Ronan is still unable to do anything requiring effort due to health issues, but then he got Mad Online and managed, by herculean effort, to pull this blog post together.
E3, that annual carnival of video games and awkward press conferences, is upon us once again. The show has been pretty disappointing all around this year, but I was excited to see a sequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order, the alt-history Nazi shooter that I was pleasantly surprised by back in 2014. In these troubling times, no matter what our views or political affiliations, we can all come together in the totally uncontroversial, universally enjoyed pastime of
No just kidding, some people think the game is racist. To white people.
On one hand, I expected this. The world has changed a lot since 2014, and I actually thought “I wonder if there are assholes getting mad about this” as soon as I finished watching the trailer for the first time. The answer is yes, of course there are.
But on the other hand…it’s Nazis. Actual, literal Nazis. Not alt-right “freedom of speech advocates”, not jackasses waving Kekistan flags in front of Confederate monuments, not whatever the fuck Richard Spencer thinks he is. There’s no level of detached irony here, no veil of 4-Chan edgelord memes to hide behind, it’s actual literal Nazis from the Third Reich. Surely, if ever there was such a thing as an acceptable target, this is it?
I guess not.
In a way, this is an extension of the hullabaloo that started back when a certain viral video of a certain racist getting socked in the face did the rounds (here’s a link to it, in case you’ve forgotten about it and need to watch it a few dozen times to refresh your memory). Ever since then, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the fact that those dreadful leftists are advocating for violence against Nazis. And they call everyone Nazis, don’t you know! Pretty soon they’ll be rounding up dissenters in the street!
By the way, since I know some people will be wondering:
- While in theory I fully support the idea of people like Richard Spencer getting clocked in the face when they try to air their disgusting views in public, from a strategic viewpoint the incident probably did more harm than good
- There are legitimately some people throwing the “Nazi” accusation around too cavalierly, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as right-wingers and their moderate allies are making out, and many of the people protesting the loudest do so because they know how much the label actually fits them
- I do not support literally killing anyone solely for expressing certain opinions; that said, I believe the rising bloc of far-right extremists in America and Europe poses a legitimate threat to society which may have to be dealt with by force in the event that it begins to attain civil power
The blowback from all of that has rapidly morphed into a strange far-right political correctness which has seen many committed
classical liberals alt-rightists free speech advocates whatever they’re calling themselves these days turning into exactly what they often characterize the left as being made up of: ultra-sensitive snowflakes who retreat to their fainting couches at the slightest hint of media that offends them.
Except the specific things they’re getting offended by are highly revealing. I’ll spare you screenshots of some of the actual comments (most of them are so filled with alt-right buzzwords and in-group lingo that it would take several thousand words to explain them), but most of it amounts to “I’m not a Nazi, but I take deep personal offence at depictions of violence against Nazis.”
And it’s not just Wolfenstein drawing this curious reaction. Far Cry 5 is a game that takes place in a region of Montana overtaken by a violent cult with a more-than-passing resemblance to Bundy-style American militia movements. This has drawn a lot of complaints about how the game is anti-white and anti-American (real patriots exclusively make games about shooting Muslim terrorists), as discerning gamers look at a villainous faction that’s basically the American version of ISIS and say, “I really identify with those guys!”
A lot of this is probably just the easily-offended Rationalists of the alt-right deliberately looking for things to be offended by (plus a desire to shore up a tangle of “cultural marxism” conspiracy theories that are entirely lacking in actual evidence), but I also think it represents a minor intrusion into pop culture of something a lot more worrying.
I don’t think its controversial to say that we’ve witnessed the rapid rise of a new far right in the US and Europe over the last few years. Trump’s election provided a powerful, but likely temporary, boost to its nascent emergence; a recent uptick in Islamic extremist terrorist attacks is providing much more fertile ground, and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I normally don’t put much stock in slippery slope arguments, but I fear there is a tangible progression from the sorts of emotional, knee-jerk reactions people tend to make after an attack, to a longer-lasting and more generalized Islamophobia, to broader anti-immigrant sentiment, and then on to full-blown white supremacy. And when people reach that final descent, the alt-right will be there, with a handy list of all the movies and books and games that (according to them) denigrate whites as proof that society was against them all along.
To be clear: I am not attempting to elevate video-games or any other popular media to some sort of position of primacy in the current issues of our day. The struggle against this rising tide will not be fought with Harry Potter GIFs.
But on the other hand, I think watching how people respond to culture is instructive, and these arguments, petty as they are, represent a chance to engage with the centrist moderates rushing to try to legitimize white supremacy as a respectful political stance. When it comes to issues of policy (especially those like anti-immigration efforts that have the potential to cause huge harm), passions are naturally inflamed; on the other hand, a question like “Why are these people who claim not to be racists getting so upset about the murder of fictional Nazis?” can maybe serve as an opening step to putting the new far-right into its proper context.
And if not, at least we get to shoot some Nazis in the face.