The Death of an Icon: How Ideas are Forfeit in Culture Wars
It should surprise no one at this point to hear that yet another attention grabbing, white identitarian shooter attempted to use the name of the most subscribed person on YouTube, Felix Kjellberg, alias PewDiePie, as a tool to bludgeon the world media with. Thankfully, though this tactic seemed to work last time, it appears as though the media may have learned their lesson from Christchurch, and are not simply reporting on specific snippets of the man’s manifesto as fact or using moments of footage as evidence.
I am not here today to tell you about what happened in San Diego this past Saturday, however. I am here to examine the way in which symbols, icons, and yes, even memes, are claimed and ceded via culture wars.
To start let us begin with Milk.
In 2017, the “Glass of Milk” meme began circulating on Twitter, where members of the Alt-Right would include a milk glass emoji in their twitter profile, supposedly as a “crypto-symbol” to identify fellow Neo-Nazis. This stemmed from earlier threads on 4chan encouraging people to embrace the symbol as part of Alt-Right iconography in order to “make the normies laugh at the mainstream media'“ when they inevitably began reporting about it.
And rather than do their diligence in researching this topic, of course, many mainstream publications did run stories on exactly how milk was “becoming a symbol of hate”, or how “The Alt-Right is seeking to normalize their ideology”.
Of course, it was never about normalizing anything, it was merely following the trend, because although we started with milk, another issue of note came up a year previous, which was the catalyst for all of this.
On May 26th, Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast published an article titled ‘How Pepe the Frog Became a Nazi Trump Supporter and Alt-Right Symbol’. Nuzzi argued within that the popular meme of Pepe the Frog was loved by everyone, “until white nationalists decorated him with swastikas and gave him a Trump button”.
In reality, the image was and is still enjoyed by many people, but this action by Nuzzi, which would then be noticed by publications such as the LA Times and other organizations such as the ADL, prompted a massive response publicly.
Pepe, an otherwise harmless meme, had been cordoned off, ceded, and given away by the mainstream media as a plaything of the Alt-Right. From that point on, anyone using it was to be considered suspicious or potentially disreputable, perhaps being secretly a Nazi. The political hysteria regarding Donald Trump and the culture war may have begun well before then, but this was the point where things broke through to the mainstream culture, where symbols used on the internet were being subverted and in their doing so, being ceded by a morally puritanical movement within the mainstream.
Fastforward to 2017 and we saw Milk-chugging, as well as “operation O-KKK” become stories that the media latched onto, desperate for that sweet Nazi controversy. We’ve seen stories about how White Supremacy is on the rise, as some rush to claim that over 70 people have been killed because of White Supremacy between 1995 and 2015. I don’t disagree with those figures, but I find it ridiculous the amount of spin and fear that the media puts on these figures, when in all likelihood, you’re about as likely to die from a shark attack.
I use a shark attack as reference, because the odds of being attacked by a shark are 300 million to one, and yet people constantly use sharks as a primal threat, much in the same way that people use Nazis and white supremacists. Yes, these things exist, and yes, they can cause harm, but the likelihood that any of that harm is likely to fall upon you is ridiculously small. With a population of approximately 350 million in the continental United States, you stand at about 115 million to one odds of being one of the three people per year who die to white supremacist violence in America, odds that are about on par for winning the lottery.
Despite these numbers, despite the puny amount of influence that white supremacists actually have within the United States, the media, for some reason, cannot help but latch on to stories about them, to promote them, to grandstand about them, to make it seem as though this specter of Nazism is so much bigger and more terrifying than it is, and in doing so, are giving power to those who do believe these things. By giving memes and ideas these meanings, by refusing to use them because you view them to be ideologically tainted, you are handing them over to the people who you claim are your enemies, and you’re handing them some very potent weapons indeed.
How one can simply pass along the man with the world’s single largest audience over as a symbol of white supremacy, despite his constant proclamations otherwise, despite his attempts to distance himself from anything related to such things, baffles me. The media has become so desperate to stir up the Nazi scare that they may inadvertently be creating more of them, by handing over the means to generate and propagate their messages directly TO those enemies.
The best way to deal with white supremacists is to acknowledge them for what they are: weak, ineffectual, and unworthy of mention. They should be ridiculed for their baseless, unfounded and pseudo-scientific assumptions about race, or else otherwise ignored. With that said, it also bears note that a person’s ideas should actually be interrogated to confirm that they are, in fact, a white supremacist before resorting to these tactics, as far too often these days are the labels misused, though that remains a topic for a later date.