Why was Sid Vicious wearing Nazi propaganda

The Nazi frog makes "Reeeeeee!"

How irony makes hatred suitable for the masses: Internet memes have become the universal currency for provocation - and a cluster weapon in the cultural war of the right.

By David Eugster

At some point one of the eighteen year olds I teach scribbles, "Reeeeeee!" on the blackboard. After a short conversation with Siri, I know: This is the battle cry of a Nazi frog.

The cartoon character Pepe the Frog received some media attention last year - much to the chagrin of its creator Matt Furie. In the internet, the harmless cartoon frog was gradually transformed into a right-wing extremist mascot through diligent processing and distribution. If you enter the name on Google, Pepe immediately appears in swastika T-shirts, with a Hitler mustache or as an SS officer. In autumn 2016, the Anti-Defamation League put Pepe on the list of “Hate Symbols” that demonstrate right-wing beliefs. Since the Trump election campaign, Pepe has become the avowal meme par excellence for the extreme right in the USA. Just how does it wash something like that into my classroom?

"Feminism is Cancer"

Internet memes (see “What are memes?” After this text) can in principle be turned in any political direction. The content they convey depends on the respective processing. And memes also convey politically relevant content: When I discussed a speech by Joseph Goebbels with said class and asked them whether they could think of current examples of such forms of hateful rhetoric, the serious answer came: "Feminazis". A typical example of such a totalitarian feminist was for her “Trigglypuff”: the students showed me the video of an activist who was furiously disrupting a panel discussion at Hampshire College. The video was recorded at an event on the question of whether the political correctness issue had gone too far. Milo Yiannopoulos, columnist at "Breitbart" and at that time still a poster boy for the Trump campaign, gave an ultra-short "speech" with the concise wording: "Feminism is cancer". The following day, his followers turned the video into a short-lived icon of anti-feminism in countless variations - until it finally landed on the laptops in my classroom.

Trigglypuff was just one meme of many who convinced my students that feminists are not only a ridiculous but also a dangerous group, who for no reason attacked the right to free speech and should therefore be placed on the same level as the Nazi propaganda minister . At the same time, they served as a guide to YouTube videos in which some alt-right representative explains why the claim that women are still paid less at work than men is a leftist conspiracy theory.

Welcome to the Nazi cellar

When I asked my students to empty their digital trouser sacks on the table with the assurance of safe conduct, horrific things came to light - in addition to many useful jokes - scornful rant about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the anti-Semitic "Happy Merchant" meme , a number of equations of dark-skinned people with monkeys - it was a bit as if I had dug a Nazi cellar in the Austrian province. Interestingly enough, everyone immediately distanced themselves from it: The content is actually not shared at all, the primary aim is to post things that “go too far”. Because that's humor: breaking rules, crossing borders. The only thing missing was someone quoting Tucholsky. They were obviously fascinated by the provocation with ultra-brutal content, by things “that one shouldn't say” - and not just in the sense of indecent, but simply inhuman. That doesn't turn them into Nazis right away - but puts them on the Internet in their haze.

Journalist Angela Nagle explores this style of transgression in her recently published book “Kill All Normies”. The period to which she dedicates herself roughly spans Barack Obama's second term in office until shortly after Donald Trump was elected - it is an attempt to follow the frenzied Internet history of the “Online Culture Wars” in writing. At times, Nagle's book is an anthropology of bizarre masculinist tribes on the Internet who kill female exponents of game culture online or try to escape the control of feminism by self-sufficient masturbation.

But the book is also a coffin nail for the conviction that the carnival style and the provocation are purely left-wing or at least inevitably emancipatory driving forces. The style of provocative transgression enables Internet rights to act as a counterculture and at the same time to give conservative to right-wing extremist content of the Culture Wars an attractive spin.

In the trolls' den

The “4chan” image board was a central location for developing and disseminating this humor: Here, images, videos, etc. are anonymously uploaded and discussed - a highly productive meme hub with almost no limits. The hacker group Anonymous has its origin here, and the Occupy protests were also supported from here. Today, however, the focus is particularly on the “/ pol /” section founded in 2012. The main thing here is to mock left-wing liberal justice fighters as blatant and “politically incorrect” as possible: a cave full of trolls, which is also regularly referred to as “the asshole of the Internet” - Nazi Pepe and Trigglypuff also started their careers here.

Motivated by the phantasm of an allegedly overwhelming political correctness, everything from hardcore porn to pictures of corpses to the partying of gunmen is elevated to a successful joke. That this humor in its political form does not only appeal to unruly teenagers, is shown when the news portal “Watson”, as happened last year, collects “bad” memes from its users - and when half of them suggest that blacks all have Ebola or steal cars and Arabs have sex with camels.

Rushing old men and teenage trolls who post shit have seldom gotten so close in history with their demeanor. But weren't the punks already playing provocative symbol games in the late 1970s when they were walking around wearing swastika shirts? That may be true. But if you pressed Sid Vicious ’navel, you didn't end up on a Nazi website.

David Eugster is a historian, cultural scientist and high school teacher.

Angela Nagle: «Kill All Normies. Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right ". Zero Books. London 2017. 136 pages. Approx. 20 francs.

Concept history

What are memes

Memes are understood to be all possible cultural elements such as videos, images, sentences, words, gestures that circulate online and are constantly being changed. A video that has been viewed billions of times on Youtube is therefore not a meme - it can only be called a meme when it is sucked into the collective editing process, when versions of it are created or things are copied from it. Dance styles can also become memes, like the “Gangnam Style” of the Korean pop star Psy, which was imitated around the world five years ago.

By definition, a meme is never alone: ​​Different variants of it circulate in swarms on the internet, and even the finest insider gags are found by a host of editors. The Internet encyclopedia “Know Your Meme” provides an overview of the mass of production: Here you can find the carefully processed story for thousands of memes, their origins, variations and their distribution.

The word «meme» goes back to the biologist Richard Dawkins. In his book "The egoistic gene" he applied the theory of evolution to cultural change and claimed that cultural units (memes), like genes, are passed on from generation to generation. But while genes are out to reproduce, memes are fighting for the attention of new carriers, according to Dawkins. Dawkins ’term became interesting in the age of social media because it focuses on the gradual imitation of people-to-people contacts and not on the distribution of content through a few mass media channels such as newspapers and TV stations.

As loan items from Darwinian spheres, the term also reminds us that culture in the 21st century is not just a colorful creativity workshop, but that it is always about a fight for ideas.

David Eugster

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