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Kidding on the Square is How Cruelty Gets Normalized


Anna Merlan had the unfortunate task of listening to a lot of Glenn Greenwald’s favorite podcast recently, and makes an important broader point about how the kidding-not-kidding move is one important way dangerous attacks on marginalized groups get traction:

In the very small, largely Brooklyn-based world of people who care about such things, some people—myself very much included—are annoyed by the pair. Simply put, that’s because they say outrageously offensive and bigoted things while draping them in the most gossamer-thin layer of plausible irony. They use “gay” as a synonym for bad, gleefully use the word “retard,” and mock the MeToo movement and what they term “liberal” feminism as a whole. It’s all delivered in a dueling pair of bored, near-monotones, interspersed with some purposefully provocative but less blazing-hot takes (“The only acceptable hobby is smoking cigarettes,” went a recent one.)


It does, yes: it’s the same kind of fig-leaf of hipster irony and showy apathy hiding a heaving, scabrous mass of genuine cruelty. Which is why it’s so surprising that Khachiyan is 33 and Nekrasova is 28; until the moment I began this blog, I’d thought they were far younger and some of this was due to callow youth, etc. But no: presumably they lived through the first round of all this shit, and yet, here we are, doing it again. 

It’s also worth noting that the use of performative jokey irony to disguise genuinely hateful statements is such a well-recognized trope at this point that it was in the style guide for the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi website. Which is positively not to say that the Red Scare women are Nazis. Yet there’s also been some toying with truly hateful symbols. A recent anonymous blog criticizing Khachiyan and Nekrasova included photos of the latter hanging up an SS flag in someone’s house

The same blog post featured some now-deleted tweets from Khachiyan featuring sentiments like “A guy like Donald Trump primarily attracts glorified prostitutes so you probably shouldn’t feel too bad for anybody whose pussy he grabbed.” She also wrote in a 2015 tweet, that she will doubtless also argue was a big joke for fun: “Let’s be clear on one thing. I am not and have never been a liberal or a leftist. I’m a cryptofacist, and the ‘crypto’ is being generous.” All very fun and normal!


A weird and largely undiscussed wrinkle in the Red Scare version of hipster shock-jockery is the fact that it also includes some casual valorization of anorexia. One of them maintains a secondary Twitter account devoted entirely to what she’s eating, or not eating, plus photos paired with text in which she exults about how thin she looks. (I’m not linking to it because it would be frankly irresponsible to do so. A fair number of people in media follow it, though, which is certainly a choice.) 

On a recent episode of the pod, one of the hosts—their voices are impossible for me to tell apart—admitted that she’s recently thought that she’s thin because God must especially love her. Again, it was a “joke,” but, seemingly, not really. 

This is Paul’s department, but the fact that journalist fans are sincerely celebrating the “ironic” celebrations of disordered eating as “thinspo” is a depressing illustration of how this works.

Anyway, relentlessly punching down doesn’t magically become progressive because you occasionally make gestures to an in-group belief that the Democratic Party needs to become a Bernie Sanders personality cult, and joking-not-joking is pretty much what got Donald Trump where he is today.

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