. Nor was Andrew Breitbart. But their attempt to coat extremely stupid far-right ideas with a veneer of intellectualism wasn’t working when I wrote about it a few years ago:
I wouldn’t know who Breitbart was had I not seen Dylan Ratigan interview him — and even then I could scarcely pay attention because I lost the ability to be amused by conservative commentators years ago — but apparently he makes the claim that objectivity is a falsehood propagated by the “liberal media” in order to cloak its agenda in an air of factual empiricism, when in reality they approach current events with just as much bias as Rush Limbaugh or any other right-wing demagogue. The debate over whether there is such a thing as a “liberal media” is beyond hackneyed and boring at this point, but it is rather amusing to hear a conservative public “intellectual” question the existence of true objectivity. It sounds oddly reminiscent of, oh, I don’t know, let’s say post-modern liberal academics. That isn’t an accident…[It’s] a new trend among conservative commentators, which is to jettison the Glenn Beck-esque hysteria that has characterized conservative media since Obama’s election and replace it with a faux-intellectualism that will allow even the borderline-illiterate to feel like top shelf political analysts.
And it isn’t working now, either. No actual intellectual is buying into the biological essentialism of the Bell Curve crowd or the theories of female inferiority that emerge from the “manosphere.” These arguments may be compelling to those who have never read anything longer than a Tumblr post, but there really isn’t an intellectual arm of the alt-right that has been anointed as such by anyone but themselves.
That leaves “The Meme Team.” If you ask me, they’re the only sub-group in Milo’s taxonomy that warrant examination, since they’re the ones the DNC are so thirsty for (never mind the GOP, who rightfully fear the alt-right that appears dangerously nihilistic and incomprehensible to them).
Millennial Men in Contemporary Political Culture
Neither political party has the ability to connect with millennials of any stripe because they’re both run by Baby Boomers and a few sellout Gen Xers who have no idea what life is like for a huge generation emerging into adulthood in a world that offers almost zero hope. Given that millennials are the most babied demographic in US history, it’s no surprise that they’re disillusioned with the reality of their lives when compared to what they had come to expect from the worlds their parents curated for them.
The economy has yet to recover from the 2008/9 financial crisis, and the “job growth” since the crisis consists of part-time positions for little (or no) pay and no benefits or security. Even the privileged millennials who manage to finish college are faced with the choice of defaulting on their student loans and borrowing money from their parents so they can intern for no pay or taking a service-sector job that will prevent them from ever pursuing a career position. Why bother? The ones without rich parents might as well throw in the towel now and start popping oxys.
Male millennials have a unique set of problems. They grew up on violent internet porn, music that celebrates money and fucking, movies and television shows that assured them that they needn’t do anything but sit and wait for a girlfriend to materialize and fulfill all of their bizarre fantasies, and violent video games that taught them to take anything they wanted by any means necessary (and to worship the military, if only for their masculine prowess as portrayed in these fantasy-lands). The world taught them to be lazy and incompetent, then didn’t deliver on the promise that being lazy and incompetent is no barrier to achievement. They also have no idea what’s going on, having fallen victim to the decades-long Republican offensive against public education, and have no social skills because they’ve lived their entire lives being coddled by their parents and interactive media designed to flatter their unwarranted arrogance. Given the growing gender achievement gap, it’s not surprising that young women are choosing to stay single rather than hitch their wagon to some entitled loser.
That leaves young men with two options: become a manipulative, faux-feminist, hipster fuckboy in order to use and abuse women, or — if they’re not handsome or “cool” enough to do that — retreat further from the hopelessness of reality and into the weird, stupid, dark circles of internet culture. It’s no surprise, then, that the “Meme Team” turns to “irony” and anonymous bullying to soothe their bruised egos. Young men have nothing to lose, nothing to hope for, and no ethical reference points. That’s a recipe for pointless chaos.
No one knows for sure what percentage of dudes in their 20s sincerely believe in the alt-right platform of white male supremacy, Libertarianism, and isolationism. No one knows what percentage of them promoted and voted for Trump and his looney message for the lulz. No one knows what percentage of them supported Bernie Sanders and then gave up and became nihilists when he didn’t magically turn the US into Denmark. No one knows what percentage of them place the entirety of the blame for the sorry state of their lives on women and/or feminism (though that’s likely upwards of 80%).
Millennial alt-right internet culture is amorphous and atomized, but the thread that seems to tie everything together is anti-feminism, mistaken self-perceived intellectual superiority, and trolling both for its own sake and as a protective measure for the ego. Oh, and the fact that every single one of these guys is a complete fucking dork. Let’s break it down a little, but keep in mind that there is massive overlap between all of the categories below.
Dear lord, fucking atheists. Is there anything more irritating than a newly-minted atheist basking in the glow of self-satisfaction of having arrived at a conclusion most of us reached before junior high? Self-proclaimed inheritors of the virtues of logic, facts, and objectivity who display none of the above in their arguments, online atheists overlap so hard with incels and internet racists that I doubt there’s one dude out there who is one and not all three.
As Alex Nichols points out, atheism was annoying enough when deployed in response to the evangelical turn during the Bush years, but once intelligent design faded from the political scene, the genius brigade turned their jaundiced eyes on women and feminism:
New Atheism and the Gamergate movement of 2014—which sicced vicious online mobs on female journalists and game designers based on spurious allegations of media corruption—overlapped in several ways. They were both male-dominated, the latter almost exclusively so, and they both festered on nerd-oriented internet forums. Both movements resented women and minorities who asserted themselves within those spaces, ostensibly because it provided an unimportant distraction from their respective goals of destroying religion and uncritically consuming entertainment products. The difference, though, was that Gamergate had no basis in reality. The central allegation of that controversy, that a developer slept with a Kotaku writer in order to secure a positive review of her game, was blatantly untrue. No such review existed, which posed a problem for anyone who viewed himself as the protagonist in a battle “vs. FEMINISM.” In order to continue this all-out war on feminists—the curious replacement creationists for a new decade that lacked for them—these New-New Atheists had to break with reality altogether…
The only surprising thing about this marriage of convenience between the most irritating rhetorical style and the dumbest possible ideology is that it took so long to come about. Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism’s most devout adherents. They were after the burst of dopamine that comes from feeling smarter than other people, from exercising some pathetic simulacrum of masculine power, from seeing someone else feel bad and knowing they were responsible. Strangely enough, this is also the goal of modern right-wing politics. Just as conservatives discovered they could skip straight to the “angry liberal” portion of the argument by electing Donald Trump, the worst New Atheists discovered they didn’t need atheism at all. They could be just as insufferable alone, on Youtube, spitting nonsense into the vacuum.
There’s no telling whether these fools believe their arguments hold water, but at least some of them have to. Otherwise, I’d be forced to believe they’ve all got unlimited time on their hands and don’t mind wasting it on making YouTube videos from their filthy bedrooms affecting aggressive sincerity just to see how much of other people’s time they can waste.
“Ironic” Racists, Anti-semites, Misogynists, and Homophobes
Milo, though he’s disingenuously sanguine about the real motives of the “Meme Team,” makes a point:
Millennials aren’t old enough to remember the Second World War or the horrors of the Holocaust. They are barely old enough to remember Rwanda or 9/11. Racism, for them, is a monster under the bed, a story told by their parents to frighten them into being good little children.
As with Father Christmas, Millennials have trouble believing it’s actually real. They’ve never actually seen it for themselves — and they don’t believe that the memes they post on /pol/ are actually racist. In fact, they know they’re not — they do it because it gets a reaction. Barely a month passes without a long feature in a new media outlet about the rampant sexism, racism or homophobia of online image boards. For regular posters at these boards, that’s mission accomplished.
Another, more palatable, interpretation of these memes is that they are clearly racist, but that there is very little sincerity behind them.
There’s no real way to determine how many of the dipshits who spout racist nonsense online and at poorly-attended rallies are sincere believers in the “ideas” they spread, which is part of the reason most of them choose the forums they do. Maybe they’re just excited at the prospect of saying “nigger” and “faggot” in their little safe spaces under the cover of a handle. Some of them have consoled themselves with the ludicrous idea that their incel-dom can be blamed on the fact that women are out misceginating with black guys instead of staying true to their race. Some of them may even be stupid enough to have been convinced of their genetic superiority by the likes of ol’ Gavin McInnes and his Proud Boys, who hold that straight white men created everything of value in the world (though that could just be McInnes duping them into helping him salvage his career by trolling the public on a hot-button topic).
Oh, where would we be without the Mountain Dew-swilling creators of all that is civilized and worthy! Sorry, not Mountain Dew, milk. That’s right. White men are meeting up in New York City of all places to chug milk together in some kind of fucking dairy-based Fight Club to demonstrate their ability to tolerate lactose. Which, of course, proves that white people are the best people. Or that they’re just bad comedians.
I’ve seen my share of racist, sexist, and homophobic memes, believe you me. Most of the content has to be a joke, however poorly-conceived. How can anti-semitism explode in a time and place when no one can name a Jew other than Jon Stewart? Still, what the fuck is to be gained from pretending to be a racist, homophobe, anti-semite, or misogynist other than the opportunity to flex one’s waning white male privilege in a forum in which no one is around to kick your ass?
Incels and Their Svengalis
In case you’re unaware, “incel” is a portmanteau of “involuntarily celibate.” These guys are NOT kidding. One really wants to feel sorry for incels, but they’re so repugnant that it just isn’t possible. Elliot Rodger was the quintessential incel, and I hate rewriting something I’ve already written, so here’s what I have to say about that:
The culture tells all men that they are owed access to women’s bodies and energy. Sitcoms feature attractive women married to and putting up with mountains of bullshit from blundering schlubs. Movies hammer the idea into boys’ minds that young, hot women, though they may resist at first, will eventually fall into the laps of lazy, misogynistic, overgrown infants like those played by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. Porn tells young boys with no other knowledge of sex that women are filthy pigs who just love being gangbanged and ejaculated on by abusive, sneering monsters.
I don’t know why girls rejected Elliot Rodger when he entered adolescence, or whether they even did. There seemed to have been a window in junior high — before he started consuming porn — when that was not the case. He might have been a little awkward, he may have lacked social skills, but it appears that his obsessive sense of entitlement to what he believed other boys enjoyed (whether that was the case or not) took over, coloring all of his interactions and probably preempting any chance he had at relating to girls. He was consumed by the foolish belief that porn and bullshit adolescent male bragging were reality for everyone but him. Once that set in, his anger and desperation probably became palpable in social situations to the point that women — who learn from a young age how to spot signs of danger in male behavior — steered clear.
Without any real contact with women, for Rodger, they became cartoon characters, aliens, beasts, non-human. They were an enemy to be vanquished, a prize to be collected for the achievement of having been born male, the source of all of his frustrated expectations. He absorbed those messages wholesale from mass media culture. Rodger’s memoir reads like a catalog of his consumption of popular media, from Pokemon through World of Warcraft through Halo 2, from Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Game of Thrones, to internet pornography, to MRA discussion forums populated by legions of men railing against women for not fulfilling the fantasies instilled in them by that same media culture.
They’re pathetically off-track and have no chance of solving what they perceive to be the biggest problem in their lives: lack of sex. They spend their days jacking off to internet porn, cultivating anime philias, pining for the day they’ll be able to afford their very own robotic sex doll, and spewing misogyny all over the internet. They’ve become a target market for pick-up artist charlatans like Roosh V who purport to teach men the secrets to transforming themselves from beta cucks into alpha pussy magnets by neg-ing and otherwise manipulating women into getting naked. Once that inevitably fails, they swarm to 4chan, YouTube, and Reddit to air their rape, murder, and necrophilia fantasies.
Old white people don’t know what to make of this goofy cartoon frog in a MAGA hat, even though he helped elect their boy president. Pepe, described here by Dale Beran (who is way too diplomatic in his description), stands in for the cesspool of losers who made him famous:
Viewed through the lens of the people first posting him, Pepe makes nothing but sense. The original comic panels from which Pepe is excerpted feature him getting caught peeing with his pants pulled all the way down, his ass hanging out. Surprisingly, he is unashamed of this, “feels good man” he tells his roommate.
The grotesque, frowning, sleepy eyed, out of shape, swamp dweller, peeing with his pants pulled down because-it-feels-good-man frog is an ideology, one which steers into the skid of its own patheticness. Pepe symbolizes embracing your loserdom, owning it. That is to say, it is what all the millions of forum-goers of 4chan met to commune about. It is, in other words, a value system, one reveling in deplorableness and being pridefully dispossessed. It is a culture of hopelessness, of knowing “the system is rigged”. But instead of fight the response is flight, knowing you’re trapped in your circumstances is cause to celebrate. For these young men, voting Trump is not a solution, but a new spiteful prank.
This would be sort of funny if it weren’t for the utterly aimless and stupid chaos it has wrought:
At some point, someone at 4chan happened to seize on a coincidence: There was, in fact, an Egyptian god named Kek. An androgynous god who could take either male or female form, Kek originally was depicted in female form as possessing the head of a frog or a cat and a serpent when male; but during the Greco-Roman period, the male form was depicted as a frog-headed man.
More importantly, Kek was portrayed as a bringer of chaos and darkness, which happened to fit perfectly with the alt-right’s self-image as being primarily devoted to destroying the existing world order.
In the fertile imaginations at play on 4chan’s image boards and other alt-right gathering spaces, this coincidence took on a life of its own, leading to wide-ranging speculation that Pepe – who, by then, had not only become closely associated with the alt-right, but also with the candidacy of Donald Trump – was actually the living embodiment of Kek. And so the Cult of Kek was born.
Millennial male nihilism and dishonest, self-serving “irony” have managed to cohere into an Egyptian frog cult with origins in an arcane joke from a video game, the invention of a fake ancient civilization (Kekistan), and a goddamned FLAG based on the Nazi banner that these idiots wear in public as a cape. These people actually think this is funny, that this demonstrates their superior intellect, that trolling the world by inventing a cult and playing dress-up will result in anything other than further isolating them from everyone but other edgelords/shitlords. Or maybe they don’t. Who knows?
Remember when we were all making fun of LARPers? They control the political culture for the foreseeable future and have no discernible goals other than punishing women for not putting out and fomenting further dorkery and chaos, no matter what the cost. We got caught slippin’ big time.