By Dickey Saunders Jr.
More than a month after the mass shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the story and the aftermath continue to dominate the media airwaves as the debates, protests, and “Marchs” for gun-control reach a fever pitch. The tragedy and the very short-lived mourning have given rise to two new media darlings and gun-control champions to be the new face of what some outlets have billed as a “youth revolution”. These two figures are David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez. These two “survivors” of the mass shooting that took place have gleefully accepted the role as the public faces and voices of the pro gun-control debate the nation is coerced into having yet again.
Of course, accepting the role of being a face and voice also makes these two teenagers the first in line for backlash and criticism for the positions they take and advocate for, to the predictable chagrin of the Left and the liberally biased mainstream media machine. The teenagers newly found soap box in the public forum has rightfully opened them up to the ire of pro Second Amendment advocates and gun rights activists, as well as other conservative and libertarian activists worldwide.
This past weekend, the two teenagers were the headliners and leaders of a “March for Our Lives” rally that saw these two rant to endless coverage and praise about how they were so brave and inspiring to advocate for the repossession of law abiding citizens property and the revocation of those law abiding citizens inalienable rights. Emma Gonzalez also participated in a Teen Vogue marketing campaign that showed her and a few other survivor classmates posing sternly in front a camera as Gonzalez tore a gun range target practice poster in half. The image and the GIF that were to come about from this marketing campaign was immediately picked up by citizen journalists and political artists that pervade our internet, and using a set of artistic tools available to them, changed the image from Gonzalez ripping a gun range target practice poster in half, to ripping the U.S Constitution in half. This new image was shared and immediately went viral, and sent leftist activists scrambling to find out if the image was real, perhaps frightened that Gonzalez had signaled to the public her and her proponents actual long-term intentions. The journalists and activists that attended and supported these gun-control rallies, probably finding out about Teen Vogue’s bland marketing campaign after the doctored image went viral, cried foul on the image and the doctored GIF and sought to expose the creator.
To make sure that public was informed about the “Church of Liberalism’s” denunciation of this doctored image, CNN and Washington Post wrote articles about what they perceived as “smear campaigns”, Snopes and Politifact dedicated sections to clarify the authenticity of the images, and TIME Magazine itself had to get in on the action to make sure it’s “high-brow” readers were aware of the antics of nameless and faceless internet political activists and digital artists. Even to the surprise of many of the conservatives and libertarians who shared the doctored images and GIFs, they were denounced by fellow conservatives and libertarians for participating in using underhanded tactics that are routinely deployed by their opponents and even spreading “fake news”.
This coordinated denunciation by the liberally biased mainstream media and leftists alike, as well as the curious denunciation from some conservatives and libertarians highlight a couple of very important points. The first is that the liberal media and leftists have an entitled and authoritative approach as to what they deem to be acceptable parody and what is allowed to be grotesquely ridiculed via the use of art. This is the not so surprising part as the left and their mainstream media show ponies have always naively saw themselves as the arbiters of our cultural institutions. The second, and more curious point about the backlash against the doctored images from conservatives and libertarians, highlights what may be the more dire and least discussed observation in this saga, and maybe the conservative movement as a whole: Conservatives play “respectability politics” to suicidal ends.
Respectability politics is the decorum or “unwritten rules” to political discourse and debate. These are standards that are implicitly understood even though there is a range of ambiguity it is subject to. Conservatives, particularly ones in the Republican Party (GOP) are notorious for participating in discourse and debates with most aspects of this decorum understood, if not perfected. This is how a “party of ideas” can maintain heated debates within its boundaries by laying a sort of groundwork for “rules” and “boundaries” around how to play politics with a neighbor, an ally, or party member who happens to be an internal opponent to some political end. This decorum ensures that no underhanded tactics are used to sully the morale of operatives who are all on “the same side”. At one time in America, it was okay to think of the Democrats or Republicans on the other side of the aisle as “allies” and “neighbors” in the pursuit of serving this great nation. Today in our modern times however, this is no longer the case.
These standards or decorum, however, is openly derided and abhorred by all flavors of the American collectivist, Marxist, and Neo-Marxist Left. These elements are the ground level engines of the Democratic party. They proudly proclaim that they will not participate in it, and don’t believe they should be held to the standards it demands. This is actually a feature, not a bug of the underlying ideology that drives the New Left in America. This is a feature built by the structural logic of the ideology that the ideology itself serves the oppressed, under represented, weak, and destitute elements of our society. The logic goes that, because the emissaries of this ideology serve those who “logically” need to have their “needs” addressed first, they should be able to take any and all measures available to serve those who need it most. This is an “ends justify the means” kind of understanding, and that means an “any means necessary” approach can be justifiably taken. This usually means the use of transgression may become paramount when the obstacles presenting themselves in your pursuit to serve those who “need it the most” seem exceptionally challenging or even insurmountable.
The way this tangibly manifests itself today in our modern times, especially in the context of the culture wars, is through all mediums of the arts. You see the Marches, from the 1960s to present day, but those marches would not have the same impact until they were put on camera, reported on by the news, with aerial shots from helicopters showing thousands upon thousands of humans crowding together for a cause. There is power in that image. Hollywood, and its endless features of movies pushing the cultural boundaries, questioning norms, and putting on screen all sorts of leftist and Marxist ideals, published and distributed for the world to see. There is pervasiveness in that image. Saturday Night Live with their skits have successfully transgressed and parodied countless figures, such as Will Ferrell’s “George W. Bush” or the more recent Tina Fey’s “Sarah Palin”. There are still people to this day who think the line “I can see Russia from my backyard!”, is an actual Palinism and not a dialogue uttered by Fey in a SNL skit. That’s how indistinguishable the parody was to reality. That speaks to the success of the transgressing image. Even before images, political cartoons were as popular as the political cartoonists themselves, crystallizing and parodying all the issues of their time in their own sections of highly reputable and credible newspapers. Just as recently as a few weeks ago, the New Yorker even published a grotesque and boorish illustration of President Donald J. Trump on its cover.
In the battle of ideas during the never ending culture wars, the war of imagery and symbolism has been waged since time immemorial. This is a truism so true you can rarely find a society that didn’t enforce some penal standards against speaking, printing, or publishing dissent, or parodying the powers that be or the ideas driving the powers that be, i.e. blasphemy or heresy. The combination of imagery and transgression can be noted for disrupting all sorts of movements and orders since the beginning of time, and the Left fully understands and has always understood this method.
The Left’s seeming stranglehold on the media, the arts, Hollywood, the primary, secondary and university education system, and the humanities is no accident in this regards. The Left has a long time ago made the calculated decision that taking over our cultural institutions is a much more fruitful endeavor in the long-game, and have successfully infiltrated these structures to the point that they don’t actually have to fear much about who they now allow into these cultural institutions. Prevailing stereotypes can pin most artists as liberal leaning, most university professors and administrators as socialist leaning and Marxist leaning, and actors and actresses as subscribing to the bible of secular Puritanism. These places have become the factories that feed themselves and sustain themselves, and churn out the cultural transgressions, and ultimately, the cultural transgressors.
Today, however, a shift has occurred, and it is noticeable. If we are to hypothesize that the Left in America has actually won the culture war, that would make the Left and the institutions it infiltrated the cultural establishment. This now, however, presents a major problem for the Left. As transgression has always been part of the recipe that gave the Left its success, the winning of the culture war removes transgression from the Left’s arsenal, or atleast ceded massive territories in this space as it now must fill the role of preserver of the spoils of victory. The Left is no longer playing offense, because culturally, their isn’t much left to offend. They must now defend their gains. Transgression is now useless at best, tasteless at worst because you can only transgress against those culturally below you, which doesn’t make it so much a transgression as it does make it just plain old bullying.
The Left never having won such critical battles before, is not used to craftily defending their spoils while maintaining their image as “fighting for the little guy”. Instead, they now blunder through debacles and arguments with obvious and apparent authoritarian and oppressive solutions. They are now the knights who look to end freedom of speech as we know it, because blasphemy and heresy are threats to their established order. They are knights for the cause of the repeal of the Second Amendment, as now the cultural institutions are secure for decades to come and there should be no good reason to mount an armed revolt against an establishment or government that “compassionately provides for those who need the most and have the least”. They must now play the politics of authority, and they cannot do this without actually showing their lack of compassion and without being able to properly hide or mask their penchant for authoritarianism and fascism. This now boils down to a lack of equal protections when criticism is levied on the current Leftist cultural establishment and order. Parody of the powers that be is now being outlawed.
On the flipside, this also puts the conservatives and the New Right in America in a place they are not familiar with either. The territory of transgression has been ceded to them, as they are now considered the blasphemers and the heretics in the church of secular Puritanism and liberalism. Now, they must find a way to use transgression effectively as part of the formula, but for decades on the cultural front, they have also not paid attention to another angle of their deficiency: their lack of presence in the arts and the cultural institutions. The New Right may understand this better than traditional conservatives and GOP types. The New Right understands that the main tools needed in a cultural insurgency is “weaponized art”. The only boon with a stroke of free market luck that is a great equalizer for conservatives and the new right is the internet and social media. The New Right, making use of technology and new cultural mediums, are attempting to close this gap fast.
The New Right’s preferred art forms are memes, doctored images and video, documentaries taking on taboo topics, and charismatic new-media personalities who rant into blog posts via keyboards, rant into podcasts via microphones, and rant into YouTube videos via cameras. The only difference is that given the insurgent nature of this cultural transgression, all the efforts artistically decentralized, so there is no central source ever to what may seem to be coordinated efforts. This can be summarized as the insurgents may be disparate and varied from many ideological beliefs and backgrounds, but have identified the same threats and the same enemies. This amalgamates into an organic, genuine, counter culture that has the proper, low cost, lo-fi, rebellious,, and transgressive essence needed to be recognized as “edgy” and “provocative”.
This of course, presents a problem to the traditional conservatives. They have always been the preservers of order, and now they must reconcile with being the ones to take down an established order. The lack of familiarity in this field, has rightfully caused confusion and blundering as well. It is the adherence to decorum and “respectability” politics that has thrown a wrench into the logical progression of traditional conservatives and Republicans into employing the transgressive tactics used successfully by the Left. This is truly concerning as the lessons of this entire piece were pretty much summed up and put on display during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. Donald Trump employed all the transgressive tactics usually deployed by the Left, and won the Presidency. There should be no more obvious and powerful symbol and example that speaks to the tactics that are absolutely and direly needed to be deployed by conservatives than his victory in that campaign. These are really the lessons that his victory espoused. Conservatives need to actually stomach being the cultural rebels to pull out more wins in the face of an insurmountable Leftist machine.
This is why the sharing of the doctored Emma Gonzalez image is not only within the confines of the territory ceded to conservatives, it is absolutely crucial that art like this is encouraged, shared, funded, and blasted on every medium and in every cultural institution ad nauseam. It’s bad enough the left wants to make conservatives feel bad for rightfully transgressing against an aggressor, but it’s a tragedy when conservatives try to censor conservatives to play by rules that their actual opponents will never play by under any circumstance no matter how virtuous a conservative can prove himself to be. The New Yorker today published an article labeling Gonzalez as a “Joan of Arc”. If this is true, she must stand the trial of fire first. It is us who are supposed to burn her at the stake. Let us properly give the Left the hero it is trying to build up without the proper crucible of fire.