While browsing the internet I came across an interesting old blog called The Last Psychiatrist and one post particularly stood out: Fox & Friends Punked by Obama Supporter. The video itself is nothing special; a man just spouts nonsense during a Fox News interviews and reveals later he’s an Obama supporter in an interview:
the man who pranked Fox News said he’s always believed “Fox News is a fake news organization,” and explained that he wanted to shame the conservative television channel for being “stupid” and looking for interview subjects as if they were “casting a part in a show.
The whole “prank” itself is quite unremarkable and is only really interesting in it’s childishness. It is simply antagonism for the sake of antagonism.
Yet besides this point I think this video is an interesting sign of things to come. Anyone that has spent any extended time on YouTube will probably have been recommended a video in the “Rekted” genre of political videos. These videos typically feature one or many short clips of various political opponents getting corrected or “roasted” by someone: usually a popular political pundit.
The videos started in 2015 and exploded in 2016 with titles like: “(REKT) Best of Ben Shapiro! Ben Shapiro TRIGGERS Feminists, Liberals, SJW, Snowflakes! Mic Drop 2017”, “Feminist Cringe Compilation #2”, or “feminists get destroyed by one man”. In recent years the subject matter the subject matter has expanded into videos like: “Dumb Republicans Compilation”, “Anti-SJW Cringe Compilation”, and “Libertarian Cringe Compilation (the end will make your eyes bleed)”.
The content of these videos are all almost identical in that no point is actually made in any of videos. Rather then being a two sided debate or discussion they serve as a purely one sided afar where one side is assumed to be right and therefore must use “logic” to destroy all opponents. In this quick culture the actual discussion or debate between two ideologies is replaced by a quick slap down culture where nitpicks and insults replace understanding.
The short length of the clips also helps to facilitate the narrative that the side in question is the “right” one. It doesn’t matter if you utter botched most of a debate when one five minute clip of you correcting an opponent with facts is what goes viral. With this style of smackdown a short length is preferred as it allows you to take a potshot before running away. If the kid in the “Fox and Friends PUNKED” video had actually stayed on the program who knows what other points he could make to the reporter besides “Haha I’m actually an Obama supporter”. As TLP points out:
Imagine Gretchen Carlson doing what she should have done if she was smart: kept the interview going longer. “Oh, I’m sorry, Max, we must all be dummies here at Fox because when you told us you were pro-Romney we… just believed it. We do that with the Bible and pre-war intelligence, too, gosh golly. Well, you have a Columbia education and I’m giving you a national platform, why don’t you tell us why we’re all stupid here for supporting Romney? Why should we want Obama for a second term? Please, no soundbites you got from twitter.” As the kid’s head melts like he was staring into the Ark of the Covenant we’d see clearly that he isn’t an Obama supporter at all. He may be voting for Obama, I have no idea, but he wasn’t there for Obama, he was there for himself under the pretense antagonizing Fox, which is why his main argument was “s’up.” Advice for aspiring comics like Max: if you get to go on TV, you should probably prepare some material.
This strange trend represents one fundamental truth about politics which is that antagonism is more important then agreement or understanding. The best thing a politician can do is simply get you to hate the other side; it’s quite telling that most political ads are attack ads rather then telling you why you should vote for them. As TLP points out:
Note, however, that the key antagonism here isn’t between Romney’s ideas and Obama’s ideas, or even Romney and Obama, but Romney supporters and Obama supporters. This is textbook contemporary political debate: attack people you hate. The college kid doesn’t like Obama, he just hates Romney supporters. And Gretchen Carlson doesn’t like Romney, she hates Obama supporters. The debate isn’t the point — indeed, you are not supposed to see how similar they are — the hate is the point. The candidates themselves are interchangeable.
This is best represented in the culture war narrative that has been peddled recently that America is trapped in some civil war between two radical factions. However this narrative is just that a narrative. As political scientist Morris Fiorina has pointed out our country is just as divided as it usually is; which is not much. Most people agree on moderate policies and 40% of Americans identify as independent a far cry for the supposed radical majority that we hear about. Instead what see is that parties themselves and the political class have become sorted. The democratic party is now homogeneously liberal and the Republicans are homogeneously conservative. This goes for other members of the political class: activists, donors, and partisan reporters. A more optimistic commentator may simply view this narrative as the result of the political class unintentional projecting their beliefs onto the general population. While a more cynical one may see this as a deliberate way to stroke fear and hatred.
This “culture war” narrative is exactly what pushes these kind of “rekted” videos with the assumption that one side is becoming more radical while the other is sane and rational. In these videos radical members of the political class are paraded around as the norm when in reality they are a minority. Most liberals aren’t blue haired gun-snatching socialist radical feminists and most conservatives aren’t evangelical gun-toting free-market crypto-fascists, but if you believe the other side to be nothing but radicals then you have to do everything in you power to stop them; even if it means voting for someone considered the “lesser of two evils”.
Who cares what a politician is doing besides the fact that oppose the bad guys? If you can convince people that your opponents are radical beyond reason then all you have to do is make yourself seem slightly less radical in comparison. This also produces a cycle of violence and fear. If you think America is being over run by Nazis well then you’d want to protest and “Make Nazis Afraid Again”, so you start preforming increasingly violent protests in order to counter single the growing radicalism. This then catches notice of other right wing commentators who then exaggerate the radical protesters in order to make their base feel the need to counter signal with increasing intensity in order to fight their perceive radical threat, and thus the cycle continues.
Politicians and the people who support them know that fear can be used to shield themselves from criticism while turning public outrage too their opponent. If you can convince people that some irrational threat exists they will support anyone who opposed that threat without question. There were people who supported Trump just to “trigger the libs” and third parties and independents have been scolded consistently for letting the “fascist Trump” win. Once you’ve been convinced the other side is irrational beyond repair you’ve already bitten the bait and have started playing the game.
When people are people are afraid of ideas they become afraid of people. People who are afraid are divided and pitted against one and another. We can lie to ourselves and say it’s just that others are just garbage human beings; we can pretend that we are morally superior and more intellectual then everyone who disagrees with, but when we pit ourselves against our fellow man who is really being punked?