Oh, I say and I say it again, ya been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok! -Denzel Washington in some movie
Did you ever have that goofy, totally nuts friend who would say absurd, absolutely crass and insane things that were unacceptable for polite company? I’m talking about the kind of guy who would say in such darkly serious tone you knew it was black humor that his favorite summer camp, Auschwitz, was a total gas? The kind of person who would say without shame that his enemies were nothing but a bunch of <insert racist/sexist/homophobic slur here>?
I can imagine there are a few women that might not have known that person in their social circle. But there is no doubt in my mind that every male in America had a friend who talked like that in the locker room and got people laughing at something they were mortified by.
Let’s imagine for a moment that they created a website that was so user-friendly, so accessible, and so anonymous it promoted a hive mind mentality that was churning out pure bile and filth on an industrial level that would at first glance make this site seem to be some insane cesspool of the most reactionary opinions this side of Henry Ford’s printing presses. I’m talking about a place loaded with swastikas, misogyny, homophobic slurs, and everything else that you can imagine. But the key is that it is all politically incorrect shock jock in motivation but with zero maturity about politics, sex, or the history of racism in this country. In other words, it has all the seriousness of a men’s room stall with grafitti scrawled on the inside.
And then let’s just say that such a website exists and it is called 4Chan. Launched in October 2003, it began its life as a place for a bunch of virgins to bicker about Japanese cartoons and how they hated being high schoolers who could not get laid. In other words, it all started as nothing more or less than a cyberspace version of a comic book store back room where a select group of geeks would verbally fellate each other by seeing who could be the most off-color.
But then something totally unexpected (by them, at least) happened, the 2008 housing bubble that collapsed the world economy and threw an entire generation into a kind of limbo that breeds nothing but idle time. As a result, this generation became edgier, loaded with more angst caused by the fact they were 30 and still living with their parents, and full of their own self-righteous loathing of an economic system that had screwed them.
And so what they did, almost without any true intent or inclination other than a self-centered and teenaged motivation to raise almighty hell, is elected a game show host as President of the United States.
In a new story by Dale Beran (https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/4chan-the-skeleton-key-to-the-rise-of-trump-624e7cb798cb#.uha5buepg), it is made clear that the so-called alt-right, which has scared the living hell out of thousands of sane adults, is nothing more than the biggest internet prank in human history.
As someone who began his journalism trajectory doing film and music reviews, I have followed 4Chan with some mild interest over the past few years. The website was always in the background of sensational stories that the psuedo-alternative press picked up over the last decade. I always thought of 4Chan as the website for the weirdos from my college days that ran around campus dressed up as Japanese cartoon characters while singing the praises from the rooftops about Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, and a bunch of other imported crap I stopped watching about the time I discovered the Criterion Collection DVD series. They would write outlandish things on their message boards but it always had that clear sarcasm to me that made me think of National Lampoon as opposed to National Socialism. Hell, last summer I poked around 4Chan and found some useful insights from their postings when a data dump from a source named Guccifer 2.0 revealed the inner financial workings of the Democratic National Convention and their connection to a company manufacturing petroleum pipeline relay devices (http://washingtonbabylon.com/september-dnc-leaks/). 4Chan has a substantial number of users who are very good computer hackers that unfortunately have very little employment prospects in this economy.
This is all important to understand because it informs the basic reality of what has been 20 months of pure unadulterated lunacy in the media we depend on for information.
In my mind, media narratives and discourses are akin to water manes in a plumbing system. We imbibe information from these media lines and process it accordingly. The mainstream neoliberal-worshipping media pumps out gallons of water tainted with lead, something you can’t necessarily see or taste but which undeniably is causing brain damage every day. The anti-establishment right wing media, exemplified by Fox News, is pumping out pure antifreeze, a chemical which looks and smells so seductive that, if you are not careful, your dog can and will lap it up from a drip pan left out on the driveway unattended. The mainstream press has quite intentionally fostered for years a condescending, elitist attitude towards right wing media consumers it encourages its viewers to participate in. “How can those dumb hicks truly drink antifreeze and expect nothing bad to happen?” And remember, they are handing out lead-tainted water, making it the hypocrisy that much more pronounced.
The narrative fluid 4Chan is producing is Mountain Dew, that sugary, bubbly drink that has always looked like antifreeze. The mainstream media saw people lapping up 4Chan media this past year and fostered more and more of that condescending elitism. They put all their cameras on the ‘pied piper candidate’ Donald Trump, a huge 4Chan-style internet troll with his absurd Twitter account, and even had the ‘respectable’ establishment candidate Hillary Clinton call them ‘deplorables’. Of course the joke was on her because she had no idea she was being played by a bunch of overgrown dweebs who revel in mocking the establishment with truly no-holds-barred sarcasm.
Now alongside these absolutely joking internet trolls there has been a mobilization of a white nationalists, that is undeniable. But they are a significant minority and always have been. The vast majority of 4Chan users are a bunch of punk-assed kids who never were given a decent education about race and racism in America but, ironically, are actually by and large opposed to the notion of race science. These are kids who have absolutely zero respect for political correctness and might even have some resentment towards men of color linked to sexual jealousy, but then again they also resent their older sibling that can get laid. They are the first generation that was raised in an America without a Cold War and with a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. They were force-fed for decades a neutered history of the Civil Rights struggle that leaves out all the excellent parts about King’s ideology, like his renunciation of capitalism and imperialism, but they also get the point, racism is wrong and treating people like trash due to skin color is simply not right. Their flaws on that issue, like having no shame in throwing Nazi symbols around as if they were candy, is a sign of a failing within the society that raised them and which Norman Finkelstein also pointed out in The Holocaust Industry.
What we need to understand about the alt-right is that it really is nothing more than a lot of sensational press that has created an artificial “movement” that corrals several disparate elements together under one label. These constituencies are:
a) The 4Chan kids, a bunch of hackers and internet trolls who have previously made themselves known under the auspices of the Anonymous label, sporting the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta.
b) The anti-interventionist libertarians that usually are known in venues such as Justin Raimondo’s AntiWar.com and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Ironically some of the people in this group are extremely confused democratic socialists who mistakenly believe the word “privatization” means “socialization of the means of production” (cf. Two Words on Privatization by Charles Johnson, http://radgeek.com/gt/2007/11/08/sprachkritik_privatization/)
c) A small minority of white nationalists who have been emboldened and mobilized due to advantageous agitation by people like Richard Spencer.
d) A certain set of aging Baby Boomers who like to partake of Breitbart and the Alex Jones Info Wars website but do so because of disillusionment with the Democratic Party, which is understandable if not laudable.
e) An advantageous and totally dishonest group of freaks and kooks who were considered extremists in the neoconservative network of think tanks and policy wonks during the heyday of that group’s leadership in Washington.
f) The cult of personality that adores the bizarre Milo Yiannopoulos, an allegedly gay blogger and chauvinist provocateur who seems to be the love child of Roy Cohn and Boy George. This cult of personality has previously sanctified Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Andrew Breitbart.
And just so we are absolutely clear, the overlap between membership in these different groups is so ubiquitous that it is conceivable they might all actually be capable of fitting into a medium-sized bunk house at the GULAG they insist the Democratic Party is building with FEMA.
When I read Beran’s story, my first reaction was ‘Oh Jesus Christ, the 4Chan kids did this?!‘ For months I had a slight inclination that the alt-right was getting far more credit than it deserved, mostly because their use of 4Chan mascots like Pepe the Frog was just too absurd to give any respect. Putting it another way, it would be as if it were claimed there was a Communist revolution at hand because militant Marxists named Harpo, Zeppo, Groucho, and Chico were on the barricades.
So what is going on right now is nothing less than the activation of an entire sensational publicity extravaganza by frauds and hucksters like Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, liberals and faux-progressives in the NGO-industrial complex who have made a literal mint off scaring people with ridiculous fundraising emails about how your everyday gun-toting beer-swilling country music-loving white working class Baby Boomers are the vanguard of nothing less than the American Reich. Again, the white nationalist element that Dees can sometimes document, almost despite his best intentions to the contrary, is prowling about the land and feels emboldened. But they will not gain much more traction in the mainstream except in instances when establishment liberals treat them with deference and respect, case and point being Bill Maher saying Milo Yiannopoulos might be right about trans women trying to prey on little girls in bathrooms (https://youtu.be/3cDLflyQ8TA?t=115). This alt-right phenomenon in the press that is being so sensationalized serves two purposes. First, it scares people so much that the Democratic Party hacks by comparison can carry on with a PR blitz making themselves seem like Tito’s partisans from World War II. Second, when combined with an obvious anti-Russian discourse it effectively allows the Democratic Party to refuse to take blame for running the worst candidate in memory and purge their ranks of the neoliberals that will continue to own their political efforts totally.
Aime Cesaire famously said in Discourse on Colonialism that European fascism was a boomeranging of colonialism on the colonizers, that the governments of Germany and Italy had done to Europeans what they had been doing to the colonized peoples for generations. If what Beran is saying is true, and I believe it is having followed the same currents in media journalism over the past decade, then we are witnessing with the election of Trump not a renaissance of fascism in America, though there is no doubt that the mobilized white nationalists do wish for that, as much as a boomeranging of postmodernism. It is as if our politics, formerly a realm of “mature” and “adult” power brokering, has been taken over by Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass crew.
There are a few lessons that should be derived from this.
I would first say to the 4Chan kids (and even though they are 30 in some instances their behavior remains juvenile) that they have just scored the greatest publicity stunt in American history. Gore Vidal, who they might learn a few things from if they read his novels, is doing somersaults in his grave. And unfortunately they also might very well have done irreparable harm to our society that nothing less than a full-scale popular revolution would be able to fix. The Trump government is loaded with nothing less than the most dangerous elements of the Republican Party and they are going to pillage the remaining services you, your neighbors, your parents, and I rely on for basic needs. Food stamps, healthcare, education, a woman’s right to not die a painful and lonesome death from mutilating herself to abort a pregnancy, all those things and more are on the chopping block right now. The Congress is pushing to abolish the EPA, the people who make sure your air is clean enough to breathe, and the Department of Education, who make sure governments don’t segregate black and white children into different schools, and they very well could do it. You guys have to own this one and accept responsibility for it.
But this leads into the next lesson. A bunch of computer geeks who can’t get over cartoons I was watching when I ate cereal before getting on the bus for school just turned the American empire upside down in the name of a prank. These people argue for days on end about badly-drawn cartoons and have done what millions of radicals over the course of the last 150 years have been failing to do, they got their man into the White House. This is the same millennial age group, incidentally, who were the deciding factor of the two Obama elections. This means there is a profound potential here for the Left as pointed out by Beran.