THE LEFT’S IMAGE PROBLEM

by Rob Harding

We have an image problem, you and I – yeah, you and I. Us. Lefties. Radicals. The chances are – if you’re reading this site – that you’re fairly left-wing. You’re a general believer in the doctrine of ‘don’t be a dick to other people’ with the sub-clause of avoiding ‘fuck you, got mine’, even if our specific approaches to doing so differ. I’ll be speaking in very general terms in this article, because I have 1000 words to work with.

We on the left have an image problem. Feminism has the worst of it. Far from being the ‘unconventional idea that women are people’ and despite centuries of slow, painful progress, modern feminism is often seen as puritanical, censorship-happy and insidious, with new slurs continually being added to the more conventional sexist bullshit that’s traditionally been levelled at it.

LGBT+ rights movements have a share in this image problem as well, thanks in part to the ilk of 4chan and, by extension, large segments of the ‘alt-right’ fascist dickhead brigade. These people feel free and fun – and have successfully portrayed themselves as such – with everyone else as not. This kind of engine is what powered the Trump campaign through the Republican primaries and ultimately past Hillary Clinton despite Trump’s myriad of flaws.

That persecution complex is fascinating.

These are the people would like to think actually taking the time and effort to call people what they want to be called rather than make cheap, tired jokes about other people’s lifestyles is some kind of rule set forced upon them by the uncaring society they enjoy rejecting. These are the fuckers who cry ‘censorship!’ at every single incident of someone using their right to speak to tell a racist, misogynist, homo/transphobe or generally unpleasant bastard where to stick the shitty things they’re saying. They’re the ones who portray feminists as ugly and sexless, obsessed with censoring freedom of speech, or as the new Illuminati.

That persecution complex is fascinating. Personally, I blame the movies. Anglo-American popular culture has been telling the story of the underdog fighting back against an overwhelming force for decades, even as the nations that produce this culture became superpower empires in their own right. Remember the hysteria around the #killallwhitemen case last year? I’ve seen that hashtag and dozens of other fetishized instances and half-stories being used by Breitbart hacks to whip their audience into a frenzy.

star-wars-a-bunch-of-white-men-round-a-table

Star Wars IV: A New Hope is property of 20th Century Fox, c. 1977

This brings us to Star Wars, which is where I actually want to end this missive. Remember how the original story went? Big fascist empire, rag-tag resistance. That narrative has dominated popular culture. Even in the modern era, when the resistance tends not to be American, rooting for the underdog is still the narrative – though it sometimes requiring considerable warping of perspective (2001’s Black Hawk Down is my personal cultural barometer point on this one) to achieve.

This is what we need, us progressive types. Despite the frankly immense hypocrisy involved, most of the louder right-wing voices out there have gotten very good at portraying themselves as the underdogs. The populism that has brought us Brexit and Trump is rooted in socioeconomic inequality, but it also comes from people with the odds stacked in their favour masturbating to the resistance narrative. White men not only afraid that anyone like them might be gaining ground but also eagerly seizing and buying into a feeling of being oppressed.

The populism that has brought us Brexit and Trump is rooted in socioeconomic inequality, but it also comes from people with the odds stacked in their favour masturbating to this resistance narrative.

Want proof? Fucking #DumpStarWars. The people who for years have been furiously angry about safe spaces, content warnings and anything that gets in their way of telling everyone what they think about things are crying foul over a film that’s calling them what they are – the Empire. This isn’t the first time this has happened – my condolences to all the people who wouldn’t watch Mad Max: Fury Road because it was a deeply feminist film, as it was fucking awesome. They also missed out on the new Ghostbusters (haven’t seen it, heard it was good), Hamilton, The Force Awakens and dozens of others, with smaller backlashes occurring all over popular culture. As a countercultural backlash against the new American fascism grows there’ll be a lot more things the angry right can’t bring itself to watch, and the louder they complain, the more they’ll take their place as the obsessive, censoring single-issue wonks no-one can take seriously.

This is my ‘it’s happening, let’s make the best of it’ moment. Disturbing as the political fuckery that’s brought us to this point is, it might finally turn the narrative back around. #DumpStarWars has received huge media coverage; it’s making everyone involved look ridiculous. The majority goes with whichever group look like the Rebel Alliance (never mind which group actually is). The right (broadly speaking) have hypocritically adopted the mantle of the Resistance for years. It’s time we took it back.

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