Alt-Right response to Modern Myths
I’ve been watching the progress of the Alt★Hero Project for the past half month. The brainchild of alt-right blogger, author, and publisher Vox Day, Alt★Hero is a response to the growing complaints of cultural and political leftism in Comic Books. I don’t plan on backing it, but I am interested to see if it actually completes and what comes of it. That it now includes Chuck Dixon, creator of Batman characters Bane and Stephanie Brown, gives it an air of legitimacy, but we’ll see what happens.
The biggest target by Alt★Hero and the other comic reactionaries is Marvel Comics, where there’s been clear shifts in their editorial decisions which skew toward the what many consider the left – emphasis on diversity, affirmation of non-traditional sexual mores, and feminist philosophizing characters being some of the biggest examples.
There’s a goodly part of me which sympathizes with the reaction – the traditionalist Catholic lacking an active party tends toward such enemy-of-my-enemy sympathies – but I have a hard time going in whole-hog. I had (and have) a similar problem with GamerGate and the Sad/Rabid Puppy phenomenon in the sci-fi book world. It tends to reduce the matter to “Ideology or Fun, and we choose fun”.
There’s a kind of anti-intellectualism here that I can’t abide. And it’s one which seems to ignore substantive ideology in favor of arousing and stewing in passions and desires.
What are Superheroes?
Part of Alt★Hero’s message is that it’s about a return to “old school comics”, when things were about storylines and not social justice. This isn’t honest.
The content of the ideology has been different, but superheroes have never been without ideology, and most of their strongest storylines are ways of exploring ideology. This is a feature, incidentally, it shares with the great science-fiction of the mid-20th century, and even the pulp era (Conon was as much fun-adventure story as it was Howard’s exploration of the Noble-Barbarian, Anti-Civilization myth).
Go through the superhero history to see it. In their first incarnations, superheroes were propaganda. Developed in the interwar period, they were originally symbols of the dominant American-Democratic way of life (Truth, Justice, and the American Way). Think Superman and Captain America.
In the mid 20th century, they also took on our developing consciousness of the powers of science and the breadth of the cosmos. Think of the reboot of the Flash, the Green Lantern, and the introduction of the Hulk. The stories also took on countercultural aspects. The X-Men became a fable of minority struggles. Green Arrow took on matters of economic social justice. And it was quite easy for a medium depicting attractive men and women in form-fitting costumes physically sparring to be co opted by the sexual revolution (I bemoan it, but it happened and is with us to this day).
They also lend themselves to savior complexes. Superheroes can be defenders of the righteous, protecting citizens from those who wish to destroy all that is good and wholesome. They can also be those who free the oppressed, raise up the down-trodden, and face down the enslaving overlord. So both loyalists and revolutionaries.
And what may make them such great symbols of these ideologies, most superheroes come from the liminal horizon, being both of the society and outside of it. This is the great contradiction in a vigilante figure like Batman, or the man of two worlds in the case of Superman or two times as in the case of Captain America. The heart of the X-Men drama is whether they are just a unique form of man (Xavier) or a new form of transhuman (Magneto).
Alt★Hero, Ideology, and Indulging in Passions
Projects like Alt★Hero, at least in its rhetoric, doesn’t want to admit this complex relationship with ideology. It wants to pretend there was some edenic point in comic history where only pure story existed – and this story was mostly about awesome fun.
Which is where I really have a problem with most of the Alt-Right efforts at making artifacts of culture. While it ostensibly appeals to older values – gender roles and norms, the “nation-state”, personal liberties and rights – it’s rhetoric always involves primarily a kind of bombastic deification of sensual desires. This is present through-and-through in the meme culture of the Alt-Right – outrage feeding, lulz inducing, Deus Vult intensifying, the whole run of it. It’s also present in a lot of the culture’s use of the image of women – the more they excite the red-blooded male the better. See some of the boilerplate around comic artist Frank Cho.
In Alt★Hero, this problem is embodied in a character like Rebel. We know nothing about her powers, history, or personality. What we do know is she wears daisy-dukes, a Confederate flag top and mask, and likes washing her mustang in a bikini.
She’s reduced to an image of sex, plastered over with national pride, thrown into the face of the “enemy”, and then praised with the laughter of her creators and fans. Alt★Hero’s plans for her in their cosplay goals already make clear she and other female figures, wrapped in old-timey symbols, will be the face of the series. It’s an opportunity to indulge the passions and just soak in them.
And that’s what most of the alt-right cultural reaction (GamerGate, Sad/Rabid Puppies, Alt★Hero) seems to always come back to. They do profess an ideology, but one which skews toward the no-nothing in favor of indulging in passions and deifying desires.
“Let us enjoy what we want to enjoy.” “Cultural recreations influencing morality is BS.” “Get your Social Justice out of here!” “Story not ideology!” “Fun, not propaganda!”
It’s sex that’s the biggest flashpoint (as it apparently is for everything today), but it’s not only in matters of sex. We indulge in violence to an unhealthy degree. We give ourselves over to passions at a moment’s notice. We laud the sensibly astounding over the profoundly quiet. These are not new problems, but giving into them and defending them is not the way forward.
Of course, the smartest among the movement try to put a better veneer on this. They try to affirm that they believe in things like the sublime and beautiful (and then back it up with pictures of wow-cool violence and woah-hot gals). They believe in Christianity (and then run to a lowest-denominational moralism). They affirm the values of the West (though fail to give a substantive definition beyond romantic pining – a wide problem among AltRighters and Conservatives).
In general, the intellectual defense of the movement is a hot mess.
I will give Alt★Hero’s vision its due. It and a lot of the work around Castalia House, Vox Day’s publishing arm, are attempting to foster confident new mythmakers. These mythmakers are incredibly important today. We need stories which affirm the values eroding around us. We need stories which give hope and courage to those who must live in this time of tribulation. We need stories which honor peaceful beauty, which illuminate self-sacrifice, and embody the virtuous. Stories which order man to the Common Good.
What we don’t need are stories, videogames, and comic books which leave men in their own disordered passions and desires. And that’s where I think most of the Alt-Right cultural reaction in all its variety of forms is leaving us.