Kill All Normies – a problem of fascination

A german version of this post has been published here and tl;dr version will be published in print, in Analyse & Kritik.

“this is not a book about the alt-right. It is an anti-Left polemic.”
Jordy Cummings

“‘the centre’ – as a proclaimed area of shared, sensible assumptions about the values, needs and possibilities of a political community, defined against threatening ‘extremes’ – is a frequently remade fiction, masking specific ideological commitments and positioning“
Tom Crewe

Pretty late, but I can not not write a few words about Angela Nagles Kill All Normies. I am tired of people scapegoating “left identity politics” just like the far right wants them to, and I find it hard to believe that there are still new articles being published that treat this book like a standard reference without any criticism. Though, to be fair, sometimes these articles stick the word “controversial” to Kill All Normies as a kind of magic spell that signals that the author is aware that criticism is due but that at the same time exempts the author from applying any. Seeing how widely known Kill All Normies has become by now, I would rather wish for this book to be just as critically discussed and dissected as the Sokal (Squared) Hoax. This is my little contribution.

No source citations, spiteful and sloppy style

A first obvious reason why her work should be questioned is Nagles “sloppy sourcing”: There are no citations in this book. Not only does it make verification hard, it is also almost impossible to contextualize statements. Libcom have taken it upon themselves to search for possible sources and have found that there are passages that have similar wording as Wikipedia entries. Well, if work this way, it can happen that you accidentally use use a fascist’s self-description: In Kill All Normies’ case it is Aleksandr Dugin’s description of his own book. Charles Davis gathered similarly problematic references, for example that Nagle describes incidents based on news articles that she doesn’t cite while simply leaving out the parts of the articles that do not support her argument.

Her snarky tabloid press style, quite a few misspellings and an overall writing style that shows in what a rush this text has been written also deserve criticism. Apparently there was little editorial effort. Maybe all this is acceptable for a blogger like me who has not much time for writing, does not write in her first language and has no editorial background and resources. For a published book though, and for one that by now has been translated into several more languages and is making the rounds in a greater extent and that is even used by people with an academic background as allegedly reliable source, all this is a no-go. I can only assume that the publisher, Zero Books, hoped such a sensationalist work would sell even in such a sloppy version. And it has worked. Clickbait in book shape.

Jules Joanne Gleeson files the book rather aptly under “travel writing for internet culture”, thereby pointing out its exoticizing aspect: “Kill All Normies provides a string of curios and oddities (from neo-nazi cults, to inscrutably gendered teenagers) to an audience expected to find them unfamiliar, and titillating.”

Rejection of the feminine, internalized misogyny

Rejection of the feminine is woven all through Nagle’s book. She is noticeably annoyed by feminists and it feels as if she wants to be “one of the guys”, a “cool girl”. It downright smells of internalize misogyny.

Even in small details she sets a subtle mood against people, mostly women, she sees as part of “tumblr-liberalism”, an example: Jordy Cummings observes that Nagle doesn’t use titles for those (e.g. Judith Butler) but uses titles like “doctor” or “professor” for people she deems worthy.

She seriously thinks it helpful to write this about Gamergate, one of the initial events in the origin of the Alt-Right:

“Gamergate itself kicked off when Zoe Quinn created a video game called Depression Quest, which even to a nongamer like me looked like a terrible game featuring many of the fragility and mental illness-fetishizing characteristics of the kind of feminism that has emerged online in recent years. It was the kind of game, about depression, that would have worked as a perfect parody of everything the gamergaters hated about SJWs (social justice warriors).
Nevertheless, her dreadful game got positive reviews from politically sympathetic indie games journalists, which turned into a kind of catalyst for the whole gamergate saga.”

This quote should also give you a taste of her style. As Noah Berlatsky remarks: “Not a single word about that Zoe Quinn “actually has depression, and the fact that her game is about sadness and fragility—and is therefore coded feminine—is precisely why Gamergate saw it, and Quinn, as convenient scapegoats to rally against once Quinn’s abusive ex stirred up the mob.” (Quinn was one of the women who suffered the most massive misogynist attacks in Gamergate.) Nagle often sounds so disdainful about openly showing one’s vulnerability that I almost waited that she uses the insult “snowflakes” herself.

When she writes about the alleged weakness of a woman like Zoe Quinn, Nagle implicitly writes herself as tough-minded critic of feminism and any kind of showing of vulnerability, and: as very conservative if it comes to gender politics. While she does describe the ugliness of right propaganda on the web, again and again she sounds as if she has a tiny bit too much understanding for the Alt-Right and the sexists of the manosphere. As Donald Parkinson points out, “she concludes in her chapter on the manosphere by saying that the ‘sexual revolution’ has led to a ‘steep sexual hierarchy’, the decline of monogamy creating a ‘pecking order’ amongst men. … they develop an ideology around the hatred of women and resentment, blaming ‘cultural marxist feminists’ for talking away this idealized past. The idea that these men just can’t get laid and are therefore doomed to be this reactionary just feeds exactly into the ideology of reddit incels.” It is hardly surprising that Nagle also is not very critical of Jordan Peterson, someone famous for suggesting compulsory monogamy as solution for misogynist violence last year.

The little good I see in this little book is that it introduces people who don’t know anything about it to how the right US scene presents itself online, with a look at quite a few subscenes. But that has been done by others and with a more sober look. Nagle’s nerdy fascination tilts to one side. She writes about Pat Buchanan and Milo Yiannopolous in great length, quotes them directly and uses their theories about an alleged autoritarianism of the left, but her description of the left? Wow. Drastic simplifications and mood-setting descriptions. She uses vocabulary like “hysterical”, “sensitive”, “absurd” etc., which is language that degrades by feminization, just like the Alt-Right uses it. She uses omissions to create the undifferentiated and inaccurate image of a self-contained omnipresent hypersensitive pc-censorship left that she needs to underpin her theory.

Construction and demonization of an imaginary left: “Tumblr Liberalism”

One example of the intentional omissions that Nagle uses to present the “left” as anti-free speech movement becomes obvious when she writes about the protests against Milo “feminism is cancer” Yiannopolous in Berkeley. She describes it as attack on freedom of speech but does not mention with any word that the main reason behind the protests turning out as drastic as they did was that Yiannopolous had announced that in his speech he would call out immigrants without papers by name in order to deliver them to deportation. He also his fans to do the same. As Andrew Stewart writes, this was “an attempt to incite violence against the most vulnerable individuals in our society,” and the concern of protestors was to radically stand up against this, to stand up for people who were actually threatened. To leave that out when describing what happened simply is distorting.

Angela Nagle is taking side for free speech absolutism and even worse: Although this also is a core topic of right propaganda, she sets up this position as reasonable status quo without discussing the arguments against it. There are more examples of how Nagle uses omissions for her lopsided descriptions of campus conflicts as “anti-free speech” censorship instead of political protest with actual arguments. You can find them for example in Richard Seymour’s “The negative dialectics of moralism”.

Nagle uses a similar way of leaving out more complex contexts whenever they do not fit her theory when she lumps together concepts of a progressive left, identity politics that are focussed on working against everyday discrimination and neoliberal diversity tactics and many more into what she calls “Tumblr Liberalism”. She constructs it out of mostly falsifying reduction, out of extreme examples. Hypersensitive call-out culture is her pet point. She can not deliver any substantial proof that it really is characteristic for the major part of the online left and that it is not only a small while very noisy part of it.

While she works out in detail how incels and alt-right came to be, it is kind of impressive how she blocks out nagging invisible everyday experiences of discrimination that are a big part of the roots of “identity politics”. Racism, antisemitism, homo- and transphobia – Nagle has kind of a blind spot for those. According to Kill All Normies her nebulous Tumblr Liberalism was born out of an emotionalized irrational sensitivity that Nagle tries to sloppily trace back to the ideals of the hippie movement that became mainstream culture, ignoring racism, ableism, antisemitism etc.

As I have mentioned before, I find it fascinating how in Kill All Normies Nagle writes up herself as distant voice of reason, a kind of common sense of bothsideism, and by this implicitly targeting readers who also need and want to care only little about experiences of marginalization and discrimination. To position herself as neutral, such a presumption of objectivity, sadly is not a rare move of bourgeois centrists, playing themselves as the balanced average of society. Or of white western thinkers trying to shirk their being intertwined in power relationships and a history of discrimination. Also what is (self-)described as the Intellectual Dark Web (Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Ben Shapiro, Jonathan Haidt etc.). Jonathan Haidt (of Righteous Mind and Coddling Of The American Mind fame), of course gets mentioned by Nagle. He stands for this kind of populist scientism that pitches “reason” and “logic” against “social justice” and “inclusion”, toughness against vulnerability. A man who manages, as Moira Weigel notes about Coddling Of The American Mind, his book with Greg Lukianoff: “they can write hundreds of pages about what’s wrong with contemporary higher education and not mention debt or adjuncts.”

Anyway. Another example for Nagles construction of her left bogeyman is ridicule for ideas of gender theory that she gives a lot of room. It speaks for itself that she gives a whole two pages of her – on more than one level – slim book to a list of gender terms by “gender-bending Tumblr users”, only to signal “look at these weirdos lel” to her readers. To use this list as allegedly representative example is absurd. As there are no citations and as Nagle did not react to their request, Libcom have done some research themselves: “ it appears that either this list was taken from a clearly labeled ‘list of poorly-attested nonbinary identities’ with insufficient sourcing or evidence that the listed genders were claimed by anyone, or it was sourced from a forum thread on the alt-right hub /pol/ where posters mocked the list.” But who cares if it fits the theory one wants to feed?

Another example is her cold mockery of spoonies. “Spoonies” is a term with which people who live with a chronic illness self-label. It is mainly used with focus on those whose illnesses are invisible to the public eye, like people with chronical pain. If you want to know more, Amanda Hess has written about people using the spoonie tag on social media to share experiences and support each other. These often are people who do not know anyone else who shares their experiences with Crohn or Lupus etc. In the past there were only offline self help groups as possibilities for exchange. Today it has become easier to find others, thanks to social media. This helped bringing about a more offensive way of dealing with it instead of shamefully hiding the illness. From misery to the building their own subculture. The spoon became a symbol and got printed on mugs, stickers, jewellery or shirts. A symbol from which those-in-the-know can recognize each other – as used often in the solidary history of marginalized people.

Nagle does not write anything about positive aspects but only describes spoonies as a “cult of suffering, weakness and vulnerability”. She even suggests that they could lie about their illnesses, once more using negative extremes to sustain her theory: “Young women, very often also identifying as intersectional feminists and radicals, displayed their spoonie identity and lashed out at anyone for not reacting appropriately to their under-recognized, undiagnosed or undiagnosable invisible illnesses or for lacking sensitivity to their other identities.” idk, somehow she often sounds like the cliche of some old bitter man on a park bench, cursing the youth of today. Or, as Josh Davies writes a bit more soberly:
”Nagle’s focus on the way things are said, and her reluctance to think about the politics and processes behind what is being said leaves her seemingly adopting a similar stance on gender to that of many of the conservatives she is critical of: gender non-conformity is something strange, esoteric and frivolous. The way her argument is presented here seems little different to the transphobic ‘I sexually identify as an attack helicopter’ meme regurgitated across the internet by edgy defenders of heteronormativity.”

Donald Parkinson points out: “Fans of Kill All Normies point to the negative reaction to the book from ‘social justice tumblr and twitter’ as proving the book’s point. All it really proves is that leftists aren’t a fan of conservative gender politics and mocking disabled people, which is correct and rightfully so. The reason tumblr ID politics exists is that people experience real oppression in their daily lives, and a lack of collective solutions leads people to individualistic methods of coping with this.”

That parts of this culture bears toxic behaviour can not and should not be denied but you get negative extremes in any other political culture and mostly it does not get criticized with such a spitefulness that makes me ask myself what this criticism actually is about.

Also: To simply absorb and accept the right myth that this so-called Tumblr Liberalism is “the ruling elite” and that the right only has gotten so radical in self-defense, is totally blind to the fact that – as Donald Parkinson writes too – that it has always been a tactic of the right to call out extreme examples to demonize concerns of the progressive left. When she uses their jargon and line of argument, Nagle plays right into the hands of the far right that through her manages to throw a line and hook to the centre of society. Here is another example from Kill All Normies:

“This anti-free speech, anti-free thought, anti-intellectual online movement, which has substituted politics with neuroses, can’t be separated from the real-life scenes millions saw online of college campuses, in which to be on the right was made something exciting, fun and courageous for the first time since… well, possibly ever. When Milo challenged his protesters to argue with him countless times on his tour, he knew that they not only wouldn’t, but also that they couldn’t. They come from an utterly intellectually shut-down world of Tumblr and trigger warnings, and the purging of dissent in which they have only learned to recite jargon.”

Is this still ‘rational’ criticism of the left or already marketing for the Alt-Right?

What Nagle does not mention is the diversity of the progressive left and liberal left, the countless extensive and controversial discussions that are so typical for most of the left online subculture practice and from which approaches get (re)developed further and further. Also “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”: She does not consider that – even if probably no dogs – there is a very diverse group of people behind her examples and what gets so easily subsumed under “the left”. Kids who mix fanfic and memes with cultural and political theorizing, self help groups that are there to help each other with practical and psychological problems, people without academic background discussing complex theory work and trying to put it into help for political practice in actual everyday life, and of course also academic political discourse and so on. Steamroller Nagle levels all those diverse and lively scenes down into some kind of totally homogenous dogmatically-stuck irrational tribalism, a left bogeyman.

That neoliberals commodify a lot of progressive, constructive and nuanced ideas, and watered them down into buzzwords, like as in marketing of anything from political parties to products, doesn’t mean that those ideas and approaches can not still be justified and useful in their more radical form. It is worth differentiating. If anything is typical for the left then it is a hivemind ever re-reflecting, discussing, criticising, discarding and advancing how a better future for everyone can be attained. Nagle however does not seem to care about solutions. For example, as Andrew Stewart writes, she “never mentions that there is a class-based intersectional feminism that can effectively oppose the alt-right.” Josh Davies concludes: “ Nagle’s sweeping generalisations not only obscure their differences but foreclose any discussion of the history and politics of each of the amorphous ‘Tumblr liberalism’’s constituent parts. For a book that focuses so much on the left’s supposed inability to generate and challenge ideas, it often reads as an invitation not to think.”

Kill All Normies often reminds me of the – hopefully never to be translated – german queer essay collection Beißreflexe, a book that is demonizing identity politics in a very similar way: constructing an image out of particular and extreme cases and overall more interested in an acidic takedown than in solutions. Floris Biskamp wrote a great analytic review of that book, structured into seven points, fallacies and mistakes, with which the bogeyman gets constructed. Those would fit for Kill All Normies just as well: Generalization of the particular, alarmistic exaggeration, the effects of standardization, invisible power and ignored capacity to act, misunderstood criticism of privilege, suppressed criticism of racism, pathologization of the others. This review already getting longer than I wanted it to be, I do not have time to go further into this but it is surprising how similar these books, and indeed an international anti-”left identity politics” dispute is structured.

No critically and historically contextualizing look at the Alt-Right

After Kill All Normies Nagle has published a text called ‘The Left case against Open Borders’ in which she plays working class and immigrants off against each other and equates a left idea of globalization with its neoliberal distorting mirror. (The difference if you really need to have it pointed out, maybe is best put by a line from a Die Goldenen Zitronen song: “I could cross your shitty Western Sea – if I were a sneaker” (english version of the song).)
With this essay Nagle was invited for an interview on his show by White Nationalist Tucker Carlson in which she let herself be instrumentalized and celebrated by the right. I do not know if she is as naive or ignorant as to take the racist, antisemitic, sexist and nativist ideology of the right not seriously, or if she simply does not mind playing into their hands, Querfront, so to speak (Strasserite? I think that’d be the political equivalent in english).

It is not just that essay though, Kill All Normies also has not exactly covered itself in glory: A book on the far right that misses out on racism as a topic? Hm. As Jules Joanne Gleeson points out, it also does not connect the Alt-Right with “earlier and on-going trends in the Anglophone right. For instance there is no evaluation of the English Defence League, or older groups such as the Orange Order. Even National Action (a recently banned British group unambiguously part of the ‘nipster’ wing of the Alt-Right, while drawing on the legacy of earlier British neo-nazi tendencies such as ‘Rock Against Communism’ and Combat 18) are not mentioned, despite their aggressive and innovative internet presence.”
Nagle also does not write about the Alt-Right’s international connections with groups like Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s Génération Identitaire, Putin’s troll army or Hindutva. What about overlaps to the Counter Jihad movement that also had a strong online presence? And Gleeson explicitly criticizes: “Unfortunately, another of the book’s greatest failures is the lack of dedicated treatment of anti-semitism.” And Gleeson also sees Nagle falling for tactics of the right: “Nagle is reliant on a schema produced by the Alt-Right itself: the division between the Alt-Right proper (hardcore national socialists and white supremacists) and Alt-Light (who mostly avoid overt racism, instead deploying a more ‘civic’ western chauvinism). Nagle fails to note how this distinction has been used instrumentally by the Alt-Right itself.”

She does not analyse tactics of the Alt-Right as such and does not point out that next to the demonization of gender theories and feminism and to the distortion of left criticism as censorship, another big propaganda topic of the Alt-Right is its effort to fuel a revival of the American commie-panic. They do that as well by heating up the (antisemitically connotated) agitation against “cultural marxism” as they do it directly by stirring a fear of a communist revolution, as Red Scare revival. This is neither new nor specific for the internet but it needs historical contextualization. As Jack Smith IV sums up: “Renewing the language of the Red Scare equips the right with the talking points they need to delegitimize the rising tide of left-wing populism. The rhetoric is antiquated, but its purpose remains the same: to portray protest as subversion, to undercut the struggle for civil rights and to prevent the left from expanding the boundaries of what’s possible in America by policing the boundaries of what it means to be an American.”

It is remarkable that, as Donald Parkinson mentions, in her narrative of how the alt-right came into existence Nagle uses “a methodology that itself has more in common with liberal cultural theory” than with the “marxist materialism” she claims to use. Kill All Normies sticks to an analysis along her transgression theory, there is nothing about class and economy. (Which adds a hint of irony to the left materialists’ love for Nagle’s book.) Nagle’s analysis is restricted to online discourses and as Parkinson notes too: “Her primary problem with identity politics seems to its ‘oversensitivity’ and ‘extremism’, not their failure to adequately address exploitation and oppression in a materialist manner.”

Digital Dualism and no analysis of digital platforms

Limiting her reflections on online presence (and propaganda stunts) leads Nagle to a chapter title like “The joke isn’t funny any more – the culture war goes offline”. She seems stuck in the thinking of digital dualism, separating “real” offline world and “virtual” online world, when using expressions like “spills into real life”. Her theory seems to be: First there was a “leaderless internet revolution”, then bad left “identity politics” rose and as reaction to that the “irreverent trolling style associated with 4chan” and some point the web was so full that it overflowed and spilled from Tumblr to the IRL campus etc. Maybe someone should put a plug into the Alt-Right parts of the internet so all their hate would stay in there.

By ignoring offline aspects of the right Nagle overlooks important connections and underestimates their danger and cause-effect relationships. Donald Parkins notes this weakness of Kill All Normies: “… ideologues like Richard Spencer and Kevin MacDonald have been organizing their think tanks and affinity groups for quite some time, and as proven by events in Charlottesville they are quite willing to take their ideas ‘to the streets’. There is a lack of information about the actual alt-right as it exists in the [offline] world. … Nothing is said about the efforts of white supremacist organizers like Identity Europa or the Traditionalist Workers Party to organize frats or rural workers and what kind of visions these groups have (a balkanization of the US and the create of an all-white “enthno state” is a common one). Rather Nagle pretends the alt-right is only an online phenomena, when these people have been trying to promote these politics for years.”

Maybe it is the lack of this wider context that makes Nagle neglect how tactical the recruitment and radicalization gets applied online. It is not just an automatic response to “political correctness gone mad.” Even if I were to overlook that she does not relate to the offline organisation and effects of right groups, from a book that limits its analysis to online presence of right groups I would expect at least one little chapter about how attention economy, social metrics, virality etc., in other words how the specific structures and mechanisms of the prominent platforms for online communication and networking contribute to radicalization. There is no space dedicated to this topic in Kill All Normies.

If you are interested in this, here are two reading tipps (I am copy-pasting this from my Matrix And The Manosphere talk script) but – content warning: Both texts are not as sensationalistically written as Kill All Normies.

1.) In her essay “Counter-Creativity” in ‘Sociotechnical Change from Alt-Right to Alt-Tech’ Julia Ebner mentions three tactical goals: “they have leveraged the digital space for three different types of campaigns to reach their key audiences: radicalization campaigns targeting sympathizers, manipulation campaigns targeting the mainstream, and intimidation campaigns targeting political opponents.” In their networks they share instructions, strategic documents on how to start chats with strangers, how to build trust and use widespread grievances, and how to adapt your language to the person you want to reach with your ideology.

2.) Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis also cover this in their great reader Media Manipulation And Disinformation Online. They explore how an amalgam of conspiracy theorists, tech-libertarians, white nationalists, MRAs, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration-activists and bored young people use the techniques of participatory culture and the weak points of social media to spread their beliefs. They intentionally use the possibilities of internet platforms that are optimized for attention economy (because they are financed by advertizing) to specifically use weaknesses of the news media eco sytem.

Both readers are available as free downloads.

Back to Kill All Normies failure on this topic, as Richard Seymour points out: “what one needs then, surely, is not the increasingly hokey attacks on a straw ‘identity politics’, but a political (and psychic) economy of social media. What one needs is an account of how attention is engaged, retained, bought and sold; how online platforms are structured and structuring in their effects on users; how existing social and cultural tendencies are selected and accentuated by these technologies and their corporate organisation; and so on. … What this book does, sadly, is circle around the familiar, well-trodden terrain, not only in terms of its theory, but in terms of its unreflexive ‘backlash’ anti-moralist moralising. It perpetuates the dynamics that it purports to anatomise, scold and shame.”

Transgression as culture of the mainstream and its problem of fascination with the right

The central point that Nagle wants to make is that the culture of transgression had long belonged to the left but today has been taken over by the right. She argues that because the mainstream culture has become a kind of political-correctness-gone-mad of a Tumblr Liberalism that she has carefully constructed herself. The people that did no longer want to put up with it could hardly do anything else but react with an anti-political-correctness move and radicalize themselves into the Alt-Right.

Counter culture, non-conformism, the whole idea of small subcultures with all their codes is disgusting for Nagle, this oozes from every pore of this book. Neocons on the other hand almost get her enthusing: “intellectually equipped and rhetorically gifted”, “smart”, this is how she describes them and Milo Yiannopolous is a figure that clearly fascinates her (he gets a full 71 mentions on her 247 pages and tbh: her take of the Alt-Right sounds just taken from the self-defining text he posted on Breitbart a couple of years ago. Of course she is not the only one who lazily took that over instead of analyzing it but that is no excuse. Actually it is part of the problem and sustains the Alt-Right.)

One point on which Nagle bases her rejection of transgressive culture is that it is not popular, not for the masses but inherently elitist and thereby working against the working class. As rebuttal Jordy Cummings recommends the lecture of Brian Palmer’s Cultures of Darkness:

“Palmer asserts, with tremendous, terrific and big league historical backing, that it is in these transgressive spaces – from pre-20th century Freemasonry to late nights at the DJ booth, from kink culture to tarot cards, to late night union socials and drunken, stoned revelry – that revolutionary and emancipatory ideals are formed through genuine comradeship beyond the meeting room and picket line. … throughout the history of capitalism and its accompanying history of working class struggle, one would be hard pressed to find any social movement against capitalist social relations without finding it rooted in one form of transgressive counterculture or another.” How powerful transgressive culture can be in strengthening a feeling of solidarity and how encouraging it can be, often gets misunderstood and denounced as mere “identity politics” instead of seeing it as an integral part.

And, just as a side note, let me be clear: No matter how understandable and even necessary some criticism of extreme aspects of the so-called identity politics are: They became necessary because the problems of marginalized people were forever dismissed as “Nebenwiderspruch”, as side contradiction, and discriminating and excluding structures were maintained even in progressive left circles. For many people it was the Tumblr-Queerfeminism-&-Crip-&-Antiracism-&-Spoonie-etc. activism that showed them politics as something that has an effect on their everyday life and that they can actively contribute to at all. It has opened room to talk and contribute for many people who were marginalized even in left scenes. That is something the whole white / cis-male / heterosexual / able-bodied dominated political groups have not managed with their endless complex and isolated theory discussions or in their folk politics around working class revolution, revolving around themselves. Hello, this desire for political participation absolutely should be taken up thankfully, discussed friendly, developed further, brought closer together and encouraged, and not sarcastically bashed!

But back to transgression: I would like to wildly guess that the problem has not been transgression as cultural technique of a however disposed left, just as little as the right is “the new punk”, but that the neoliberal bourgeois centre has taken up transgressive culture long ago and turned it into mainstream, alongside a radicalization of capitalism.

Transgression, irony, breaking of taboos – that this grew as mainstream techniques of politics, brands, media and marketing, until the cynical borders of what was acceptable to say and to show were so wide open that the ideology of the right just needed to take up its lose ends because nothing felt “extreme” or “surprising” anymore, seems to be a bigger part of the problem to me. “Disrupt Everything” as society’s, as social consensus. The removal of taboos and of solidarity have been mainstream even before the Alt-Right. This radicalization of the mainstream has made it so anything can be said, any criticism has been countered with free-speech absolutism since many years. And today, in Germany of all countries you get talk shows discussing “Germany for the Germans” on public service television and the right still complains that it gets censored by the “lying press”.

The culture that is consistent with mainstream transgression is not that in a small youth club a group of queer people do not want to let white people with dreadlocks join their zine crafting group. It also is not “I’m drinking male tears”-memes commodified into cups and shirts by white feminists of the media or creative class. No, the consistent culture to go with the middle class and mainstream transgression is the unrestrained shaming and stigmatizing of groups of people who are off worse in talkshows and the tabloid press that had already started years ago. The endless shows and articles that are supposed to make women or poor people “better” and/or ridicule them. Stigmatization of the unemployed as lazy, presentation of young mothers as freaks, humiliation of migrants as asylum cheaters, makeover shows that make “real men” out of “losers”, etc. The list of losers of the late meritocratic hypercapitalism is endless and they can be mocked uninhibitedly, anything else would be censorship. Ethics are censorship in today’s mainstream tabloid logic. Humiliation of people in the media normalizes the accompanying austerity politics that have been built into a huge humiliation machine for the poorest and weakest members of society via overbureaucratization apparatuses that make Kafka look fun, all instead of a welfare state. If all of this has nothing to do with the transgression that Nagle thinks is so central for the rise of the right then I don’t know what has.

I agree with Nagle that the problem can be found in the so-called mainstream, the centre, but I do not accept the right narrative that some kind of “Tumblr Liberalism” is what defines this middle class bourgeois centre. The right is just as present there. As are many others. There is not one elite whose views rule over everyting – not a liberal snowflake social justice warrior one, not a nativist racist sexist one but a wide variety of positions. Donald Parkinson sums it up: “The very notion of a ruling elite should be thrown out, for we live under the power of a ruling class. Furthermore, the ruling class is not homogeneous and competes within itself. So it is hard to say that there is one monolithic ruling class ideology, but rather there are different competing ideologies that are often contradictory. So while liberal multiculturalism is part of the ruling ideology, so is white supremacy. Bourgeois society isn’t one unified bloc.”

Fox News exists side by side with Teen Vogue, sexism sells as well as anti-sexism, Buzzfeed and Dove are centrist extremism, just as VICE and Breitbart are. The commodification of the social struggle needs more of the same: As long as I make my living from turning the struggle against misery into content that I can sell I can not seriously be interested in collective solutions because the constant outrage and emotions work so much better in an attention economy. But it is also the other way round: If I do not experience any other kind of help, when I feel politically powerless and have no social web to catch me, then I commodify what I have and sell the discrimination or whatever misery that I suffer. Patreon instead of politics, competitive individualistic life support instead of social revolution.

The experience that counterculture hardly ever helped to bring about big changes was followed by the experience that counterculture had become impossible at all, by all-pervasive product scouting that cut off any emerging subsubsubscene. We rather have a problem with commodification police than with p.c. police amirite… Where was I? Oh yes, rambling about Nagle’s Kill All Normies, the book the propositions of which get adopted so uncritically by so many, even if the book just amplifies a narrative of the right, thereby fuelling the “culture wars”. No surprise the right likes the book too, as Josh Davies points out: “Prominent US fascist Richard Spencer has endorsed Nagle’s book on his Instagram, noting that it ‘gets’ his movement and that its criticisms of ‘the Tumblr left’ are ‘useful’. It should go without saying that such an endorsement — for an ostensibly left wing book on left and right-wing online cultures — ought to give pause. Apparently not.”

Kill All Normies does not mention that transgression has dug itself deeply into everyday life in a far more dangerous way by an individualizing “disrupt everything” and “commodify everything” startup culture that ultimately would love to do away with any state control. Guess because it does not feed into the narrative of the “culture wars”. From hot take to hot take though: This is a bit thin for a wannabe-”materialist marxist”. Donald Parkinson also mentions: “Nagle also completely ignores the role of Ron Paul libertarianism. Anyone who understands the alt-right knows there’s a connection between libertarian politics and the alt-right, and that many people disappointed by the failure of Ron Paulism turned to the alt-right. … Libertarianism, an ideology where all morality is based on property rights in a country built on a foundation of slavery and segregation attracts racists. Libertarianism’s emphasis on competition can lead its followers to embrace Social Darwinism and explore ideas related to race realism. This creates a connection between white identitarians and libertarianism. … There is a sort of vulgar positivism to libertarian ideology that bides well with race realism. … Seeing markets as more democratic than any kind of state institution, free market liberalism is itself is critical of all that is egalitarian and democratic and therefore in its most extreme variants biding well with the ideology of the alt-right.”

For Nagle both, “Tumblr Liberalism” and the 4Chan-Alt-Right, are extreme efforts to create a counterculture, “transgression”, to rebel against a common sense status quo. That is why she sees no difference between a left concerned with solidarity and openness, and a right filled with racism, sexism and nativist-nationalist separation. Ultimately Nagle is all about a classic bourgeois rejection of extremisms. It is a deeply anti-solidary book. Her bashing is a lack of empathy dressed up as reason, alarmingly conservative. Hence her focus on the inefficiency of transgression: She does not want anything to diverge from the norm, then everything is going to be alright. She has no alternatives to offer, just as Josh Davies criticizes: “This refusal to reflect is compounded by the book’s lack of a sense that there’s anything that can be done. There’s much criticism of the political practices of those opposing the far right but little sense of what Nagle suggests in their place.”

That despite all these shortcomings there are so many people taking Nagle’s book as a serious resource shows most of all one thing: That we have a problem of being fascinated with the right.

Téju Cole on the Paris attacks and Daniel Wickham’s list of “defenders” of the freedom of press

In his great piece “Unmournable Bodies”, which I wholeheartedly recommend reading, Téju Cole writes:

We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others. […]

Western societies are not, even now, the paradise of skepticism and rationalism that they believe themselves to be. The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture. But, at moments when Western societies consider themselves under attack, the discourse is quickly dominated by an ahistorical fantasy of long-suffering serenity and fortitude in the face of provocation. Yet European and American history are so strongly marked by efforts to control speech that the persecution of rebellious thought must be considered among the foundational buttresses of these societies. Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom. […]

Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen.


Daniel Wickham has just posted this series of tweets, spicing up the “staunch defenders of the free press attending the solidarity rally in Paris today” with a little context, I’ve made them into a list over here. An excerpt:



P.S.: “In case you were wondering how short the gap is between ‘free speech’ and ‘ubiquitous surveillance'”(Deb Cachra):


appleWave your hands in the air like you don’t care

wpid-20140918_132851.jpgCash: the procedure of buying in which the exchange of goods for money is horribly visible, the spending of money most painful and the consumer profile least traceable. No wonder cash gets marketed as hard, inconvenient and unsocial. Poor cash. [insert image of person at the discounter checkout spending minutes searching for coins. teh horrorz! lolz]

Then the magic payment evolution fairy made us credit cards: Easier! Plastic is more slippery than paper. Faster. Plastic is everlasting and everywhere. The material itself suggests you can never run out of money. The sexy sliding of the card through the machine vs the awkward fumbling with cash. Paying with credit cards is the ice skating of payment procedures. Elegant and fast, and it scratches only the surface of endless frozen lakes of money. No worries, the ice is thick enough, come on! [insert image of person at the discounter  checkout spending minutes to chose which article to put back because they haven’t get enough cash with them. omfg the shame!]

Along comes applePay, appleWatch: No pulling, no sliding, just wave that *what’s the opposite of monument?* at the till as if it was nothing. The very gesture of careless spending, buying as ephemeral caress. It’s not about making things easier, it’s about disconnecting liberating us from the feeling of spending money, about erasing financial worries from the process of buying. [insert image of person at the Tiffany’s checkout spending minutes to realize that credit cards have never really been faster or easier than cash and also today plastic means pollution. sadface. Curtain.] 

Me, secretly whispering in the dark: Cash is my vinyl.

Cyborg Unplug


I consider Cyborg Unplug to be a positive, tactical response to a growing and widely felt social issue, one born from the technologically-enabled abuse of mutual, human respect.
Julian Oliver in Blinders For Google Glass

Cyborg Unplug, the anti-surveillance device by artist Julian Oliver has been widely written about over the last days. Mainstream press mainly reports on it as privacy tech that can block Google Glass. That’s a shame because it’s less and more. On the other side of the ring you got progressive techies that damn Cyborg Unplug for stepping on their rights and infringing their freedom. In his connected blog Tante compares it to pre-crime policing and writes:

This is the digital equivalent to a paramilitary group running through town and harassing people they don’t like. …

If you don’t want to share your wireless, that’s fine. Forcing your ideology on other people isn’t. And don’t hide behind “privacy” or “self-defense” when you mean “I want to be an asshole because fuck you and what you want.”

I find this a disturbingly aggressive “public’s public” take on a device that does hardly more than a technical version of asking you to stop. Let’s look a tad closer at what got this anger boiling: Cyborg Unplug is a router that is able to disrupt the connection to your wifi for not only Glass but also similar devices that can be abused for unwanted surveillance. It does not block the actual filming. If someone has recorded something they can simply connect to a different wifi and upload it. In my eyes that makes Cyborg Unplug neither the effective Glass blocker the Glass haters report on nor the evil pre-crime tool that tante tries to portray it as. Both opinions show how the tech realms often are not the best place to review smart devices that pose social questions. After all the average white tech guy’s horizon for that seems to end at making it an issue of social acceptance of his latest smart tech toy and loudly protecting its unlimited use against the issues of those who are socially more vulnerable by material that gets filmed or gathered and/or published without their consent.

When I first read about Cyborg Unplug I thought: I would. I host a little queer club night which is exactly the kind of semi-public space you wouldn’t want someone to Glass-film without asking and make it public on some social network. To give you just one obvious reason: There might be people who have not come out yet. Another is the “dance like no one is filming” part: It’s supposed to be a safe party space in which people can let go and letting go acquires a kind of unspoken mutual agreement in a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” style. One of the reasons why I love small underground club nights of the left is that most of the time that consensus automatically is in place and people party hard but are respectful about whom and what they snap and publish pictures of. A tool like Glass is a game-changer though, even in such places. After all it takes away the inhibition of being seen while filming someone – that makes for one social acceptance border less to cross. It makes filming without consent so much easier.


And looming larger than any app or platform is Google Glass, a technology that fully embraces and instantiates the street-photographer ethic, prioritizing the wearers entitled right to see. “The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them,” Mark Hurst, CEO of the consultancy Creative Good, wrote a year ago. Glass wants to place the wearer behind a portable two-way mirror: On one side, the viewer sees all without being seen, while the objects of Glass’s gaze can’t tell how their image is being processed. More than just a new way of seeing, Glass also enforces a new way of being seen.”
Nathan Jurgenson, Permission Slips

A tool like Cyborg Unplug puts up a permeable substitute border for the one Google Glass broke down. It’s not exactly like smashing someone’s Glasses, it’s polite. It’s not technophobic but a tech lover’s reminder of respect of privacy, and privacy is about consent. The makers of devices like Google Glass don’t mind privacy, else they could have long gotten active about this. They could have integrated a pop up that, whenever your camera lense face-detects that you are about to film a person, asks: “Do you have their consent?” It’s not that they don’t know how to place annoying pop up reminders wherever it is good for them.

With our digital devices becoming more and more mobile the ethics of respecting someone’s privacy have long gone past being a question that can be answered geographically, like “at home is private, everywhere else is public”. As the digital network surrounds us with every step we take “at home” can be public (e.g. if you do a video blog from there) while a geographically public space can be a digitally private space (e.g. if you share intimate texts with someone while standing in the middle of a crowd). Privacy ethics have become a nomadic question, an omnipresent issue so complicated that most of us just shrug it off. Social implications often only get tested by pushing the social limits of a new gadget. The discussion of possible effects always lags behind. Many people don’t realize what it means that anything you do can be taken out of the frame of a certain time and place and be published anywhere and archived and dragged out forever. This potential decontextualisation still often is met with the standard victim-blaming “simply don’t do anything in public, that you don’t want to be seen doing” or with the post-Snowden data apathy. Not to mention the luddist “smart tech depraves our youth and steals our jobs!” credo. Me, especially as I love so much about the possibilities digitally enriched life has brought I can not and will not ignore its often negative implications, especially for those living outside the norm. That’s why I am happy about little tripping stone tools like Julian Oliver’s router.
May Cyborg Unplug hit right in the face of the privacy ¯_(ツ)_/¯s the NSA leaks have summoned.

P.S.: <3 cyborgs, hate borgs.

“Discreetly” up yours.

nails“We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”
Undercover colors is a product that a team of four young men wants to throw on the market: Nail polish that changes its colour after contact with date rape drugs like Rohypnol or Xanax. The idea is that you stir your drink “discreetly” with your finger to test it. And of course on first look it sounds nice: You don’t need to spoil your date by showing distrust, like when you pull out a testing strip in front of his eyes. I love the CSI mobile chemistry lab science gadget part of the idea. They are good in marketing. They have learned from similar products’ promo mistakes. They use the right words: “Choice”, “discretion”, “empower”, “shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators”.
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I say oh bondage, up yours!”

I guess you already feel the huge BUT coming up: While this nail polish sure might be handy, this doesn’t shift the fear. It’s just one more way to keep the problem restricted to women. I’m tired of things women should do discreetly. We are to bleed discreetly, we are to shave discreetly, we are to keep our anger about sexism discreetly, oh, we are so well trained to not spoil men’s fun with our problems (see that “our” melting from acidic sarcasm? Not nice, I know. But, hey, I empower you to save it by simply not treating human’s problems like women’s problems). How they market it, this nail polish is just one more way to keep our fear secret. Thank you, men, for giving us a “choice” to find out or not if some guy might rape us. Discreetly. Thank you for “empowering” us with nail polish. I think the marketing here is worse than the product. It plays with feminist language, takes it out of its context and twists it into, well, I guess Poly Styrene would say: into bondage.
If i was to come up with a fashionable date rape drug testing tool, it would be something clearly visible, something flashy, it would be the new cool to stir your drink with it. In fact every edgy club and every cozy pub would serve all drinks with it, no matter to what gender it’s served. It would be a glow-in-the-dark stick, sonic screwdriver-style, that goes off blinking and buzzing madly when it senses date rape drugs, shooting glitter cascades so that everyone around notices it. And it would automatically pour a permanently sticky neon glow-in-the-dark colour in your drink – (you know, like that stuff that cops in tv crime shows use to mark ransom money) – so you could pour it all over the person who put that crap in your drink and even if he ran away it would be visible to everybody. And the colour would itch like hell. That would be nice. And empowering. I clearly should have become a scientist designer person.

Queer Ally For The Straight GQ – My problem with the #Mundpropaganda campaign


A few days ago german GQ has started a campaign called ‘Mundpropaganda‘ (Word-Of-Mouth). It’s a photo series of straight celebrity men kissing. Lots of my gay friends seem to like it. Some because sexy. Some because yay, allies. As ever so often I’ll be the spoilsport. Let me pick a sentence from the GQ editorial to explain why:

“Heteros kissing each other – this kind of courage is absolutely male.”

This sentence should make it clear: It is not a GQ welcome to gays but it is about fake same-sex kisses as heroic act of heterosexual men. Maybe the intention was different, maybe GQ just aims to get the gays without giving actual gay sexuality a room or having a tearjerking ‘social conflict’ section for the christmas edition. I don’t care about the intention, to me the result matters.

To make it a main statement of the campaign that it takes courage for men to kiss each other is the ‘no homo’ of this campaign. At first glance the pictures might look erotic but the surrounding texts and the ‘making of’ clip have the clear message: “It’s really hard for us to do this but we overcame our disgust to show solidarity with you – aren’t we great?”. It is so explicitly stressed that the kisses are fake that it robs those kisses of any shadow of gay desire. The interviews are there for the kissers to state how hard it was for them and that they like kissing women much better. The ‘making of’ clip shows some of them breaking down in laughter when trying to kiss, etc. Parts of this are dangerously close of even redemonising gay sexuality as disgusting and unnatural, no matter if aiming for the opposite. Surrounded by all this talk about how they are fake the actual pictures become a deeply desexualised bro-thing. Thus the kiss does more for reaffirming the kissers’ heterosexuality than actually being the homoerotic protest they want it to be. (For more on this effect I recommend reading “Bro-Porn: Heterosexualizing Straight Men’s Anti-Homophobia”, by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe)

I don’t know if GQ got the idea from the actually existing creative protest form of queer kiss-ins. Those often include straight allies. It’s not that same-sex straight people making out with each other to protest homophobia is always a bad idea but if they use instant markers to assure they are not really gay it’s a clear sign that it disrespects and sometimes even ridicules queer desire. Also it might be counterproductive to do it for queer people’s applause.


In an effort to not criticise it but instead be a bit of a queer ally for the straight GQ: What would this campaign have had to look like to please me? At best it would have been queer-inclusive sexy kissing, and with ‘queer’ I mean all kinds of gender and sexual orientations. So people look at it and can’t tell a difference, they just see kissing as a sweet sensual erotic act between all kinds of human beings. If you need to limit it to ‘fake kissing’ then why not put a lesbian woman kissing a gay man next to those straight guys. If you don’t want to include women because it’s a ‘gentlemen’s’ magazine, why not have at least gay and trans* men mixed in with the straight guys. The absolute minimum though would have been: If only including straight men DO NOT mark them as such. To speak in celebrities: It’s a bit like the difference between George Clooney and Jake Gyllenhaal. Both often were asked if they are gay. Gyllenhaal makes it very clear that he is not and adds some ‘tits and ass’ remark, in a not so nice ‘real straight men are sexist’ proof-move. Clooney on the other hand says he would never say that he is not gay because that would mark being gay as something he feels the need to distance himself from and that would be disrespectful to gay people.
In this (more-than-slightly-flawed but adding-Clooney-to-a-blogpost-does-no-harm) comparison the ‘Mundpropaganda’ campaign obviously is much further on the Gyllenhaal side of things.

GENTRIFICATION IS REAL via sophfierce twitter

Different dude, similar thing: Macklemore. I only really realised how much I despised Macklemore’s big hit ‘Same Love’ when I heard Angel Haze taking it over:

Her version (here are the lyrics) is so much more empowering. Some efforts of being a straight ally leave no room for actual gay people being heard. They condemn queers to the position of desiring those straights from afar and/or applauding them for – well, in the GQ case, if you think about it: actually for publicly reestablishing straight male disgust of male same-sex kissing.

In “Why We Should Care How Straight Allies Benefit From Their Support” Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe ask:

How much recognition does Macklemore deserve for coming out as a straight ally? (And he lets us know that he’s straight, mentioning early in the song that he’s ‘loved girls since before pre-k,’ and his other hit songs feature a fantastic array of misogynistic lyrics.)

They compare the situation to the ‘economy of gratitude’ often taking place within straight couples:

In her research, (Ariel) Hochschild found that husbands were often given more gratitude for their participation in work around the house than were women. That is, men were subtly—but systematically—“over-thanked” for their housework in ways that their wives were not. This simple fact, argued Hochschild, was much more consequential than it might at first appear. It was an indirect way of symbolically informing men that they were engaging in work not required of them. In fact, we have a whole language of discussing men’s participation in housework that supports Hochschild’s findings. When men participate, we say they’re “helping out,” “pitching in,” or “babysitting.” These terms acknowledge their work, but simultaneously frame their participation as “extra”—as more of a thoughtful gesture than an obligation.

We would suggest that something similar is happening with straight male allies. We all participate in defining the work of equality as not their work by over-thanking them, just like housework is defined as not men’s work. By lauding recognition on these “brave” men in positions of power (racial, sexual, gendered, and in some cases classed) we are saying to them and to each other: This is not your job, so thank you for “helping out” with equality.

Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe warning conclusion from this is:

“Let’s not make anti-homophobia the equivalent of “babysitting” for dads and activism a de facto ‘second shift’ for marginalized folks. The movement toward equality should be everyone’s responsibility and mandate.”

Another point that struck me about that campaign is that by trying to cater to a male gay community GQ adds to an already existing gap between gays and lesbians. In the world of the GQ, a men’s mag that stands for a stylish brand of misogyny that reminds me a bit of old school James Bond, straight women almost exclusively exist as the fuckable other and lesbian women basically don’t exist at all.

I followed a twitter link to another GQ story that has since been taken down: A story in which a man tells us that he was the kind of type who could get every woman so to as a new challenge he set out to turn a lesbian straight. In which he apparently succeeded four pages later. (I only skip-read through the first page and it was every inch as you’d expect it: Misogynist, stereotyping lesbians’ looks, claiming that lesbians are straight women who have not yet been fucked by Mr. Right.) When the first signs of a soc media shitstorm showed GQ took down this story, saying it was from a few years ago and no longer represented their attitude. By now they even have even put an interview with the lesbian activist Yelena Goltsman online. PR disaster prevented? Apparently.

Of course this GQ campaign is not in the first place an advertisement for the magazine but the passages are fluent these days and I see parallels to a certain type of advertising that uses social criticism. Take the #whipit Pantene ad that deals with gender-based double standards.

The message is: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.” As long as that doesn’t hint at the kind of ‘shining’ that includes women running Jack-Nicholson-style with an axe after the labels that hold them back I can’t really see how shining is supposed to help against double standards. One of the comments on youtube or facebook for the #whipit ad was: “Sell product by convincing your target market that you are more invested in contributing to emotionally charged, globally relevant (…) issues than you are in advertising your product.”

Or take the ‘Beauty Sketches’ Dove ad, a real tearjerker:

Mind that Dove just as well as Axe are part of Unilever which is quite a nice concept: Destroy women’s egos with Axe ads and rebuild them with Dove ads. I guess it’s pretty easy to spot how the social criticism aspect is being emptied of meaning if not even ridiculed by the context.
Same goes for ‘Mundpropaganda’. Think of it as a set-to-go-viral campaign to sell a men’s lifestyle magazine to gay-rights-supportive men and gay men without losing the conservative straight men of their readership. When they write about homophobia they manage to somehow write women out of this by simply not talking about them. They talk about homophobia as if it wasn’t about women and TI* people, too. Also let’s not forget that it is the kind of magazine that caters to a certain type of men: Masculine, self-assured, successful, stylish. Not-so masculine looking, behaving, thinking men or trans*-men are not part of the GQ world. It is about as unqueer as it gets: One-dimensional straight masculinity.

This echoes with some gay men, especially as the negative stigmatising as ‘gay’ is connected to femininity. ‘Gay’ as a slur can be exchanged with ‘like a girl’. The stereotype of the effeminate gay is something many gay men fear to be compared with and maybe the gym-obsessed muscle gay scene as well as the conservative gays are but a reaction to this kind of homophobia. Queer people come in all shapes and sizes and colours and from all classes. That was and should stay a strength of the queer community. Campaigns like ‘Mundpropaganda’ can widen the gap between successful white males and the rest of the LGBTI* community. As Mykki Blanco said: “Homophobia comes from misogyny, the hatred of women. If you can’t see the connection between homophobia and the hatred of women, you’re blind.”
So, however-male-defined brethren, if GQ says “this kind of courage is absolutely male” please don’t drool over those straight guys but rather say: “Suck my left one! Every queer-feminist lady out there has shown more courage and has contributed more to my gay rights than your self-congratulary straight-exclusive campaign!”

Beastie Boys sue GoldieBlox

In a slightly glasshouse/stone-move sample-happy Beastie Boys sue the makers of a parody of their song ‘Girls’ that was made for girls-empowering toys by GoldieBlox, in a quickly gone viral video:

Someone suggested on twitter last night that the reason could be that the Beasties do not want any of their songs in advertising. Not sure if that’s true? That’s something in which I usually am 100% on the artist site, as you might know. But of course it’s not that simple black/white subject.

If it comes to parody or creative remix use I’m on the parodists and remixers side though. This ad is an example of how good advertisement should be: It doesn’t feel like a commercial. It’s entertaining. It sells an empowering gender-role-crashing message just as well as its product.  The whole Rube-Goldberg-machine thing is brilliant but I actually like the use of the song even more:
The original song by the Beastie Boys is plain sexist, having lines like “Girls, to do the dishes, girls, to clean up my room, girls, to do the laundry, girls, that’s all I really want” or another nice line: “I asked her out she said, ‘No way!’, I shoulda probably guessed her gay”. It’s a sweet smart move to use that kind of song and have girls – not women (that makes it an even better reply to the original, by taking up the belittling way in which women are called girls) – and have them girls snottily shouting/singing fresh girl-empowering lyrics over that song: “Girls to build the spaceship, Girls to code the new app, Girls to grow up knowing they can engineer that, Girls, that’s all we really need.”

Hope the Beasties will think this over again.

Saved by the Merkelphone

So Merkel’s and a lot of other world leaders’ phones have been spied on for more than 10 years. (german / english) Erm… so what?! Trying to monitor people in leading positions of government or economy is espionage in the traditional sense. Nothing new here. I find it hard to put into words how blatantly and undemocratically arrogant it is by our government to react only now, after months of news about the ongoing mass surveillance. Now that the government sensationalizes it suddenly it’s a subject for tv again, too. And suddenly you find people like Anke Domscheit-Berg or Juli Zeh in talk shows. Why not before? It just adds to the impression that the mass surveillance of ‘regular’ citizens poses no problem.

I guess… as government you best do nothing about it, maybe you can find ways to use the surveillance net for yourself. Would be a shame to waste it, now that it has already been built. Now that the magic Merkelphone has been attacked though, we cannot show weakness, we have to react, now it’s ‘us vs them’. According to the Spiegel the government’s reaction now will be to build a stronger counterintelligence and there are thoughts about a german or european walled internet. which means – just in case you do not understand: The german people can feel secured. No, really, cheer, people, you will have been saved by the Merkelphone. All the great risk-taking leaking and journalistic work will turn out to be the perfect argument for an arms-race of security services worldwide. Instead of social changes give them more security. For those who still think there is not enough done for us to be properly secured – don’t worry. Just check out this Reuters piece about partnerships between facebook, Apple and the police. Or read this article (in german) on the german army getting ready for operations within their country. If you think that’s just about lame aid for flood victims, well… maybe read the government’s answer to a minor interpellation from Die Linke here. Oh, I feel so safe now, I’m with Butters.

Living in a democracy we should be free to dance with no one watching and not have to act as if no one was

I hate getting all worked up about current politics but sometimes (actually more and more often) it happens even to me. Then I have to start reading up on subjects cause I haven’t regularly read the papers and that confronts me with my ignorance and thus makes me even more grumpy. Not a nice situation. What has made me start this blog entry last night was reading the news, reading how after german Verfassungsschutz (as the NSU case has clearly shown) now the BND also seems to act beyond any constitutional limitations, and they seem to do so without even the slightest care about human lives. Leaking german data of mobile communication to the NSA has been ‘common use’ ever since 2003/2004 for the BND. That might have helped to make US drone strikes a bit more… erm… ‘effective’?! So, Germany, ‘we’ aid ‘targetting’ or rather – (as there aren’t enough inverted commas to go on writing like this): killing people now?! I hope no one believed the BND’s weak claims that those data are not exact enough for targetting when the same technical wizardry works pretty good in GPS routing hundreds of stag doers home safely every week-end when they got too drunk to remember their way.

Just enough to make it still look like democracy

The waves of news about the huge NSA-centered surveillance network have reached a level at which a call for neutral authorities to monitor and judge those secret services is not nearly enough anymore. What we know by now is so far beyond a point at which trust could be restored by transparency that I can’t think of a consequence but the elimination of those institutions and big changes in the government. Which of course won’t happen, I’m not that much of a dreamer. All of our ruling parties either couldn’t stop or helped make way for this, the roots go back in time. The arrogance or pretence naivety – and I hope it is pretence as it seems preferrable to actual cluelessness – with which highest-ranking politicians play around with this subject is unbelievable. As this is happening so close to the next elections in Germany it also discloses in which desolate a condition our democracy is. People shrug lethargically in ‘can’t change anything’ poses and indeed there is no eligible party that stands for data security / privacy (yes, I know… Piraten – ach…). Merkel is on holidays, the opposition protested a bit but has pulled back now as they see it doesn’t work as vote-turner. Steinbrück – there’s the pretence naivety again – now already praises Obama‘s “look we haz made you a transparency website and I did the dishes”-speech. I don’t even want to read up on all the single reactions anymore. I’m tired of waiting for real efforts in clarification instead of all this shuffling around, these power games with everyone dripping with pre-electoral saliva. The only thing that they seem to be busy trying to control is the effect those leaks have on their citizens. Let’s keep things stable, motivate people to use their right to vote, but don’t get too political when doing so. Just enough to make it still look like democracy. Funny thing is, that while losing more and more trust in democracy I still feel a much bigger yet unexplainable urge to go and use my vote this time than at the last elections. Guess all this talk about secret files makes me go all Mulder, in a ‘I want to believe’ way.


This is not about a single country though, it is about as international as it gets because after all it is about how our lives are interwoven with our magic interwebz, and smartphones, etc. From pictures of cats (I knew I’d find a reason make embedding a cat picture relevant even for this text!) to random communication with strangers from all over the globe, from music streams (why has nobody told me yet that Airhead‘s ‘For Years’ album is such a good summer soundtrack?) to viral videos, from big news networks to obscure blogs, from Grindr to Geocaching, from silly twitter puns to deep discussions, from skype to snapchat, from shopping and banking to the nostalgia of facepalming over getting farmville request from friends, family, bosses on facebook. Of course you leave a certain level of privacy behind as soon as you click around or post something on the web or even when you just travel with your smartphone in your pocket but you do each of those things in a certain context and decide in that context if you want to put that information there or not. What makes this whole NSA surveillance thing so scary is that someone collects all of those tiny traces and is able to connect them.  Geez, I don’t even use payback cards. I have little doubt that there will be or are data collections with which they even can do so years from now. The act of connecting the dots might not be perfect now – *oi, amazon, are you really recommending me dat because I read dis?!* – but algorhythms will get better and this kind of future is getting a bit too dystopic for my taste. I do not care which countries’ governments’ surveillance it is that does so, I don’t want anyone to have that possibility. No one can tell in which hands these data and possibilities will end up years from now. Still, here we go, stripped of fundamental rights and feeling helpless about it.

The mantra of the meek of heart: “It doesn’t surprise me” and “I got nothing to hide”

What could make it worse? Yes, of course: People. People peopling. To be more exact: People’s apathy about it. People’s notion that it doesn’t really concern them, people hypnotizingly humming the mantra of the meek of heart: “It doesn’t surprise me” and “I got nothing to hide“. Hey, it should surprise you! Am I the only one that hasn’t been informed when our basic rights got thrown over board? I reject being told I’m the naive one here. I don’t want to type this with the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder. I don’t want the Telekom to track everything I do with my phone. I don’t want to start thinking twice before I type certain words in certain contexts. I don’t want to catch me thinking, ‘oh, well, if I were to chose my artist name today I might not pick ‘eve massacre’ even if it’s just a nod to a chapter in a great Irvine Welsh novel. These are bits of freedom and innocence lost. I also don’t want to learn how to encrypt, Mr. Friedrich and Mr. Applebaum. Oh, and maximum LOLs to the ‘email made in germany’ joke. Good one. Almost as good as the antivirus software ad with the slogan ‘good against secret services’. After the secure email services Lavabit and Silent Circle shut down deleting all their customers mails without warning Lavabit maker, Ladar Levison, said in an interview: “I’m taking a break from email. If you knew what I know about email, you might not use it either” – well, that doesn’t even encourage to start looking for secure alternatives. Phil Zimmermann (Silent Circle, inventor of PGP) also says in an interview for Gigaom: “The surveillance landscape is far worse than it has ever been and I feel like everything we do is now observable. (…) I don’t think any of this can be fixed merely by the application of cryptography.” If you feel like doing so anyways, you might like to check I thought about it, as well as about listening to friends who said they’d use the web less from now on, but that just feels like hiding or retreating. It somehow feels as an equally wrong move as twitter silence in the face of rape threats. I agree with Friedemann Karig: “What should protect you from spying is laws, not encryption. Else cryptography will soon turn into cryptonite for the idea of informational self-determination – and thus for web freedom.” (clumsy translation by me, full text here). Living in a democracy we should be free to dance with no one watching and not have to act as if no one was.

This is to democractic liberties what that Thicke song is to feminism

The only upside of this whole surveillance nightmare is that it gave me a new trust in at least some journalists’ and bloggers’ integrity and the power of critical journalism and blogging. The Guardian – just last night with a new article – and many others have done and are doing a brilliant job in giving us all the information in bits and pieces and commentary we can understand and which helps us reflect it all. This is why can’t but keep this blog posting brimming of links – yay, journos & bloggers! And of course: yay, leakers!
That The Guardian has not shed all the leaks at once but did and keeps doing so in little doses gave us time inbetween the disclosures to see how people in charge react. No matter if in the USA or Germany or wherever else, it seems to be the same: a) denial of knowing anything, b) when it gets revealed as lie they belittle it and shroud in vague replies, putting real explanations off, c) they claim it is all for our good (Terrorists! They hid under your bed! Stay under your cozy blankets! Oh, and by the way: Be happy you still have blankets! It’s just because of us! Because of our german economagic powers! While other countries economies crumble like this cookie! Look, more cookies for you! So hush now!)… erm… where was I? …. ah, yes: How the responsible people deal with it and how it hopefully won’t end: d) They let the disclosures go on, add vague policital candy-promises here and there to bounce it off their backs until the disclosures get too many or too complex and it drags on for too long to keep people’s attention so finally it all turns into blurred lines and no one cares anymore. “You know you want it”. See, this is to democractic liberties what that Thicke song is to feminism. And there is an awful lot of people humming along to that song this summer, so be afraid.