The rise of authoritarian thinking and movements as they grow and spread online
Irony is neither the gateway drug nor an alibi for racism. The alt-right’s euphemistic symbols of racism are meant to confuse outsiders and affirm insiders who can feel a sense of belonging by being in the know, but they are not attempts to trick the otherwise unsusceptible into racist thinking. What allows the far right to flourish is the ability for angry, entitled people to find each other and support each other’s racial animosities, not the ambiguities of ironic discourse.
One of the defining features of authoritarian personalities is a revulsion toward things, and people, that complicate their established categories. This makes suburbs an ideal environment for them: In the suburbs, everything is designed to have its specific place, and to walk or work in the wrong place is to transgress legal, technical, and cultural boundaries. Suburbs have evolved into a carefully tuned media surround — replete with ubiquitous screens running alarmist commercial media — that seeks to sustain apartheid.
Fascism uses the state to accelerate the power of the capitalist classes at the expense of designated scapegoats and “undesirables.” To make this palatable, it turns to aesthetics. Today’s fascist style works not with monumentality but symbolic distance from what they are trying to do, to fall within liberal democracies’ commitment to tolerance. Fascist memes are now often marked by a slapdash, cut-and-paste aesthetic, which, like Trump’s clumsy braggadocio, is precisely what makes them appear accessible.
Shitposting tends to defy analysis. Shitposters, who are bound by nothing, set a rhetorical trap for their enemies, who tend to be bound by having an actual point. Attempts to analyze what shitposters are doing, or what their posts really mean, does nothing to defuse them; instead it reinforces their project by amplifying their signal.
Today’s American fascist youth is neither the strapping Aryan jock-patriot nor the skinheaded, jackbooted punk but the nerd. The jock-nerd conflict appeared in pop culture to mystify true social conflict around race, gender, class, and sexuality, transforming it into a spectacle of entitled white male suffering. The nerds believe they are victims of a thwarted meritocracy, but their sexist, racist actions align them with the far right.