There are a couple of problems here. The first is the assumption that regressive politics is a historical stranger to the aesthetics of transgression. [Podcaster Katie] Halper astutely brings up the futurists, which was an avant garde movement with links to Italian fascism. [Her co-presenter Angela] Nagle basically says, “oh, right, the futurists” and that’s the end of that line of inquiry. Nor is there any discussion of Pound or Eliot, whose poetry used experimental and alienating aesthetic forms to excoriate the supposedly bland liberal consensus of their day. Nazism itself cultivated a conscious revolutionary aesthetic, and worked to undermine and coopt various traditional organizations, not least Protestant and Catholic churches. Popular representations of fascism are generally quite aware of its countercultural aesthetic: see how fascism’s challenge to the older generation is presented in Salon Kitty (1976), for example, or the Nazi countercultural positioning in The Believer (2001). No doubt the alt right is influenced by the 60s, as everyone is, but to suggest that countercultural aesthetics were the sole province of the left until 5 minutes ago is ill-informed nonsense.
More, Nagle seems to be unaware of the long tradition of left criticism of the counterculture—not just from a Marxist perspective, but from a social justice one. Gloria Steinem became a famous name by writing an exposé of Playboy, one of the most famous purveyors of the a counterculture ethic of liberation and hedonism. Andrea Dworkin in Right Wing Women warned that free love could easily turn into exploitation. James Baldwin wrote scathingly about the Beats, who positioned themselves as a daring counterculture force in large part by associating themselves with racist tropes about black freedom and authenticity. For that matter, the pop meme “All your favs are problematic” is an explicit acknowledgement that countercultural art and countercultural artists often have serious political failings.
No doubt you can find some people on the left equating transgression with liberation. But they tend to be the dirtbag podcasters Nagle defends, rather than the tumblr feminists she loathes.
Noah Berlatsky on recycled talking points.
Super-long quote, but the whole article–about the anti-progressive left’s habit of taking alt-right talking points at face value–is definitely worth a read.