We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
You may have noticed lately, in your wanderings around the internet, that a lot of people are talking about something called the "alt-right." Perhaps you have questions about this fascinating group, such as: Who are they? What do they want? And why are they sending me thousands of tweets saying I should have died at Auschwitz?
You may have further noticed that 2016 is the best.
Possibly the simplest way to understand the alt-right is to think about our current climate of politicized fear. There are people in America who are genuinely afraid for their safety. That has always been true, of course, but since the election, the fear has skyrocketed. Hate crimes have surged. Insane internet lies have led to real-life outbursts of violence. People of color, queer people, Muslims, immigrants — many feel vulnerable, in Donald Trump's America, simply because of who they are.
Then there are the real victims. I mean, of course, young white men who have not had much luck getting dates.
I'm talking about the meme Nazis, the 8chan blockleiteren, the brave soldiers of the storm who, upon discovering that they felt unfulfilled and lonely, simultaneously realized that they were genetically entitled to be masters of the Earth. I'm talking about the online rump brigade of anonymous otaku fascists who got into hardcore white supremacy for the tentacle porn and stuck around for the bullying. I'm talking about the heteroglossia of extreme right-wing pseudo-ideology that has converged behind the Reddit moniker LaraCroftsAssPanzer69. I'm talking about alpha geniuses who found out they could use social media to magnify terror and concluded that they were, themselves, terrifying.
I'm talking about men who have repeatedly explained to their own children which wrestling moves they would use to defeat their children's stepfathers. I'm taking about 28-year-olds whose spirit animal is a shark that doesn't exist.
Many very smart people, newspaper editorial writers and such, are currently asking about the meaning and significance of the alt-right for America. However, these inquiries often seem to stall because no one, including the newspaper writers and also including the members of the alt-right themselves, can seem to agree on what the alt-right even is.
Is the alt-right a movement? No, a movement has a core ideology, and the alt-right can't decide whether brown people are bad, "bad," extremely bad, or probably fine as long as they are very far away, like in some sort of "brown Iceland."
Is it a hate group? No way — it wants to commit most of its genocide ironically.
Is it all a big prank on the prudishness of the PC lamestream media? LOL yes, and it's so hilarious! Here is a photo of your daughter outside her preschool.
Is it a clumsy reformulation of the old pathologies of white nationalism, white supremacy, and misogyny into a set of deliberately confusing internet tropes that work as a euphemism to make those pathologies look more respectable? Hmmm, yes ... respectable.
Is it responsible for helping Donald Trump win the election? Probably not, but imagine what would have happened if Hillary had managed to reach those 500 egg avatars in Wisconsin.
Is it a men's fashion club? No. Some leaders of the alt-right present as well-dressed-ish, which has been extremely confusing for the press, even though Oswald Mosley was born in the 1890s and knew upwards of three different tie knots. Do not be fooled. If collectively owning one tweed safari jacket made a group of fascists dapper, the House Un-American Activities Committee would have founded GQ.
Is it a kind of allergic reaction afflicting sensitive souls who feel both aroused and sickened by the politics of victimhood, self-contradictorily yearning for both the elevated moral standing of victims and the dominant social power of victimizers, because after all, why should they ever not have everything they want and why should they have to choose? Of course not. When is White History Month again?
Is it the latest iteration in a long, pathetic series of online provocation subcultures like Gamergate, forged by lonely, desperate white men who use inside jokes as a means of cementing belonging and who goad one another into committing escalatingly vile acts whose purpose has less to do with either theory or praxis than with the perverse simulation of bonding they generate? NO. SILENCE, CUCK. This interview is (((over))).
The alt-right, in case it's not clear, is a force for evil, which makes it scary. But the alt-right is also whiplash-inducingly stupid, which makes it hard to take seriously. Which is fine, because hahaha it's not as if it's about to have a powerful ally in the White House!
The truth is that there is one plausible reason why the wispy paladins of the alt-right see themselves as superior to everyone else, and that reason is memes. Friend, the alt-right has memes. Several memes! Therefore, the alt-right has brought the logic of Western civilization to a climax. German race scientists of the 1930s disagreed on many points, but they were united in their conviction that the purest distillation of Aryan Volksgeist was a crudely drawn frog who was funny on message boards six years ago.
Probably the greatest asset of the alt-right — other than its priceless sperm, still lying inexplicably fallow — is its adventurousness with regard to sincerity. Ideologues say things and mean them. Ironists say things and don't mean them. Only the alt-right manages to say things and mean them, not mean them, and sort of titteringly half-mean them all at the same time, almost as if they themselves have no idea what they're doing and are looking to you to clarify it for them after the fact. And they don't do this with, like, a weather report. God no. They do it with some of the worst things human beings can say. The things they say are awful. There is nothing these men of superior stock are too scared to post anonymously, online, in a context where, afterward, they can claim to have been joking.
A toddler walks into the living room. "Fuck," the toddler says. Does the toddler know what "fuck" means? It's on you if you're freaking out.
A toddler walks into the living room. "I found a hand grenade," the toddler says, tossing a hand grenade into the middle of your Gilmore Girls watch party. Was the toddler making a joke about Rory's career arc? Hey, you're the one who exploded. Pussy.
A toddler walks into the living room. "The global financial system is a conspiracy run by Jews," the toddler says. Does the toddler know that the heavily annotated copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion which it has spent the last several months studying and which it is now brandishing wildly above its head while goose-stepping and making Hitler salutes is a forgery? It's so weird how you're jumping up and down!
The alt-right has been able to achieve its interesting amalgam of stupidity and horror mostly because it has adapted to the representational style of the internet, which is increasingly — what's the word? — oh, terrible. It is very hard to have a rational argument in a setting where a photo of Albus Dumbledore looking distraught above the words "MY HAMS" constitutes a devastating rebuttal. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for boisterous, entitled morons with indefensible ideas. The left should possibly consider its own role in helping turn Twitter into a platform biased toward absurd non sequiturs and ad hominem attacks, or, failing that, maybe it should at least come up with a cartoon salamander who supports modest tax hikes.
A lot of people object to the use of the term "alt-right" altogether, saying we ought to swap it out for a more pointed descriptor like "white nationalist." I disagree. The alt-right is a loathsome hate-filled fascist racist misogynist blob, but it's distinct enough from other loathsome hate-filled blobs to warrant its own name. (George Lincoln Rockwell wasn't huge on Catgirl manga.) And I don't see why we should be afraid of the name it chose for itself. Words have power over thoughts, but thoughts also have power over words. I think the trick is not to erase the name "alt-right" but to win the argument against the alt-right — which will be a struggle; they did high-school debate — and also to associate the term "alt-right" indelibly with the upper-lip sweat of a hulking electrician named Blevin.
Blevin's got FiOS, bitch. Blevin needs that DL speed.
In any case, let's take a moment to say one last giant "thank you" to 2016. This year of enchantments! Thank you, 2016, for introducing us to our future race-masters and guardians of civilization, who will spend 2017 deciding which of us to kill, rape, deport, and sterilize, and who will also spend 2017 waiting in line at Sbarro. Steve Bannon is in the White House, and the pepperoni has never been greasier. Tomorrow comes the Gleichschaltung, and also possibly up to 27 more minutes of deleted Joker scenes. It may be hard to accept our fate, but the march of Nordic progress is unstoppable. The Nazis built rockets; the Fourth Reich is going to figure out how to get Yoko's top off in Gurren Lagann. Go gracefully. History needs losers!
Check out more from the year in music, culture, politics, and style in Signal & Noise 2016.