How using the language of angry men empowers angry men

One of the impacts of the last US election campaign was that a new lexicon entered our political world. Cuck, beta, snowflake, fake news, alternative facts became favourites of white supremacists and misogynists [I think this is more accurate than saying Alt-Right and Men’s Rights activists respectively].

Cuck:

  • a weak and emasculated man, a conservative who has sold out to liberal causes.
  • But actually pornography of men who watch their female partners have sex with other men. Don’t Google it.

Beta:

  • a male who is effeminate, weak and a follower.
  • But actually an animal kingdom thing for wolves and the like.

Snowflake:

  • a person who is unable to handle criticism and critique.
  • But actually it’s a form of water.

Fake news:

  • news created without fact or evidence to achieve a nefarious outcome.
  • But acutally it’s just people on Facebook.

Alternative facts:

  • truths that have been deliberately overlooked by the mainstream.
  • But actually it is just lying.

As the unbalanced, racist and economically disastrous Trumpian platform has quickly unraveled, critics have thrown those terms right back in their whining, self-entitled faces and it has been enjoyable. On digital media and social media the terms are now a common form of mockery. On The Young Turks, the largest online media presence in the world now, Cenk Uygur revels in using the terms to insult Trump and friends. On Twitter, #snowflake is a go to for women eviscerating men, such as those who protested about women only sessions for the film Wonder Woman. On traditional television and radio media, reporters and commentators make sly jokes about the slippery accusation of fake news.

However, if we’re to step back from the fray, I have to wonder if we are not doing the very work of legitimising white supremacy and misogyny for those communities of predominantly white men. When we sling their language back at them, we admit that their language has power. It has meaning to the wider public. We move it from a code between a small and regrettable subset in our society and admit it into our language of politics. These men never expected to convince the media of their case, but they have extended their reach exponentially by getting their key words said by the media on every device in every house in every part of the Minority World.

Roland Barthes’ Mythologies gives the analogy of walking down the road and you hear a shout that makes you turn around. There’s a sense in which you understand that you are being addressed, even if you don’t know what it is about. The screaming of cuck, beta, snowflake, fake news, alternative facts is like that shout; a certain group of our population turn, not because they understand the meaning but because they sense that the call is to them. Prior to the US election campaign, it was as one angry, red cheeked man yelling on the street; now it as though we’ve handed over every sound system in every shop on the street to that man to amplify his scream.

There’s varied opinion about whether power creates a language or language creates a power, but we can be sure they are joined at the hip. In Germany today, terminology used by the Third Reich, including the suffix Volk-, Abartig and Lugenpresse have returned to the public discourse, giving a power to white supremacy there that is not yet reflected in their actual numbers. The language gives the impression of power; impressions become self-fulfilling. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, terms like dole bludgers, handouts, benefit fraud build a picture of a problem that doesn’t actually exist, but is now firmly entrenched in our public discourse.

You cannot critique those terms by using those terms. For example, if you are to say ‘benefit fraud is so low as to be non-existent and far outstripped by white collar crime and tax avoidance in economic impact,’ firstly, you’re right, secondly, all people have heard is that you have an opinion about benefit fraud which must be a real thing because you have an opinion about it. If you say ‘to call men who support feminist causes, cucks is a rubbish label that seeks to ignore obvious injustices for women in our patriarchal society,’ again, you’re right, secondly, you’ve just affirmed that we are merely having a debate about who is and who is not a cuck.

The terms cannot be reclaimed, cannot be cleverly repackaged and shot back, cannot be talked down. To use the term is to empower the term. My advice is to never use the terms. White supremacists and misogynists can be critiqued quite happily without using their terminology to do it. If it is a battle for space in the public square, let’s dominate that with our terms, our hashtags, our discussions, our ideas, our own signs and symbols. The angry men in these small groups become a political force when we make them a political force. It’s our choice, not theirs.

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