Monday, April 17, 2017

"this little worm begins to grow in the back of your brain"

In his book, The Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies of Science, Will Storr dedicated a chapter to his experiences of impersonating a racist so as to be able to take a World War Two tour led by the notorious David Irving, in the words of Justice Charles Gray, "an active Holocaust denier; that he was anti-Semitic and racist and that he associated with right-wing extremists who promoted neo-Nazism". The chapter deals, specifically with Irving leading the tour through Auschwitz with the purpose of trying to convince them that it was a bad forgery, "A typical Polish botch job". Even though, as Storr noted in a few places, Irving was obviously not describing what was right in front of their noses.  After the tour, Storr managed to get Irving alone so he could ask him some questions so that Storr might understand how David Irving, a man from a British military family whose family members fought against the Nazis could have become a Hitler worshiper and a Holocaust denier.  According to Irving, his denial may have begun when he was a young child looking at the comic section of a magazine;

Irving’s earliest memory of heretical thought is during the war, when he was reading a magazine that contained a comic section called ‘Ferrier’s World Searchlight’.

‘There was a picture of Hermann Göring with all his medals, Goebbels with his club foot, Hitler with his postman’s hat and it was just generally making fun of them. If you’re six or seven, you’re looking at that, you’re thinking, “But I’ve got no toys! It can’t be that these cartoon figures are the ones causing all this nuisance. Your little juvenile brain is so innocent and pure that you begin thinking. You say to yourself, “It’s possible that I’m being sold a bill of goods by somebody here.” And this little worm begins to grow in the back of your brain. You think, When I’m older and have the means, I will investigate and find out.’

Don't miss two things in that, that the comedy was credited by one of the most notorious of living Hitler apologists and neo-Nazi associates and Holocaust deniers as motivating his line of thinking which led him there.  Also, that the clear intent of the authors of the comics, what they intended their audience to think from consuming it wasn't what they instigated in David Irving.

I have decided to look more deeply into the idea that since nothing is sacred except "free speech," apparently, and maybe "comedy" that means that making jokes about the Holocaust, presumably in all of its aspects is not only possible but a positive thing.  Rereading the above passage last night made me remember an article I'd recently read about the, apparently, popular Youtube wild and crazy and increasingly overt neo-Nazi "comedian" PewDiePie, the Swedish gaming vlogger Felix Kjellberg, reportedly "the most popular personality on Youtube".

Kjellberg has long courted rumors that he is a tacit supporter of Gamergate, the anti-feminist gaming movement that directly fed into the online growth of the alt-right. At one time, Kjellberg, along with other notable YouTube personalities in the gaming community, was criticized for remaining silent and refusing to defend feminists who came under harassment during the worst of Gamergate. Though Kjellberg never expressed a specific opinion on Gamergate, some in the Gamergate movement read his lack of comment as a sign that he was on their side.

Over the past six months, members of some gaming forums and 4chan have gradually started referring to Kjellberg as being “redpilled,” a common alt-right metaphor for “waking up” to the “truth” about leftist propaganda. The image below, posted to 4chan’s /pol/ form by an alt-right supporter in December, implies that Kjellberg has adopted the fashion and grooming trends of the neo-Nazi movement, which is characterized by the “working-class” skinhead fashion code of flannel shirts and the “nipster” look — Nazi hipsters with neatly trimmed facial hair.

As can be expected, when his neo-Nazi and other depraved content is criticized he takes the position that what he says is comedy, satire.

The complicating factor here is that Kjellberg insists his humor is satirical and absurdist in nature; the resulting ambiguity is presumably why the content of his videos went unchallenged for so long. And despite the litany of evidence suggesting he’s more sincere in pushing anti-Semitism than he says, fans are rushing to defend Kjellberg’s right to make comedy his way — on a platform that has often turned its head while allowing problematic “shock” humor to flourish.

Which is a long, long way down the same road that the commercially successful Jewish comedians Ferne Pearlstein featured in her movie about whether or not it was time to make jokes about the Holocaust.  I wrote about that last week.  But someone going down a road is a bad metaphor. It's not a single person or a group of friends that are going down it and when they start getting into the really bad neighborhood where it's dangerous, they can turn back,  It's not even a single country that is going in that direction, as PewDiePie and Youtube show, it's the world.  If you want to see how dangerous one guy with a Youtube channel might be, consider how connected he was with some really big media corporations, before the Wall Street Journal made that association embarrassing to them, I take it claiming that they didn't know what they were promoting for profit.

A recent Wall Street Journal investigation into Kjellberg’s YouTube channel found a total of nine videos posted since August 2016 that featured Nazi imagery or anti-Semitic humor. In one video posted January 11, Kjellberg hired a pair of performers from the freelance website Fiverr to hold up a sign reading “Death to all Jews,” which he claims was essentially a thought experiment on the nature of the digital marketplace.

"A thought experiment" "satire, "comedy" striking a blow for free speech, etc. are, in fact, slogans and buzz words of the commercial-fascist inversion of values and morals that have brought us here.

As a result of the WSJ’s investigation, Kjellberg has lost two major partnerships — most notably with the Disney-owned Maker Studios, a major multi-channel YouTube network. Maker severed ties with Kjellberg after the WSJ emailed Disney representatives for comment on the content of his videos, and YouTube canceled the second season of his reality show Scare PewDiePie, which had been executive-produced by Maker Studios and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. YouTube also removed Kjellberg’s channel from eligibility for its preferred-advertising program, which awards perks to the most popular 5 percent of YouTube’s creators.

We're not talking about ol' Mel Brooks putting a comb up to his nose and doing a Hitler imitation, though this is more like Gilbert Gottfried making Holocaust jokes to the daughter of a survivor on Howard Stern's show (there is a Youtube, I won't post a link).  In the article by Marjorie Ingall I posted to last week, she said that Gottfried made the most salient point about what is and what isn't allowed,

Gottfried, who turns out to be the movie’s MVP commentator (who knew?) expresses it succinctly: Nazi jokes are OK; Holocaust jokes aren’t.

Well, I'd like to see him tell that to the next aspiring Youtube channel comedian who needs to ramp it up from PewDiePie so as to get the attention and buzz.  That's the way of the comedy business, as that depraved competitive exercise in shock comedy depravity that I've written about before, "The Aristocrats" shows.   Where Gottfried started to go, where he led the Howard Stern audience, inclined to go there anyway, leads to places he doesn't want anyone to go.  But having encouraged that, he's going to find it's impossible to stop it.

The hipster pose of "nothing sacred" "everything can be funny" as supported by the Village Voice and ACLU, made by aging bloggers and their even older commentators, what began me on this topic,  inevitably leads there.  It is, really, a logical result of free speech meeting the modernist-materialist stand that there is no such thing as moral absolutes and that, because it isn't possible to identify those with scientific methods that means everything must, eventually, go.  Which is something I have to credit the insane, possibly syphilitic Fredrich Nietzsche for admitting was the result of the scientistic materialism which was the bedrock of modernism, as begun in the so-called Enlightenment.  He was honest enough, or his mental illness led to him being unrestrained enough, to admit that was where things would inevitably end up if that's the basis of a society.  That such unrestrained freedom ends up with Nazism is also no shock because the amoral libertarian anarchy that results means that the only leadership will be a result of unrestrained power, some of the most useful tools of the unscrupulous and amoral strong man will be lies and derision and stereotyping and, in the fullness of time, terror and intimidation.

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I will end with a long quote from Bertrand Russell's Last Philosophical Testament.

Let us consider two theories of the good.  One says, like Christianity, Kant, and democracy:  whatever the good may be, any one man's enjoyment of it has the same value as any other man's.  The other says:  there is a certain sub-class of mankind – white men, Germans, gentiles, or what not – who we good or evil alone counts in an estimation of ends;  other men are only to be considered as means.  I shall suppose that A takes the first view, and B the second.  What can either say to convice the other of error?  I can only imagine arguments that would be strictly irrelevant.  A might say:  If you ignore the interests of a large part of mankind, they will rebel and murder you.  B might say:  The portion of mankind that I favour is so much superior to the rest in skill and courage that it is sure to rule in any case, so why not frankly acknowledged the true state of affairs?  Each of these is an argument as to means, not as to ends.  When such arguments are swept away, there remains, so far as I can see, nothing to be said except for each party to express moral disapproval of the other.  Those who reject this conclusion advance no argument against it except it is unpleasant.

The question arises:  What am I to mean when I say that this or that is good as an end?  To make the argument definite,  let us take pleasure as the thing to be discussed.  If one man affirms and other denies that pleasure is good per se, what is the difference between them?  My contention is tha the two men differ as to what they desire, but not as to what they assert since they assert nothing.  I maintain that neither asserts anything except… 

He goes on like that for a while more before he says:

I do not think that an ethical judgement merely expresses a desire;  I agree with Kant that it must have an element of universality.  I should interpret “A is good” as “Would that all men desired A”…..

Finally, the profound Russell takes a stand.  Which is what all "ethical judgement" must have "an element of universality".  Which is the closest he will get to admitting that unless you want depravity, you must hold some truths to be truly true and self-evident, embodying non-relativistic, absolute, universal moral obligations.   What he doesn't acknowledge is that unless you choose, you make a choice, you take a stand which must be on something other than the bedrock of logic or reason or the lazy, pseudo-ethical even-handed stand of agnosticism, you will get the opinion of "B" because in the absence of that moral choice, the only fall back is that selfishness wins over unselfishness and might will determine who comes out on top and who on the bottom.

I, somehow, doubt that Bertrand Russell's logic will impress your average Youtube skinhead, white supremacist, neo-Nazi or the dopey dopes who can be swayed by the spectacle and shock that such guys will mount to get followers.  If there's one thing they know it's that morality isn't kewl and that there's nothing in equality for them - trained to believe in supermen and warriors and that they, sitting in their basement computer lair as they get fatter and flabbier are the such, and irresistible to women, too.   The little worms being put in their brains, in the numbers that the most popular Youtube channels represent, are a lot more overtly neo-Nazi, white supremacist, misogynist and depraved.  The conditions covering print on pulp transmission of this are totally gone, the worst results that could be feared in the old world of text based depravity and the legal and political consequences of that are gone, for good.  The results of the modern means of infecting with bigotry, hate, lies, resentment, pathology will lead to a world far worse than the visionary Nazis could have hoped for in their wildest dreams.  There won't be allied powers to stop it if they have been succesfully propagandized - I will remind you we have a president who had a Hungarian neo-Nazi as one of his top advisors and others like him throughout his administration.  We have a white-supremacist as an Attorney General.   What hasn't changed is the thinking of those who don't think there's any problem as they preen in their higher free speechiness and modern comfort in believing that, truly, nothing is sacred.

6 comments:

  1. The trouble arises when comedy, which by nature is glib and visceral, is taken seriously as social commentary. A key point about David Irving, though, relates to how he brings up his views being formulated as a child, or, when he was even more self-centered and ignorant than he is now. That his approach to investigation meant ignoring any evidence (and there is plenty) that would contradict his childish fancies is something I would insist has little to do with humor and far far more to do with his immaturity, which is far too broad a term to do justice to the various ways people adhere to youthful fancies and delusions.

    To those who take comedy too seriously, humor provides us with certainty, and that’s what it has in common with extreme political and social ideologies. Rape is not a socially acceptable subject for humor, but the unbending devotions, and vice versa, to the narrative of “rape culture” has provided us with real victims because people refuse to look at details but try to insert situations into their predefined standards. The prestige offered humor arises from the comfort of sureness, but I don’t think it to be the cause, of that.

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  2. I think the problem is more complicated than people who take it seriously, it's that they take the permissions it gives for, for example, expressing racist ideas, attitudes, beliefs and, with that, practices. In one of my pieces last week on this I linked to a piece I did about the fact that as lynching was a reign of terror throughout much of the country, it was entirely acceptable in the media and, so, the general popular culture to make lynching jokes. I noted as mainstream and respected a humorist as Will Rogers did so in one of his movies, there are many other examples.

    There is a rape culture, an encouragment of the idea that men are entitled to have sex with women who don't want to have sex with them, that they have a right, or what in the materialistic culture is its replacement, the sociobiological, pop-Darwinist idea that rape is natural as in the cartoon of a caveman clubbing a woman and dragging her back to her cave. That image is played out probably dozens or more times every day in the United States, with or without the club. I researched the unmentioned epidemic of women being murdered on account of their gender about ten years ago and found that the FBI estimated there were about four of those every day. If you don't think treating such things with humor doesn't both normalize it and encourage marginally rational people and way too many somewhat rational ones to think and act in those terms I wonder why that would be.

    I always thought it was rather incredible that the educated, sophisticated people who did All in the Family didn't seem to notice that as they made fun of Archy Bunker and other blue collar stereotypes that blue collar people weren't shamed and cowed into acquiescent voting for what were presented as their superior, "liberals". They knew they were being mocked and they voted for Republicans who would shaft them, blame it on those liberal snobs and flatter those voters who had been so offended. That they were able to tap into a racist mindset that had very temporarily left TV and the movies (it would be back within the decade) which Hollywood had encouraged for generations didn't hurt their manipulation.

    Secular liberals have shown one thing, they can use the media to break down sexual restrictions - hardly a great feat - but they're otherwise entirely stupid about how such things work. A lot of them are hardly liberals, either, playing one, sometimes, but quite willing to make money out of promoting the worst of the right. The number of such "liberals" who have made money for Rupert Murdoch are many. As my stupidest troll noted, Steve Bannon has made money out of Jerry Seinfeld who, racist and sexist as he is, I've seen taken as some kind of liberalish figure. I never mistook him for the such. But, then, I never mistook him for a comedian, either.

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  3. I would argue that a person with racist attitudes, beliefs and ideas doesn’t need jokes to justify them. That Will Rogers thought it acceptable to make a joke about lynching does not mean he’d have thought it funny if the man he was speaking too were hung by an angry mob. Let me offer a personal example of humor about a distasteful subject: I’m a strong advocate against child abuse. Donate my money and time to that. But, I still laugh when Homer Simpson tries to strangle Bart. I don’t think it normalizes abuse or makes a parent hitting their child acceptable.

    First off, the caveman joke is old and hacky, and was when my father was a boy. It’s hardly a prominent feature of mainstream comedy today. I’m fairly confident if you Google any of the prominent talk show hosts and “rape jokes” you’ll get fewer hits than Mario Mendoza. Second, we are in a hypersexualized milieu, and I think humor about rape, which is NOT mainstream, at all, is no more to blame for crimes of that nature than jokes about alcoholics are the reason we have so many of those. We live in a hook up culture, and indiscriminate and unbridled sexual encounters (often fueled by drugs, and this includes alcohol) are far more reasonable explanation than the idea that rape is considered a joking matter or that men are encouraged to do so.

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  4. You are arguing as to how you would see things, which is the same problem with the civilized Jewish comedians who were asked in that article to comment on whether or not the Holocaust is a fit topic for comedy. But their audiences don't just contain informed, sophisticated, people of good will, and even if theirs did, there are other audiences and other levels of good and quite malignant will.

    When cable TV puts on entertainments about serial killers in gruesome detail and explain how they were caught, I'm certain that along with all of the people who are there for the morbid, sick entertainment, there are those who are aroused by it and find ideas in it for how they might do the same or worse and how they might avoid being caught.

    I think there is a general effect on the culture, making it crueler, more callous, more inclined to indifference to suffering when nothing is held to be sacred, beyond use as an object of everything up to and including the crudest, cruelest jokes. That the jokes might be funny doesn't count for much. It might make it worse.

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  5. I think you’re putting the cart before the horse here. A culture that is cruel, callous and apathetic is far more likely to find those subjects a reasonable source of humor because they’ve divested them of any depth or insight. What’s the Holocaust to most? Nazis murdered Jews. A lot of them. How many people know about the Third Reich’s attempts to exterminate the Romani people, or the handicapped? How many know that the roots of their program existed long before Hitler became chancellor, or how those roots stretch back to the American legal system?

    Consider this, if you asked someone, “What’s the difference between a Romani and a pizza?” and then delivered the punchline, how many people do you think would understand what you’re talking about? I’d argue not many, and certainly far fewer than if you told it about Jews, and, I’d further insist that those people wouldn’t find it funny because they likely have studied the Holocaust in far greater depth than your average Joe.

    Which brings me back to my original point – People who take comedy too seriously as some form of social criticism are likely doing so because they’re more comfortable in the safe, sweet embrace of certainty. There is a joy in ignorance that the enlightened aren’t privy to.

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    1. Are you familiar with the dozens of pieces I've written about eugenics and its relationship to the mass murders of the 20th century?

      I'm not responsible for what people don't know, I've certainly written about the other groups slated for extermination by the Nazi, I've written about his practice run in murdering the disabled a number of times, my dispute with Steve Simels is based in his dismissal of the oppression of the Romani people, it started in a disgusting joke he made in response to another joke made by one of his witty buddies, in fact about Jews.

      I think the fact is that humor is dangerous and damaging when it attacks people who are vulnerable, when it dehumanizes them, when it gives permission to other people to hate them or think of them as subhuman. That makes a lot of humor dangerous and harmful. The people least in danger from it are those people with the most power and resources.

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