Someone recently posted a meme of Hitler with the words “What Hitler Got Right” big and bold at the top, and below a quote attributed (falsely?) to Mein Kampf that basically states that American Jews are and have been the main exploiters of black Americans.
This facebook page saw hundreds of comments, several of them mine, in a matter of hours (certainly not viral, but in the echo chamber of my small circle of acquaintances, that number counted as something of note). People appalled or applauding had a surprising range of emotional relationships to the meme, both in support and opposition; tacit, indirect, and outright; from pride to shock, disappointment to disbelief; from ‘how could this be posted?’ to ‘how can you not understand why this is posted?’
There are many conversations to be had about these memes designed to spark moral outrage and the dialogues that ensue. Trolling loosely defined is now as benign as responding, and the concept of social media is lost. Our use of twitter and facebook, etc, transcended the social years ago and we currently find ourselves rooted in the entirety of media—in the umbrella sense of the term; one that includes everything, or at least includes the middle of everything and points to a new prime mover of the American body politic.
From alternate facts to alternate rights, republicults and deplorables, arise familiar vocabularies of the new middle media, words that act as ambassadors to every day feeds, signifiers of a much more personalized, polarized, and partisan cyberspace.
But its effects are also felt on land; there are physical and physiological interactions with this media; the news in the middle of everything, perpetually humming in our pockets and beeping on our screens. Sharing is taking the place of speaking, a phenomenon that challenges writing, and transforms reading into an externalized act. There is a paradigm shift of sorts going on, and no one has a handle on it.
These conversations are important. For example, in the anecdote above, the meme where Hitler is used as an expert to make an unabashedly antisemitic point, there is nevertheless a nod to an understudied side of American history. As James Baldwin wrote: “Negroes are anti-Semitic because they are anti-white.” The implication being that there are cases, many even, of Jews, as assimilated whites, exploiting a black underclass.
There certainly are these histories; one can easily point to figures in the early modern trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the modern entertainment industry, and to anywhere else one cares to look, that would fit the bill of being Jewish and exploiter. This meme, interpreting it as liberally as possible is meant as a boisterous rebellion against a perceived hegemonic history and culture that has included American Jews as whites but has excluded black Americans.
But it fails to consider that it reduces black suffering by explaining it through antisemitism, a form of scapegoating almost as old as history; fails to consider the strong Jewish representation in the civil rights era of the mid-twentieth century; fails to consider that Jews were relegated to the merchant and entertainment industries as a result of being frozen out of nearly everything else; fails to consider that the majority of the world’s Jews are brown-skinned and poor, and many are black, too, and most white Jews do not enjoy upper or even middle-class status, etc.
The meme is deeply divisive, polarizing, manifestly antisemitic—and, perhaps more to the point does not lead to any kind of productive dialogue between what quickly metastasizes into two opposing camps (those opposed and those in favor). It is designed for reaction and reactionaries.
Another underexplored point to make here is that there is a long history of the American countercultural left appropriating fascist and Nazi images and postures. One need only turn to Kerouac’s antisemitism; beatnik and hippie affinity for future, leather and motorcycles; the Surfer’s Cross; Malcolm X’s speech to American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell in 1961, at the end of which Rockwell donated financially to the NOI; David Bowie’s love affair with fascism and strong man nationalism in the 1970s; and on and on. Indeed, there are many examples of leftwing affinity for elements of fascism and National Socialism, both aesthetically and ideologically; and I’d even argue that until the recent Trump/Bannon phenomenon and the upending of an American political tradition stretching back to the beginning of the postwar era, were largely confined to left-wing and libertarian circles, and to cultures outside of the conservative norm.
These could be enlightening conversations. But the memed conversations of late are worrisome. Details are lost, generalizations are broad, and thought is reduced to emotion.
Moral outrage is a paved road to hell.