Rock stars of the counter-counterculture

In July this year I arrived at the Brisbane convention centre to hear right-wing YouTubers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux speak on their Australian tour. The scene in the large foyer seemed more like a rock concert than a speaker tour. Hundreds of people were waiting outside buying T-Shirts with slogans like, “It’s OK to be white, “West is best” and “Feminism is cancer”. The experience was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my entire time being involved with politics. A normal right-wing political gathering usually involves a few dozen political tragics, usually men, quietly chatting while waiting to listen to a political speech. This was entirely different, and these weren’t the usual suspects I’d come to recognise. The crowd was the most diverse I’d ever seen. Young and old, men and women, white and black, gay and straight. Through the power of YouTube Southern and Molyneux had reached the great silent majority, so often spoken about, but rarely seen. Who were these people? Why had they come? How did these YouTubers do what other right-wingers hadn’t?

YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have changed the media forever. The alternative media has given audiences a way to reach content that better reflects their personal beliefs. During the 2016 presidential election, almost all the mainstream media with the exception of Fox News didn’t rate Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election. The mainstream media said he was dangerous and the mainstream comedy shows treated him like a joke. Yet, on the 8th of November half the country voted for Trump and ever since the establishment has gone into meltdown, descending ever further into Trump Derangement Syndrome. Yet, many in the alternative media supported Trump and his calls to drain the swamp, build the wall and have fair trade deals.

The disconnect between the establishment media and their audiences extends beyonds politics. In popular culture the disconnect is just as wide. When the all-female Ghostbusters was released in 2016 the New York Times titled its review, “Girls Rule. Women Are Funny. Get Over It.” The problem was that the film wasn’t funny. It was terrible. The right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos spoke for many when he titled his review, “Teenage Boys With Tits: Here’s My Problem With Ghostbusters”. The review savaged the reboot – he critiqued the film’s lack of intelligence and humour, pointing out that the writers had completely misunderstood the first film. He also rightfully described Leslie Jones’ character Patty as a racial caricature. This resulted in Leslie Jones receiving large amounts of abuse on Twitter and eventually lead to Milo being kicked off the platform.  

While abuse is never acceptable the reaction of some was predictable. Audiences have grown tired of being told what they should like. Ghostbusters (2016) was garbage and audiences knew it. Similarly when Amy Schumer’s leather special was released on Netflix the reviews were so bad Netflix abolished its review section blaming right-wing trolls. More recently Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby released her Netflix special ‘Nanette’ in which she announced that she was leaving comedy saying that, “jokes are too simplistic” and that, “ they convert her trauma into humour and obscure the ugly truth of her story.” Considering we live in age where comedians aren’t funny it’s no wonder that right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes are performing to sell out crowds. Whatever their flaws, they are funny. In this light consumers are turning to alternative media figures for their entertainment.

Milo Yiannopoulos came to prominence during the Gamergate scandal while working as a journalist for the right-wing publication Breitbart. After that his popularity grew resulting in a tour of university campuses in the United States during which he coined the phrase, “feminism is cancer” saying lesbians aren’t real and that they would be much happier if they just went and sucked a dick. He also critiqued the black lives matter movement, radical Islam and rallied people against political correctness and social justice warriors.

The crowds at these events were massive and his popularity only grew as his speeches were posted on YouTube. Millions of new people have been reached with messages that are forbidden by the establishment and eschewed by polite company. The growing popularity of figures like Milo can be seen as response to the left’s control of institutions. While being interviewed on Channel Ten’s Studio 10 program about why he needs to be so offensive, Milo remarked that conservatives have been polite for 30 years. That they had played by the left’s speech code and were losing.

In amongst all the outrageous remarks Milo challenged the gender pay gap, mass immigration and America’s racial politics. Much of his humour is targeted at the establishment’s sacred cow topics of feminism and multiculturalism. On his campus tour Milo argued that Islam is the real rape crisis, contrasting the feminist imagined rape crisis with its dodgy statistics and survey data with the significant increase in incidents of rape after the European migration crisis.

Fellow cultural rock star Dr Jordan Peterson described Milo Yiannopoulos as a ‘trickster figure’ and ‘Jester in the King’s court’ stating ‘the jester is the only person who can tell the truth because they’re below contempt’ and that these characters appear in a times of crisis. Milo laces his offensive humour with arguments providing an opportunity for people to debate controversial topics.

Many people argue that counter-cultural provocateurs are only contributing to increased hate and extremism and that some things shouldn’t be discussed. But Canadian psychologist and author Steven Pinker has argued that politically correct thinking is causing more extremism. Since the establishment won’t engage with inconvenient facts people tend to go to the extreme opposite position when they encounter these facts. This has made people open to the counter arguments offered by the likes of Milo and Stefan Molyneux.  However, whatever the strength or weaknesses of Milo’s arguments he provides an opportunity to debate issues that the establishment media ignore.

While on his Australian Tour for Penthouse Australia Milo played the jester to the Australian media.The media’s usual trick of asking, ‘but aren’t you’ style questions, where the interviewer frames their guest in the least flattering light,  fell flat. During his interview on Channel 7’s Sunrise program Milo left David Koch dumbfounded when Koch asked, if Milo actually meant the things he says, or is he just trying to get attention. Milo was able to give an articulate a well argued answer for which Koch was unprepared. The interview highlighted the disconnect between the mainstream media and its audience and how mainstream figures mindlessly follow the left’s speech codes with little consideration of the validity of their arguments.

We now live in a time of hypersensitivity where people fear saying anything that could be construed as controversial in case they become victim of a Twitter mob. Companies force their employees to undergo unconscious bias training and partake in corporate virtue signalling. When the consumer objects they are called racists, bigots and homophobes. The mainstream media has become unresponsive to the desires of its consumers and at times seems dedicated to disenfranchising straight white males.

Gavin McInnes, former Rebel Media personality and co-founder of Vice Magazine responded to the attempted disenfranchisement of men by starting up men’s club the ‘Proud Boys’. The fraternity founded in 2016 emphasises pride in Western civilisation and pride in being male. McInnes has said in relation to the creation of Proud Boys that Alexis de Tocqueville said of America that it was a nation of clubs, but in the 1970s feminists said that men’s clubs were sexist. After that they all but disappeared. He created Proud Boys to bring that tradition back to the America.

Proud Boys require that new recruits declare the following: “I am a Western chauvinist who refuses to apologise for creating the modern world.” To advance to a second degree membership level, new recruits are punched by five or more fellow Proud Boys until they can name five breakfast cereals. Many members also get Proud Boys tattoos. Since its creation membership has exploded with chapters through the United States, Australia and around the world.

The fraternity has received staunch opposition from the mainstream media and left-wing organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre that has characterised the Proud Boys a far-right extremists hate group. The Proud Boys willingness to use violence to defend themselves has come under particular criticism. Unlike traditional conservative groups that have put a high emphasis on civility, Proud Boys encourages its members to engage in “justified violence”. This is in particular directed at the left-wing extremist group ANTIFA that’s notorious for using violence to shut down free speech.

During a speaking event at NYU, Proud Boys members engaged with ANTIFA in a street brawl after they’d been physically attacked. When asked about the incident McInnes said, “He cannot recommend violence enough, it’s a very effective way of solving problems.” Footage of the incident went viral and many on the right celebrated the fact that people were finally standing up to ANTIFA following a long history of events being cancelled or disrupted by the groups activities.

The resistance to male disenfranchisement can also be seen in the massive popularity of psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson, who first came to prominence when a video he produced opposing Canada’s proposed Bill C-16 went viral on YouTube. Peterson rejected this as an attack on free speech warning that it would make misgendering someone a hate crime under Canadian law.

Since then his video series analysing biblical stories has seen millions of views on YouTube and his book 12 Rules of Life:  An Antidote to Chaos has become a global bestseller. Peterson’s message centres around taking responsibility and the catch phrase, “clean your room” can be found on t-shirts. Peterson’s Patreon account earns over $60,000 a month from people willing to support him in making videos.

Similar to the rise of the Proud Boys, Peterson’s huge following shows that there’s enormous demand for messages that encourage men to take responsibility for their lives and that reject the narrative of toxic masculinity. Peterson’s star shone even brighter after he demolished Cathy Newman in a now infamous interview on British TV’s Channel 4. Similar to Milo’s interviews during his Australian tour, Newman attempted to misrepresent Peterson’s positions by asking leading questions, famously using the phrase “So what your saying is?” The skilled Peterson easily deflected the churlish questions and in the process made Newman appear witless. The interview has since been viewed by millions on YouTube and Newman has been mocked relentlessly.

The establishment has responded to Peterson’s growing popularity by writing countless hit pieces calling him racist, transphobic, sexist and every other thought crime imaginable. At his own University of Toronto, professors signed an open letter calling for his termination and in another incident at Wilfred Laurier University two professors said in a recorded meeting that Peterson was “analogous to Adolf Hitler.” Despite these attempts Peterson has only grown in popularity and his message continues to spread across the world.

It’s now been 50 years since 1968 and the start of the counterculture movement. Since that time the left has successfully taken over most of the West’s major cultural institutions and our universities have become dominated by postmodernism and critical theory. The rise of right-wing rock stars like Milo and McInnes can be understood as a part of a broader counter-countercultural revolution that’s seeking to take back institutions and return to an emphasis on celebrating Western civilisation and masculinity. This counter-countercultural revolution has been made possible through the rise of social media. In an age of social media influencers these modern day rock stars have managed to achieve more than what conservatives have achieved in the last 50 years. It’s too early to tell what impact this movement will have, but seems likely that it will continue to resist the disenfranchisement of men for the foreseeable future.   

Justin Campbell
Follow me

1 Comment on "Rock stars of the counter-counterculture"

  1. Andrew Russell | 12/11/2018 at 4:30 pm |


    A good article yet I do think it glosses over some nuances. In some ways, I think it should emphasize that within the 60s/70s counterculture there were streams that appealed to individualism and other streams which ended up informing the progressive-elitist-collectivist left we see today. As such, we could argue that today’s counterculture is not so much an issue of “the counterculture leaving the progressive left” but rather “the progressive left leaving the counterculture.” The progressive left became, essentially, the mainstream (in terms of institution-control) and grew alienated even from the counterculture.

    We can see this in what happened in Gamergate, Metalgate and Comicsgate. A bunch of hobbies which were/are at least somewhat countercultural became dominated by hobbyist press corps, and in some cases even creators, that had mindsets very divergent from those of the majority of serious hobbyists of the hobby they covered. The result was ultimately a situation where the serious hobbyists and their hobbyist press corps became estranged (typically the latter precipitated this by stereotyping the former as a Basket Of Deplorables).

    For all the talk of Milo and Gavin being conservative (the former is somewhere between conservative and libertarian, and I don’t know where Gavin is), the reality is they are appealing to the classically liberal, individualist strains within the counterculture. Their defense of western values is, for the most part, secular and based on a liberalism that notices the importance of cultural/philosophical underpinnings which make liberty possible (a concern shared by Hayek and Rand).

    Are we really dealing with a conservative revolution against the values of the counterculture? Or are we really dealing with the fact that in the aftermath of the counterculture’s triumph, the progressive-elitist-leftist faction of the counterculture became “the man” and began openly opposing the liberal-individualist faction of the counterculture. Now, a defense of cultural individualism and letting people live their own lives on their own terms has become “conservative” simply because of the shift in the Overton Window.

    I know that its often difficult to put such context and nuance in a short article meant for social media platforms and as a kind of outreach-advocacy, so please don’t take my comment as some kind of harsh criticism. I simply think its important to put out the massive paradox we now see, in that liberalism has become “conservative” (whilst at the same time, we have a huge number of countercultural “rebel” types acting like church ladies). Its a reverse of the previous culture wars.

    Another point I think needs to be raised is that the “new counterculture” is very divided and ambivalent with respect to the “masculinity” thing you bring up. Remember that the Men’s Rights guys are also involved in this “new counterculture” but a quick view of any substantial men’s human rights advocacy group (say, the National Coalition For Men, or A Voice For Men) makes pretty clear they’re CRITICAL of traditional notions of masculinity. They essentially want for men to be relieved of the burden of having to comply with the masculine gender role, and want for men to have the same level of role-flexibility currently granted to women. They’re critical of feminism not because feminism is anti-traditionalist, but because they perceive feminism as not anti-traditionalist ENOUGH (indeed, I’ve read several Men’s Rights types effectively arguing that contemporary feminism depends upon men remaining willing to comply with traditional duties).

    But yes, I know a lot of that was probably a little beyond the scope of what you wanted to write.

Comments are closed.