Gamestop etc and the Alt-Right

The term “Alt-Right” has gone out of fashion largely because there is increasingly little differentiation between the US right in general and the section that promotes extreme & far-fetched ideas via internet communities and social media. I still find it a handy term though, partly because for everybody else when we think of “conservative” we think “pro-business and pro-capitalism”. Whereas, the modern right’s relationship with those ideas are more akin to the stance of some right wing political movements in the first half of the twentieth century i.e. often critical of established interest while being overtly hostile to left-wing movements and reform of capitalism. The question as to why the modern right’s stance on capitalism resembles that of, say, 1930s fascist movements is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader*.

Meanwhile, people of all kinds of politics have been paying attention to the Reddit-led antics on the stockmarket, where a kind of internet-rebellion has done some severe damage to dodgy hedge funds. There are numerous explainers out there but will go with Cory Doctorow’s:

Although the morals and motivations of both parties may be complex, it really isn’t hard to pick sides here. People (rightly) are cheering on the Reddit-rebels and enjoying the misfortune of the hedge funds.

When the app that many of the people where using to trade the stock clamped down on the sale of Gamestop stock, there was a political pushback from both major political parties.

Ted Cruz in turn said he supported AOC’s tweet, which led to a different back-and-forth when she pointed out his complicity in the death threats against her.

More widely on the internet, the right wing voices I keep an eye on generally take the same position of cheering on the Reddit-led stock-trading rebels. This isn’t surprising because events share some (but not all) of the features of the kind of internet based actions that the alt-right have either fostered, attached themselves to or taken over in the past:

  • It features individual action coordinated within internet communities
  • It exploits vulnerabilities in existing systems that assume that individuals (rather than institutions) will only participate as discrete individuals (i.e. not act in a coordinated way for other motives)
  • It can be cast in terms of ordinary people versus shadowy elites
  • It doesn’t and cannot lead to any kind of positive systemic reform
  • It does not seek to aid or improve the lot of marginalised people

It is those latter points that prevent the conflict from being to inherently left-wing in a way that would lead right-wing voices to flip the other way and start denouncing the Redditors as terrorists or cultural Marxists etc. Similarly, the final dot-point is what distinguishes this from an ACTUAL right wing internet insurgency. While Gamergate and the Puppy campaigns share many of the points above, those campaigns actively sought to make the lives of marginalised people worse and were overtly anti-left in nature (although they attempted to portray themselves as having a more neutral agenda e.g. “ethics in journalism”.)

Put another way, the r/wallstreetbets actions are NOT “Gamergate but with stocks” but do share enough similarities that the Gamergate-right are not just supportive of it but positively excited about it and regard it as a thing which is “theirs”. Like watching a necker-cube, a small shift of perspective allows us to see the same events as something that people on the left can support. There’s not a paradox there nor is it a case of left and alt-right finding common ground or the beginning of a kind of red-brown alliance. Left and right are looking at different things here.

What’s the difference? For the left the premise that “Wall Street sucks” is not news. The stock market is just one of the more obvious ways in which we live in a system with entrenched power for the wealthy and laws that help support that. The means with how that has come about are known and people have been documenting them for a couple of hundred years at least. It is a systemic problem and hence the system needs either mild-reform (liberalism), substantial reform (social-democracy) or needs to be torn down and utterly replaced (revolutionary communism). It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not a surprise, and nor is it even the worst part of the current economic status-quo.

For the alt-right none of the above is viewed as correct. They see the initial events as capitalism working as it should and then the “elites” stepping in and rigging the game. The literal term “elites” has wide currency and is a free floating concept. For the more openly neo-Nazi groups they equate the term with Jewish people. For the overlapping Qanon cultists, it is the shadowy groups trafficking children and engaging in cannibalistic anti-ageing rituals. Across the board on the right, the “elites” are blamed for all social change that the right reacts against. So everything from science fiction books not having enough rockets on the cover, to Star Wars having to many women in it, to trans-rights, Black Lives Matter or fossil-fuel reduction targets. So, when the government takes action to stop the stock market tanking, then for the right that is the same “elites” (as in they think it is quite literally the same people) who are rolling out Covid vaccines or are using “they/them” pronouns on their Twitter profiles.

For an example, here is Brian “Dragon Award Winner” Niemeier:

“Taken together, those breadcrumbs form a trail leading to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The GameStop squeeze threatens big donors and the Treasury Secretary, so Biden Intervened.”

(Also, note the grift element at the end!)

Again, note – yes, the Biden administration almost certainly is intervening or is going to intervene but again, the core reason being that the stockmarket is systemically bad. A government can’t not intervene because wobbling the table can’t be allowed when the whole economy depends on a very expensive house of cards. The Trump administration would have intervened as well — the difference is that the alt-right would have characterised that as the “swamp” or the “deep state” acting against Trump’s wishes. The characters would have shifted but the narrative would have been the same.

The right-hand side of politics can’t adopt the answer of “systemic inequalities lead to dysfunctional societies” and hence when things aren’t working out the answer becomes “evil people are making the good system work badly”. They take as axiomatic that there must be hierarchy with better people at the top who are rightly rich and powerful, so when facts show the people at the top are just flawed people muddling through and acting in petty or short-sighted ways, they conclude that their must be a conspiracy. For a given individual, the “conspiracy” may not start as an anti-Semitic one but they trend that way. In short Nazis will be looking to exploit these events to recruit.

“Hey”, I hear you say, “You haven’t mentioned Vox Day yet.” Good point. He’s obviously saying much of what I summarised above i.e. a right-wing extremist trying to put a Gamergate spin on it. However, for readers who have been trying to follow the confusing Patreon litigation, he has also been pointing to the Robinhood app’s arbitration clause. The “swamp a company with arbitration claims” tactic is another aspect that is something that has been used for progressive causes but which is also being adopted as a right wing tactic. The lawyer involed in the Patreon case (Marc Randazza see this earlier post ) is promoting the idea:

Note that losing these kinds of mass actions is not necessarily a failure for the wider objective of the right. As was seen with Gamergate, some people get dragged into the initial enthusiasm and then drop out when everything fizzles out. For others, losing helps feed the radicalism. It’s the same coping mechanism we all watched with the recent election. A person takes in all the propaganda of inevitable victory to the point that they are absolutely certain of the outcome. The outcome then doesn’t happen. Response? Somebody must have cheated! Reality intruding into the confabulated ideas leads to some people holding onto those ideas more strongly. This is particularly true when those ideas already contain a narrative of shadowy nefarious people working against the individual personally.

TL:DR The Gamestop story is not “Gamergate but with stocks” but the far right will attempt to exploit it to recruit and radicalise.

*Hint: it’s because they are just an updated version of those same movements.

I watched Star Trek – Lower Decks

At the risk of becoming some kind of Star Trek completist, I watched the animated series Star Trek – Lower Decks which recently made its way onto Amazon Prime in locations beyond the USA. Initially confined to CBS All Access, the show wasn’t available for some time internationally (unlike Discovery or Picard which could be accessed on Netflix and Amazon respectively in locales without CBS).

Pitched as humorous, adult-orientated animated series in the Star Trek universe, the series creator is Mike McMahan, a lead writer from Rick and Morty. However, the show’s humour is both less crude and less imaginative than that show, indeed overall it pitches itself at ‘amusing’ rather than ‘funny’. The obvious comparison is with The Orville, rather than Galaxy Quest or John Scalzi’s Redshirts. Parodies can themselves be love letters to what they parody but there is a point where there is a degree of respectfulness to the source material where parody is no longer viable. Instead, the show is at the edge the range of humour that already exists within Star Trek’s variety of tone. It is not an attempt to pull at the loose threads of Star Trek’s concept to see what unravels and more an attempt to provide a more sustained hit of that Trouble With Tribbles energy or the ensemble warmth of DS9.

Put aside any expectations of Rick & Morty But Star Trek or a Star Trek sitcom or Red Dwarf but Trek but also put aside any expectations of a kind of Becky Chamber’s style look at ordinary people in space examination of Trek. There are bits of elements of that but judged against those criteria, the show is a failure. Treat as a different variation on mainstream Star Trek but with a bit of army-humour and the show works.

What it does well is provide relatively short Trek-like episodes with an ensemble cast of engaging characters. Indeed, given how much Discovery struggles to give its supporting cast any attention, it is notable how much better Lower Decks is at letting multiple characters be engaging. True, most episodes focus on the main two leads, Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler (Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid) but nearly equal time is given to their two friends/co-workers Ensigns D’Vana Tendi and Sam Rutherford (Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero). All four of them are to varying degrees hyper-competent (because the show accepts that everybody in Starfleet is the best-of-the-best as a baseline) but to varying degrees flawed. However, the extent to which they are varyingly insubordinate, accident prone or magnets for misfortune is implied to be things that they may/might/will grow out of.

Overall that set-up works. The ship (the USS Cerritos) is a designated “second contact” ship whose job it is to run follow-up missions but just as low-key missions have a tendency to spiral out of control in The Next Generation, so they do for the Cerritos. The paradox that Starfleet ships are essentially university research departments run according to the rules of the navy is just as apparent here as with the rest of Trek but less annoying given the comedy setting [yes, everybody really should have been court-martialled already but then we can make the same point about Discovery].

The only stand-out episode for me was Episode 9:Crisis Point where Mariner co-opts Boimler’s holodeck simulation of the crew (designed to help him succeed at promotion interviews) into her own cinematic version of Lower Decks. The holodeck lets the show finally shift gear into proper parody but late enough into the series that we have gained some affection for the characters. There are some funny and wry moments balanced with some character growth.

So overall, as an amusing hit of Star Trek energy, the show works so longs as you aren’t expecting anything either deep or funny or insightful. It leans towards being overly respectful of the source material but is sufficiently engaging to be enjoyable.

Review: The Left-handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Garth Nix has a neat way of creating fantasy stories that have a reassuring familiarity that nonetheless introduce novel or unusual aspects. With The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, plunges us into a slightly-alternative-universe version of 1980s London where the policing of the borders between the mundane and the mythic lies in the various hands of a clan of booksellers.

The conceit of the Torchwood/Laundry/Men-in-Black/Ministry-of-Magic type organisation operating in the mundane world as booksellers, allows the story to quite overtly name check the stories he wants to evoke. So expect overt nods to Alan Garner, Diana Wynn-Jones and JRR Tolkien but also plot nods to things like the Chronicles of Prydain. The early 80’s setting means we also get elements of The Sweeney and The Professionals (with some alt-universe twists).

Susan Arkshaw has come to live in London to attend art school but has a second agenda: discover the identity of her father. Rapidly, she finds herself encountering firstly a world of organised crime and then a world of magical beings, as her investigations stir up interest of multiple entities. And where London is a city of both shifty and colourful characters, it is also a city where the boundaries between criminals and law enforcement isn’t always clear.

Enter the mysterious Booksellers. Recognised by charter since the time of Elizabeth I, the Booksellers have been granted the job of patrolling the shaky boundaries of the mythic elements of Britain. With an uneasy relationship with Special Branch, the Booksellers divide themselves as right-handed agents in their headquarters (centred around a rambling Foyles-like bookshop on Charing Cross road) and left-handed field agents.

The story arc contains few surprises and plenty of twists, as sinister plots are revealed and Susan learns more about her true identity than she may have wanted. It is a fun and exciting package and delivers on most of its promises.

Australia’s Honours System Remains Very Broken

Another year and January 26 ticks over again. Australia’s very flawed national holiday continues to be a source of division and disunity. Among the manifold aspects of this is the announcement of various honours.

Last year, the secretive process led to the far-right ‘men’s rights activist’ Bettina Arndt being honoured. The previous year in the Queen’s Birthday honours there was the inclusion of Professor Adrian Cheok, a candidate for a far-right political party and sex-robot advocate.

This year the award for right-wing extremism is going to former tennis player Margaret Court who is due to receive Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC). Ostensibly the award is for her previous tennis career but she had already been honoured in 2007 for this with an Officer of the Order of Australia, as well as receiving an MBE in 1967. Instead, Court’s status in recent years has been due to her multitude of attacks on LGBTQI people in her role as a Pentecostal minister.

The pattern is clear: the Australian honours system is being exploited on an annual basis to promote far right extremism. The peak of Court’s tennis career was in the early 1960s, for which she has received multiple honours, her profile recently has been specifically for campaigning against marriage equality and for campaigning against the civil rights of LGBTQI+ people.

Susan’s Salon: 2021 January 24/25

Please use the comment section to just chat about whatever you want. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday (Sydney time which is still Sunday in most countries) . It’s fine to be sad, worried, very worried, angry or maybe even happy (or all of those things at once).

Please feel free to post what you like (either troubling news or pleasant distractions) in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments.] Links, videos, cat pictures 🐈 etc are fine! Whatever you like and be nice to one another 😇

Lawfare…with a whimper

I had missed this among the various histrionics among the right post Biden’s inauguration. The legal dispute between Owen ‘Flat Earth’ Benjamin and Patreon appears to be over. Patreon asked for the case they had lodged to be dismissed. Court documents for case CGC20584586 PATREON, INC. VS. PAUL MICHAEL AYURE ET AL show that the case was taken off calendar on January 20 after Patreon had asked for it to be dismissed.

Vox “I have never been a neo-Nazi” Day did make a short post about it and was obviously pleased but there are no surrounding details.

Previous posts can be found here

Review: WandaVision Episode 3 – Now in Color!

Philip K Dick has an unenviable position: his stories have been frequently adapted and yet the films that capture his distinctive mix of average Joe’s caught up in worlds which are lies, are films (e.g. Terry Gilliam’s Brasil) that aren’t adaptations of his work.

Dick’s Ubik (1969) literally features an average Joe albeit one who is working for a psychic agency. Each chapter begins with a fake commercial for the amazing Ubik product, whose real purpose is part of the hidden mystery of the sliding realities that the characters encounter. There are shades of Ubik in Christopher Nolan’s Inception or even in how Paul Verhoeven weaves fake adverts in RoboCop (1987), a film that has oddly more Dickian elements in it that Verhoeven’s Total Recall that is overtly a Dick adaptation.

The third episode of WandaVision ramps up the Dickian elements to the detriment of the sitcom pastiche. The superhero couple are now in the colourful early 70’s with house decor to match but the comedy subplot is a magical pregnancy. The fundamentally sinister aspects of that for the time period is more suggestive of Rosemary’s Baby than mainstream sitcom fare. It does though, repeat the odd 1990s/2000s genre TV aspect of the show, where women characters might often have to face an episode-long pregnancy.

While Dick’s aesthetic is rarely included in the adaptation of his work, the suburban gnosticism has worked its way into popular culture through other means. As we do appear to be in 1990s TV land for the non-sitcom aspect of the show, the Twin Peaks sense of soap-opera concerns being a thin veneer over Manichean conflict of powers is given a notch up. Geraldine’s (aka Monica Rambeau, probably) sword (S.W.OR.D.) pendant looking like an inverted cross as she struggles to bring facts about the world beyond into the domestic bliss of Wanda Maximoff.

The laughs this week feel forced but intentionally so. The circumstance (a pregnancy lasting hours instead of months) is inherently disturbing and Wanda’s emotional pain surfaces not only as jokey practical effects but also a memories of her brother (the MCU’s killed-off early Quicksilver due to his ambiguity between cinematic universes). It is strong stuff and the show walks a tricky line, not as successfully as episode 2 but still another strong and interesting entry.

Correia Flees Facebook

As part of the post-Trump trauma, noted Sad Puppy and bestselling Baen author Larry Correia is semi-leaving Facebook after years of time-outs and post deletions.

“I’m done helping those parasites. Facebook is trash. We all know it. We’ve all seen it. We’re just there because of inertia. Over the last decade, working with some stupendous moderators and great fans, we built a gigantic, thriving, fun, fan page here on Facebook. It’s one of the bigger author fan pages on the internet where the author can still actually talk to his fans. Being able to interact there was great. But Facebook took that from me on a whim. They banned me from my own group because of what I MIGHT say.”

He set up some time ago an alternate version of his fan group on the MeWe social media platform: Currently, MeWe is a popular alternative for many people concerned about Facebook’s approach to either privacy or politics or both. Over there, Larry describes the situation.

“For the record, we’re still trying to keep the fan page mostly politics free.
That’s because:
A. we don’t know how long our fall back position will last before big tech crushes it too, or they fall in line to keep from getting Parlered by big tech and we don’t want to put a giant target on our head.
B. it can get super annoying, and you’ve got the entire rest of the internet to talk about politics. Like my personal page, I’m always political, you want to talk politics there, go for it.
And yeah, I get that it is hard. The world is extra stupid right now and you want to talk about the stupid shit with your friends. I get it. I truly do. Except we need to be smart and figure out how to operate around the bullshit. Because head butting the bullshit merely results in us getting banned again, and I’ve not figured out what the backup to the backup is quite yet.”

It is interesting that even the smallest push back by big-tech has lead to some of its more toxic users rethinking their choices. Also, it gives me an opportunity to re-use this colouring-in page.

Review: Lupin (Netflix)

The obvious comparisons made about Netflix’s French language hit is with Sherlock: a modern day re-imagining of a turn-of-the-century character. The first episode suggests a slickness of form suggestive of Sherlock but Lupin as a show is less impressed with its own cleverness and more interested in the central character. The bold choice is that central character is not Arsène Lupin Gentleman Burglar but Assane Diop, the son of a Senegalese immigrant who has reshaped his life to emulate the famous (at least in France) character.

Omar Sy’s Lupin/Diop is at the heart of the show: clever and flawed, a master of disguise and cunning plans but struggling to maintain a relationship with his ex-wife and son. The first episode follows a classic heist movie plot, with extra revelations at the end. The other episodes each have their own cunning twists but the focus shifts more onto the surrounding characters and the backstory to Lupin/Diop’s long game for revenge and justice for his father.

Episodes 3 and 4 I thought were weaker and episode 5 ends on a cliff hanger with nothing in the main plot resolved. More episodes are on their way though and the show has reached that “surprise international hit” status that will mean we are likely to see a lot more.

Lupin plays cleverly into roles of race and class, using appearance to hide in plain sight. Vanishing from the police as menulog-style cycle food delivery man or creating an unassailable alibi by gatecrashing an auction as a brash IT entrepreneur. The mercurial shifts are given more character grounding by showing us more of Assane Diop as a character behind his Lupin persona. The contrast between both loyalty and duplicity as he juggles his twin lives moderates the portrait of Lupin as a criminal genius. He’s a man who makes mistakes and who has deeper issues with honesty than his life of clever of crimes.

Enjoyable and different.