The Enemies of Color

Gavin McInnes is one of America’s most unusual conservative commentators today. As the founder of Vice and a majorly influential figure in metropolitan culture, his full scale embrace of the right wing over the last decade marks an odd shift. With the election of Donald Trump, McInnes became a mainstay in online commentary. This paradoxical identity as urbanite hipster turned conservative set him apart from more conventional figures like Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro. It’s McInnes’ unapologetic approach when clashing against cultural boundaries that caused his split from Vice in 2008, his firing from his ad agency in 2014, and his most recent firing from the generically conservative media company CRTV in 2018.

This long history of dissidence meant it was only a matter of time before he’d brush up against the primary gatekeepers in the country today: massive technology conglomerates and their political proxies. It culminated in his removal from every online platform except for YouTube. Even his presence on Instagram, almost exclusively featuring pictures of himself and pancakes for his kids, has been erased.

McInnes’ primary aim in this cultural struggle is the restoration of color in American life; the ability to speak in free and comedic terms without being taken so seriously. His fate was preceded and mirrored by the actions taken against Sam Hyde, another boundary pushing comedian. They were both targeted publicly and privately by journalists and media figures like Vic Berger, for example, who openly bragged about edited contortions of fact as well as his internal campaign against Hyde at Adult Swim. Both of these events are apart of that attack on color Gavin has positioned himself as an opponent of.

This attack on color is as old as the printing press, and it’s come about in various guises, but if you observe closely they’re always put under the umbrella term “hate.” It was seen in the 90s and early 2000s, when American icons like the group NWA and Eminem were targeted by censorship campaigns for their negative social influences. Campaigns like these and the ones that were waged against groups as intentionally silly as Insane Clown Posse may have been driven by the hyper-religious, but its motivations and concerns are ultimately the same. Calls to censorship have universally been justified by the alleged danger they pose. In the case of controversial rappers and rambunctious youth movements like Gavin’s punk background, it was clamped down upon for fear that it would motivate violence. The call of censorship by the left and right always and necessarily rests on that supposed link.

The social media unpersoning Gavin now faces is no exception. Consistently and unavoidably we’re reminded that we need protection from violence-inducing, hate-mongering entertainment, but instead of sagging pants or clown paint, its scapegoats in 2019 wear red hats. McInnes routinely clarifies his actual beliefs on his shows, but journalists and those in power have a feeling, a sense, that they can peer into his brain and see his “truly” racist intentions. Gavin had this brought to his doorfront when his neighbors decided to plaster signs that read “hate has no home here” with the obvious intent of making the only vocal Trump supporter in his community feel unwelcome. A town hall was hosted devoted to demonstrating their solidarity. Like Voldermort, his name was uttered only with the utmost reluctance.

People exactly like the affluent, uptight white suburbanites in Gavin McInnes’ community serve as a microcosm for the group that has made it their mission throughout American history to zap the life out of art and entertainment After all, it was a mixture of the feminist left and the evangelical right that targeted Marshall Mathers for his tongue-in-cheek but nevertheless graphic lyrics, in terror that he was rubber-stamping bigotry and degeneracy respectively. Tracks such as Renegade, Criminal, and The Way I Am channeled the frustrations against institutions that confined the country to extreme caution and over-regulated thought. Gavin’s background in the punk scene is naturally similar. This puritanical-like attack on color is by no means constrained to the political or musical. Chuck Palahniuk, is a leading transgressional fiction author, most widely known from his book Fight Club. Transgressive fiction is a genre of taboo literature which revolves around characters who break free from societal expectations in peculiar ways. He shares his own experience on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

McInnes’ provocative style can be paralleled directly to the sentiments that drove Eminem’s historic rise to the top of not only his industry, but American culture. Clearly, much of McInnes’ entertainment appeal is derived from the fact that he jokes about his actual beliefs in exaggerated fashion, and his critics choose to take them extremely seriously. They’re then mounted as evidence against him, and either lazy or ideologically motivated censors hear it and play along. Despite the shift in cultural power from the left to the right, the media wasn’t any different in the 2000s. They targeted Mathers, not just for being a rapper, but for the abrasive comedy he incorporated in his music. Cultural renegades like these can be viewed as a sort of stress test on our institutions’ ability to tangle with uncomfortable ideas and language.  

A lot of people ask me, stupid fuckin' questions
A lot of people think that, what I say on record
Or what I talk about on a record
That I actually do in real life or that I believe in it
Or if I say that I wanna kill somebody
That I'm actually gonna do it or that I believe in it
Well, shit, if you believe that, then I'll kill you
You know why? 'Cause I'm a criminal!
Criminal! You goddamn right
I'm a criminal! Yeah, I'm a criminal!
My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge
That'll stab you in the head, whether you're a fag or les'
Or a homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest
Pants or dress, hate fags? The answer's yes
Homophobic? Nah, you're just heterophobic

You can't teach me a goddamn thing ‘cause
I watch TV and Comcast cable
And you ain't able to stop these thoughts
You can't stop me from toppin' these charts
And you can't stop me from droppin' each March
With a brand new CD for these fuckin' retards ("duhh")
And to think, it's just lil' old me
Mr. Don't-Give-a-Fuck still won't leave
I'm a criminal!
'Cause every time I write a rhyme
These people think it's a crime
To tell 'em what's on my mind

Upon a time, liberals like Marshal Mathers understood that not everything that was said was meant as a strictly political statement, and there was room in speech, comedy, and, creative expression for ambiguity and vibrance. In the United States, Mathers was fortunate to have free speech encoded in the constitution. It’s the one thing that has constrained the punishment meted out to Gavin to the professional and financial instead of the criminal. The birthplace of English Common Law, the UK, has a very different set of circumstances.

By now everyone is familiar with the case of YouTuber Count Dankula who was arrested for making his pug do a Nazi Salute. To Americans it’s stunning that someone would be prosecuted for this and is still embroiled in a legal battle because of it, but it’s worthwhile to remember that the enemies of color don’t just want you in financial ruin, they want you behind bars--and without the legal protections we have people like Gavin and Mathers would be.

You don’t have to think very hard to get an idea of why media and activist organizations like the SPLC prop up the rotten corpse of bigotry. During a time where that actually happened, they may have served a purpose; but what happens to the millions of donor dollars when the reservoir of hate runs dry? A jokester as easy to take out of context and misrepresent as McInnes is an ideal target to keep it replenished.

History’s cyclical nature is perfectly captured in cultural artifacts and this much is demonstrated in the 2001 Eminem track with Jay Z where he emphasizes the media’s fixation on the always undefined “hatred.”

The difference between someone like Mathers and McInnes today is that “we as a people” are deprived of the ability by technology corporations “to decide” if the oddballs and weirdos are as bad as the feeble minded want us to think they are. A pathological drive to minimize social risk lies at its core. The ebbs and flows of institutional control throughout history means that it’s these oddballs and freaks that challenge orthodoxy. While these challenges are a natural process in an open society, it’s no surprise that they’re always met with fear and hostility. Today our institutions have become ideologically rigid once again, this time sweeping up anyone who articulates otherwise moderately right-of-center beliefs. As explored in a previous 1791 piece, the ideological rigidity in our cultural institutions was highlighted when Kanye West took an unexpected stand against this war on color; specifically the color red.

The most compelling figures in our country are necessarily oddballs who present ideas that make the public introspect and re-examine their preconceptions. A large reason why Louis CK’s comedy sets, for instance, are fascinating is because of his unique ability to present ideas that ordinarily would never have flown. That is the role of comedians, writers, and artists. Whether you agree with or even like disruptive figures like CK, Mathers, Hyde, or West is irrelevant to the fact that they’re needed in order to have an society that isn’t stale - but most importantly to maintain a balance in the culture’s zeitgeist such that it doesn’t careen in one direction. Even when such figures make mistakes, total censorship, financial ruin, and even imprisonment aren’t acceptably proportional consequences.

The fall of Gavin Mcinnes is an extremely worrying development to anyone who doesn’t want to live in that kind of country. Our ability to express ourselves with spontaneity and abrasiveness to challenge any institution is what’s always made American culture such a captivating and revolutionary phenomenon on the global stage and we’re in danger of putting an end to that rich tradition.