As anyone who has any recollection of the aftermath of the 2008 election cycle knows, the GOP is hopelessly behind on the internet, cannot possibly marshal any web resources on its behalf because it’s stuck in the 19th century politically and will be eclipsed by the forces of Web 2.0 as surely as Democrats were eclipsed by talk radio.
Or at least, that’s what the Mainstream Media force-fed to people after the 2008 election cycle. Naturally, like most Mainstream Media memes, it was an abject lie, but still, somehow the fear worked its way around establishment GOP circles to the point that a veritable avalanche of hysteria crashed down on party activists. “Why, if the internet swings to the Left,” many supposedly “concerned conservative” commentators opined, “then surely our restrictive, overly ideological makeup will make it impossible for us to attract anyone!”
One can’t blame them for buying an argument which was made with such nauseating frequency. Yet, as recent events since the Obama election have shown, the idea that conservatism cannot capture the internet is not at all accurate. What few people may realize, however, is why this argument was so inaccurate, and more importantly, why it took a Messianic bumbler like Obama to expose its falsehood. With respect, therefore, I must disagree with my fellow contributor’s rejection of youth culture as something irrevocably tainted by liberalism, though I understand his frustration entirely.
However, as I mean to prove, the current youth ethos embodied by internet subculture is fundamentally conservative in character, even if its denizens have not yet caught on to that fact. In order to prove this, I will draw on knowledge that I have gained both as an avid internet user and as a member of a generation for whom digital communication is a second language – knowledge which would require investigating not only the harmless environs of Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, but also the darkest, least talked about nether-regions of the internet – websites which produce 90% of the internet’s cultural references, and yet are so riddled with perversity that their own patrons take it as an unspoken rule never to talk about them.
Not that these sites have gone unnoticed – indeed, some of their less savory exploits are infamous. For instance, on September 22, 2008, National Review blogger Andrew Grossman named one such website in an article dealing with the hacking of Governor Sarah Palin’s email account: “According to reports, one of a group of online delinquents who hang out on a message board called ‘/b/’ on a site called 4chan — they’re known as ‘b-tards’ — discovered that Governor Palin uses Yahoo! for her e-mail. He was able to reset the account’s password using information gleaned from Google searches: Palin’s zip code, her birthdate, and where she met her spouse…After he posted the details of his exploit on 4chan, a slew of forum denizens accessed the account to root through Palin’s correspondence.”
Now, to be sure, there are those among the “b-tards” whom Grossman describes who would no doubt fit the description of “delinquent,” but what no one out there seems to realize is that, were it not for websites like the aforementioned /b/, not only would countless recognizable internet memes not exist, but also, at least one influential political figure would arguably not have nearly the level of recognition he currently enjoys.
I refer to the truest example of an internet mobilizing politician, Dr. Ron Paul of Texas. Though many people only know Paul as a vaguely conspiracy-minded, neo-isolationist anti-Federal Reserve crusader, what they may not know is that one of Paul’s many titles is “President of the Internets,” (WARNING!!! EXTREMELY NSFW) a title which was bestowed on him early in the 2008 election cycle by the 4chan-affiliated wiki website, Encyclopedia Dramatica. As a result, according to Encyclopedia Dramatica (or ED, as its frequent patrons know it), “Paul placed FIRST (37%) in the MySpace primary, ahead of Huckabee (18%) and Giuliani (16%).” And though 90% of what gets posted on Encyclopedia Dramatica is freely acknowledged by its readers as ironic, intentionally offensive nonsense, when it comes to meticulously documenting the evolution of internet phenomena, it is one of the most reliable sources available, if you can stomach the NSFW images and extremely offensive language.
Alright, you may be wondering, but so what? Even if a bunch of rabid anarchy-mongering internet crazies turned out for Paul, what does that have to do with the GOP’s power on the internet? The answer is that, even if you accept the framing of such sites as hotbeds of craziness and rabid disorder, there is a method to their madness. As for what that madness is, once you get past the persistent ironic glorifications of perversity and take a look at how the people who frequent these sites actually behave, and more importantly, who they target, it becomes abundantly clear that not only are the values of such sites fundamentally conservative, but that their communications strategies, even if toned down for a mainstream audience, are nothing less than the perfect weapons for disassembling the Obama Presidency.
If this seems strange, it shouldn’t. In fact, much as the highly controversial and obscene Comedy Central show South Park gave rise to a populist, pro-National Security, anti-political correctness breed of young Republican in the early 2000s, I would argue that the new decade could see a similar rise of iconoclastic, libertarian, anti-political correctness sentiment among what I would term “4chan Republicans.” There are three reasons why this could easily happen, which I will explore in detail below.
Firstly, as already alluded, the current administration embodies everything internet subculture hates. For instance, some of the most common targets for internet backlash are people suffering from cases of what is termed “unwarranted self-importance.” There is perhaps no term which has been better coined to describe the current President’s outlook on life and governance. Billing oneself as the sole causal factor in reducing climate change and expecting one’s personal preferences to constitute a compelling reason to move the Olympics are hardly signs of humility. Moreover, one element of internet subculture which is persistently invoked is the drive for free expression (often of the most politically incorrect variety possible), unhampered by restrictions of either an economic or governmental variety, and certainly without regard for offended parties.
The Democratic party, dominated as it is by multiculturally-minded quasi-socialists, many of whom have arguably been long since emasculated by sensitivity training, speech codes and other cornerstones of “progressive” victim-mongering, could not possibly provide a satisfactory home to such people. In fact, judging by the actions of internet goons, some of the Democrats’ most treasured constituencies have already fallen afoul of them.
And who are these targets? Besides the one conservative/mainstream example of Sarah Palin (who has not been pestered since), the answer is that the targets for repeated attacks are, by and large, people who most of wider society considers undesirable, many of whom are shielded from more official criticism by the wall of political correctness. These targets include such revolting examples as feminist bloggers who muse openly about aborting their teenage sons because all men are “potential rapists,” stalking vloggers who draw terrifying cartoon pornography of themselves with female friends, open white supremacists and, perhaps most infamously, the Church of Scientology. While one can disapprove of the tactics used against these institutions/individuals (some of which make the much vilified “enhanced interrogation techniques” look positively benign by comparison), it is worth noting that ultimately, the power of internet goons lies in their ability to enforce social norms against the most flagrantly vile members of society through private sanction – something which conservatives from Russell Kirk and Irving Kristol to Tom Coburn and Dick Cheney have endorsed. What’s more, at the point where their targets/members actually run afoul of the law, these users have historically turned the relevant information over to law enforcement, suggesting a desire to be hard on crime.
In short, unlike previous generations, when all the forms of counterculture have swung to the Left and emboldened the forces of chaos and social subversion, the darkest, most countercultural corners of the internet are possessed of a singular desire for spontaneous and brutally enforced social order. What’s more, their allergy to self-importance and the authoritarianism of victimhood marks them as prime targets for liberalism’s self-appointed multicultural targets, and as potential sleeper cells in the culture war. Given the power of these sites to define internet subculture, rally donations, win polls and crown previous third tier candidates as prophets of an insurgent movement, it seems indisputable that the conservative movement has much to gain if it only learns to speak in their language.