They say one of the first signs of indoctrination is the inability to take into consideration any outside viewpoints. All news and information starts to be filtered through one ideological point of view, and the indoctrinated surround themselves only with people who share that point of view. I think, then, we can safely say that
They say one of the first signs of indoctrination is the inability to take into consideration any outside viewpoints. All news and information starts to be filtered through one ideological point of view, and the indoctrinated surround themselves only with people who share that point of view. I think, then, we can safely say that the media has been indoctrinated.
Incapable of discussing the epidemic of loneliness and alienation that gets lumped in with “incel culture” (incel stands for ‘“involuntary celibrates”) it can only swing between hysterical condemnation – these young men are fighting a war against women – or soft-hearted (and -headed) pity: all these men need is a girlfriend and a better job.
File the new film TFW No GF, which is named after a meme that refers to feeling alone (“that feel when no girlfriend”), under the soft-hearted side of things. The documentary, which was supposed to debut at the now canceled SXSW festival and was unveiled this week on Amazon Prime, is ostensibly a portrait of male loneliness and disenfranchisement in struggling post-industrial cities from the “forgotten” regions of America. It profiles several young men who have grown up with unfettered access to “gore and hardcore pornography” and notoriously rules-free message boards such as 4chan, which is routinely accused by experts of being a hotbed of alt-right radicalization and misogyny.
The film also seeks to examine how the “privilege” of white manhood is pretty much a fantasy when separated from structures like wealth, higher education, and urban, coastal centers. The men are all white, un- or under-employed, and often grew up in difficult family circumstances. They spend a lot of time making inappropriate – but sometimes quite funny – jokes on social media. (My favorite: “Dear Isis, please execute every non-incel.”)
At first viewing, TFW No GF seems like an empathetic, if not well structured or contextualized, view of a much maligned but probably pretty harmless group of guys. By harmless I mean that, for the most part, the alienated young men of America pose a greater threat to themselves – via suicide and addiction – than to others. Of course, when they do lash out at others, the results are sometimes horrifying acts of violence, often against women.
One of the film’s producers is Cody Wilson, a self-defined “crypto-anarchist”. His various run-ins with the law include pleading guilty to endangering a child after being brought up on charges of paying a minor for sex and a legal battle with the feds after he released blueprints online for creating a firearm by 3D printer. Wilson is also one of the founders of Hatreon, a crowdsourcing platform favored by white nationalist groups kicked off Patreon for violating their terms regarding hate speech. So, yeah. Whatever his motivations for producing the film, it’s safe to say they are probably highly questionable. But should that mean we shouldn’t watch it?
After the 2016 election, there was a lot of talk about intellectual “bubbles”. Given free rein to choose from the multitude of media sources, voices, and communities to listen to, we tend to go with those we already agree with, getting no outside perspective. But while the leftist bubble was deemed a problem because it left its inhabitants naive about what was happening in “Trump country”, only the more conservative bubble was deemed dangerous. On the right, terrorists and reactionaries were being created, but it’s not like they had anything those on the left needed to know. If anything, the left just needed to infiltrate, so it could “teach” and “help” those trapped on the right.
But whatever the politics of these young men – the documentary’s makers largely omit politics from the conversation, framing the subjects as simply trolls and reflexive antagonists – they do offer some useful insights. The alienated generally do. Their observations on the way America presents itself as a meritocracy, yet saves its rewards for people with money, family connections, and good looks, are important. The memes and jokes and insults they create might not reach the level of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, but they have some shared sensibility.
The alienated young men of America deserve a better intermediary than a previous international fugitive. The director, Alex Lee Moyer, has described herself as “red-pilled”. The musician who wrote the score, Ariel Pink, has a long history of edge-lordy political comments – always carefully packaged in irony and plausible deniability.
The greatest failing of the documentary is the way it pretends 4chan and other gathering places for this particular subculture are mostly harmless, perhaps populated with a few bad eggs. (By “bad egg”, I of course mean mass murderers.) One character in the documentary refers to boards where people say they’re going to kill themselves, either as a confession or as a joke, and other users will sometimes encourage the user to follow through. It’s funny, he tells us, except that “maybe” someone will be sincere and actually die. Except that’s not a maybe – one user actually livestreamed his suicide attempt for 4chan. If you want to talk about a subculture, talking about its dark sides and limitations in a serious way is more helpful than pretending everything is fine.
But what if that is part of the film’s agenda? There is so much misinformation and heightened emotions – the kind that caused authorities across the country to go into high alert because of a comic-book movie – around this subculture that any real conversation about incels is nearly impossible.
We’re always afraid of alienated figures, because of what they reveal about a society that works for some of us. These young men refuse to go through the motions of pretending the “meritocratic” American Dream isn’t rigged. That makes those of us with “merit” nervous. We’re afraid of what they might do instead.