Pissing People Off as a Political Ideology

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 I may not show it very much on this blog, but I have a sense of humor.  As a matter of fact, my sense of humor is often very dark.  A couple of examples of my dark sense of humor were in the short animated films I created for my undergraduate and graduate degrees in college.  One of those films was about an old tiger in a zoo bitterly retelling the story of her tumultuous life and the other was about an artist’s dive into madness through his dogged attempts to impress a critic with his painting.

I got interested in dark comedy in my early to mid teens.  Around this time, I started watching South Park, I rediscovered Family Guy when it began airing again on Adult Swim, The Boondocks TV series premiered, and I started to get interested in stand-up comedians.  Some of my favorite comedians became, but aren’t limited to, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Sam Kinison, and Rodney Dangerfield.

Some of the examples I’ve brought up have found humor in subjects like murder, suicide, dismemberment, rape, bigotry, psychological abuse, addiction, etc.  Who in God’s name would look at subjects like these and find something to laugh about?

Without getting into comedy’s history or Aristotle’s definitions of it, one would have to understand where this kind of sense of humor comes from.

Most often, people that find a lot of humor in really dark subject matter funny have created that ability to laugh about it from some sort of personal pain, tragedy, or disillusionment.  This personal pain or tragedy could be direct or fairly indirect.  In the case of my short films in college, the comedy of the undergrad film manifested from the various horrific things done to tigers that have critically endangered their population and the comedy of the grad film manifested from a painfully arduous semester I had just gotten to the end of capped off by a demoralizing graduate review.  The latter is obviously very directly personal and the former isn’t so direct.  I have no personal relationship to tigers and I’ve never even been to any of the countries they live in.  The personal part is that the tiger’s near extinction forces the part of me that wants to believe that the world is a just place to confront the bitter reality.

This type of comedy is often, if not always transgressive, especially when it is aimed at other people.  South Park is particularly known for this, which has the reputation of taking comedic jabs at everything.  The show became famous, or rather infamous for its philosophy that no cow is too sacred to tip over.  South Park relishes in ruffling feathers and making monocles drop into martinis.  The next few generations of comedians would follow South Park’s example.  Many current-day comedians still do.

There is a dark, well darker side to this dark comedy, especially dark comedy that transgresses against others.

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The Comedian from Watchmen is… to put it lightly, a piece of work.  The book opens up with the Comedian’s grisly murder.  You feel kind of bad for him at first, but when you read on and find out who this guy was… ugh.  Some of his “highlights” include raping Silk Spectre, gleefully shooting and incinerating Vietnam protesters, and killing a Vietnamese woman he impregnated after she caught him attempting to abandon her.  The Comedian is driven by greed and a love for violence.  He calls himself the Comedian because he portrays himself as what he considers a mockery of society, which he thinks is inherently barbaric.

I bring up the Comedian because he’s a cartoonishly exaggerated version of a type of transgressive behavior that is unhealthy.  Too often with too many people, whatever personal pain or disillusionment they are dealing with manifest in antisocial or harmful actions towards others.  And too often, these harmful transgressions get passed off as entertainment, usually by people who are hacks, irresponsible, or just don’t know any better.  There are productive ways of dealing with that inner turmoil and there are destructive ways of dealing with it.

Getting back to South Park, the reason it was so good and the reason it has lasted for twenty years is that it always had a very thorough understanding of comedy and a sharp execution of it.  It always had more going on with it beyond all of its vulgarity at the surface.

I know I’ve been talking about this in my past few posts, but it bears repeating.  Once something has been co-opted by the market, it is cynically sold back to us consumers as a watered down project.  South Park has been monumentally successful and influential as a bold and edgy cartoon, so the market responded to it by co-opting its edgy and incendiary veneer without doing the hard part and recreating the quality.

 Which brings me to… ugggghh, this.

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First of all, Milo Yiannopoulos is not brave, daring, original, or some kind of crusader for true comedy or free speech, regardless of what useful idiots like Bill Maher, Dave Rubin, or any of his right-wing sycophants tell you.  He saw an emerging market he could seize on, learned how to market himself on social media platforms, and all the other big media figures propping him up are simply trying to cash in on his market too.  All he has done is found a new way to market the polemicist theatrics that propelled Ann Coulter to fame fifteen years ago and Rush Limbaugh to fame twenty five years ago.

The conservative politics of these three pundits is based less off beliefs and conviction and more on a puerile glee in mocking liberals.  They relish in scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to get their point across, whether by encouraging racist and misogynistic harassment of Leslie Jones, indirectly calling John Edwards a “faggot”, or suggesting advocates for contraception mandates film themselves having sex and posting the films online for men to watch.  A political ideology based simply on pissing other people off is superficial and stupid.  There is no moral basis for such an ideology; it’s completely reactionary.  Figures like Milo, Limbaugh, and Coulter dress their bankrupt ideology as some kind of brash but righteous “tell it like it is” conservatism and convince their audiences to adopt this ideology so they could cultivate a zealous fan base that will purchase whatever crap they hock at them.

Milo revealed on a podcast that he was sexually abused by a grown man when he was a teenager.  He has also been upfront about his own self-loathing of his homosexuality.  He has said that his sense of humor and extreme persona is a cathartic way of dealing with his issues.  That makes sense to me.  However, I don’t shed any tears for the guy because he reminds me of the Comedian, except without the killing.  Having a dark sense of humor is one thing, but when you use it for what Milo has used it for, it goes beyond you finding a cathartic release.  Milo profited and elevated himself off of pretentiously framing his racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic transgressions as grade-A comedy/some kind of free speech martyrdom, not considering for a goddamn second any of the people he stepped on to elevate himself.  He doesn’t even care about any of his fans or sycophants either.  If at any point he decided it would be in his best financial interest to stop pandering to bigoted crowds, he would do it at the drop of a hat and mock all the people he used to appeal to.

He doesn’t care about anything or anyone but himself.  He’s a nihilist.

I’m more concerned about the people Milo appeals to, especially because so many of his fans are teenage boys and young adult men.  Whatever frame of mind or sense of disillusionment that makes Milo or people like him appealing to someone is very real.  Our country’s economic prospects haven’t been very good for most of the populace for almost ten years.  Our collective understanding of mental health is still insufficient as ever and the availability of resources for everyone is even worse.  The rigid gender roles enforced on all boys to live up to plant a seed of anxiety in them that grows as they get older, especially in their interactions with the opposite sex.  All of that in itself is a desolate enough existence to breed nihilism.  People like Milo seize on those feeling of powerlessness and isolation and perverts it even further by twisting those feelings into anger and apathy towards others not like them.  They learn whatever is going wrong with their lives is because feminism, “social justice warriors”, or political correctness keeps impinging on their lives.  By the time they get to this point, the psychological ramifications of rape matter less to them than their #triggered jokes.  Anybody with a different experience or point of view from them is just a “snowflake” or a “cuck”.  Aspiring for an egalitarian society is less important than “shitposting” for the “keks”.

And unlike Milo, the large majority of these nihilist men polemicists like him breed won’t become rich and influential.  But they will still find themselves angry and disillusioned.  What do they do then?  Some of them might be convinced to support politicians that won’t do anything for them because they can at least stick it to those “SJWs”.  Some of them might find themselves enticed by Nazism, white nationalism, or fascism.

A few of them might want to do more for the cause than “shitpost” online.

Further info:

Thomas Frank “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”

Frank does not specifically talk about Milo and his crowd, but the parallels between them and who he does talk about are unmistakable.

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Pissing People Off as a Political Ideology

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