Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: 'Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right' by Angela Nagle

By Angela Nagle

Review by David Wineberg


The state of hate

Just so there’s no mucking about, let me say up front that it is a rare and fleeting pleasure to read Angela Nagle. She is delightfully well read, distills the nonsense of the world calmly and directly, never loses her dispassionate center, and doesn’t descend into pop culture citations. She is effortlessly authoritative. Would there were more like her.

In Kill All Normies, things online have gone unaccountably negative. The internet was supposed to be a giant uplifting community party. Instead, it is a morass of trolls, alt-right, and out and out hatred, from racists to neonazis to feminazis. Even the arts have turned negative, and to criticize them as such just makes you outmoded – and subject to vicious threats. “The whole online sensibility is more in the spirit of foul-mouthed comment-thread trolls than it is of bible study, more Fight Club than family values, more in line with the Marquis de Sade than Edmund Burke. “

Her criticism of her own generation stings. They “come from an utterly intellectual shut-down world of Tumblr and trigger warnings, and the purging of dissent in which they have only learned to recite jargon.” They couldn’t even debate the hollow showman Milo Yiannopoulos; they could only prevent him speaking.

We are approaching anarchy. The right is at least as fractured and disorganized as the left. There is no longer any typical or classical right; every individual colors it their own way. So despite Republicans’ control of all the levels of government, they continue to fight amongst themselves and make no headway in their agenda. Because they can’t even agree on the agenda. Nagle takes an entire chapter to deconstruct the character Milo Yiannopoulos, who embodies all the contradictions in one neat package. The feeling you’re left with is that barriers to entry need to at least exist. Today, the internet offers equal time and space to every flavor of hate and ignorance going.

Nagle doesn’t go far enough. Unsaid is that all of her characters have one thing in common: a tiny bit of power. It is easier to wield negative power than positive power, so they armchair jockey hatred, and laugh at their own cruelty. It is ignorant and outrageous, and that is the whole point. It is a deadly combination of too much time and too little future. The other thing unsaid is that it is infinitesimal. Almost none of the characters has real fame, much less popularity or value. They are their own audience, insignificant in the scheme of things. The occasional Milo is a shooting star than soon fades to black.

I look forward to Nagle leveraging her talents into a deeper examination of a heavier issue. This is a terrific intro.


Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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