The Political Plebian

Far too many are willing to allow hubristic entertainers & celebrities get away with thoughtless political smears, even with they refuse to face up. Emotionally incontinent YouTubers are no exception.

Politics is a strange discipline for the reason that it offers very little incentive to ensure your perspective is as rigorous as possible. If anything, social media encourages the opposite. Heated political events sweep everybody of prominence into the fervor, and they rarely have to justify their position to their fans. Those who have come into prominence for the reason of politics are rightfully expected to hold true to principle and keep their facts straight. Celebrities, too, have their fair share of takes, but for them the expectations are oddly set much lower. The consumers of pop culture who follow them should not be blamed for their lack of interest in politics. Like many specialized fields, politics is an encompassing and mostly boring topic, which centers around obscure legislation and arcane philosophical principles. Odds are, the idea of positive vs. negative rights will have never entered their imagination, and that’s a good thing. It would be just as well if the entertainers they find inspiration from would take that same approach, but instead you’ll find many expecting their audiences to heed their poorly-considered political opinions.

When celebrities tell their fans that their reproductive rights and safety are at stake, their massive audiences have no contrary frame of reference. It doesn’t help matters when the figures themselves thoughtlessly suggest that conservatives don’t much care for minorities or gays, as Taylor Swift did in Tennessee. Their belief may be authentic, but it’s irresponsible for someone so far removed from the realities of politics to mislead such large and probably naive audiences in this way. Anyone who behaves this recklessly with their platform, regardless of what they do, should be held accountable. And while the first instinct by people who don’t care about what famous political know-nothings have to say is to ask, “Why should we even care about their opinion in the first place?” The very fact that the question needs to be asked so often answers the question. When people discourage pundits from pushing back on misinformation that celebrities blindly spread, celebrities are, in practice, given cover from criticism and let free to propagandize without check.

The argument that celebrities make a difference in political outcomes isn’t so ridiculous. Donald Trump is the president, after all. Kanye West’s announcement of support no doubt did persuade a decent number of his loyal black fans that Orange Man isn’t hostile to their interests. Taylor Swift’s Instagrammed portrayal of Marsha Blackburn as, at the very least, being uncaring about the interests of minorities convinced tens of thousands of young voters of the urgency needed in opposing her. For better or for worse (and it probably isn’t for the better), entertainment isn’t just being politicized, but politics is being celebricized. And the massive celebrity campaigns pushing for Beto, no doubt enabled him to seriously threaten Ted Cruz’s seat. For these reasons, it’s important to confront entertainers and celebrities on their political declarations, especially when they generally wield more influence over political discourse than do the heady thought pieces of serious political pundits.

Some might have noticed that we’ve commended Kanye in the past. Isn’t he a celebrity with political opinions? Sure, but Ye’s main ambition during his brief time in politics was spent emphasizing the necessity for love and dialogue. This is why he donned both the MAGA hat and Colin Kaepernick sweatshirt. It’s also why he left politics altogether when TPUSA’s Candace Owens tried to make his campaign partisan. The difference should be clear between celebrities mouthing generic left or right wing talking points and Kanye West’s calls for dialogue. He rarely said anything political. He did criticize Obama for not doing more for Chicago, but besides that he directly contradicted having a particular political bent, which is why he followed Kaepernick, Emma Gonzalez and Donald Trump at the same time. The efficacy of that strategy is up in the air, but he wasn’t going out there and stumping for Republican congressional candidates.

Because of the rapidly increasing influence of social media, and specifically YouTube, that kind of influence isn’t only accessed by mainstream entertainers. Otherwise apolitical YouTube entertainers can now tap into that drive to chime in on the political. Enter Anthony Fantano, who is known for a few things: his penchant for comparing himself to fruit and having a lot of flannels being chief among them. But most of all he’s known by music listeners across YouTube for his carefully considered, accessible music reviews, which analyze music in an elaborate and entertaining way. The image Fantano facilitates on his channel is that of thoughtful and measured logic, presenting the front of a reasonable thinker who is anything but hostile to conversation. The internet has a way of cutting through those facades. Political hackdom is clearly not constrained to the political, and occasionally those with swollen heads think they have a free pass to coast off of and hold on to the public perception they’ve earned. This video reveals what happens when talented people think that talent is universally transferable. This syndrome is especially prevalent in politics, where virtually everyone is bound to have as fierce and self-assured an opinion as possible, regardless of whether or not they’ve done their homework--or, if they have, are willing to show it when the teacher calls upon them.

An example of a field where so many feel so entitled to loud and passionate opinions is few and far between. Naturally, non-plumbers aren’t quick to angrily leap into a snide disagreement about how best to resolve a clog caused by an inhumanly large log. And while the unknowledgeable are clearly entitled to their opinions on specialized fields--they derail any utility in even expressing them when they use tools of smug dismissal accompanied by unearned moral outrage. Of course, expertise isn’t proof in its own right, and frequently it isn’t the experts who have to pay the consequences for their mental constructions. But the fact that expertise is innately flawed doesn’t mean that it is less reliable than ignorance, which is a conclusion that far too many draw when it fails. The argument that expertise can lead to a blinding arrogance is doubly true of the… arrogantly ignorant. If a lack of humility among the expertly knowledgeable leads them to thinking they have all the answers, what does that mean for someone who has almost none of the answers? Ignorance isn’t bliss, but it can sometimes seem that way when it’s all you know.

The Kavanaugh debacle brought some of these viscerally emotional instincts out of virtually everyone in a way few political skirmishes of late have. Though Donald Trump has always been a divisive figure even among the right, where both sides of political partisanship solidified were in their support for or against the Judicial nominee. The furiously opinionated on all corners seized upon it, resulting in a cascade of public embarrassments. In large part, because the accusations made against him were made without evidence. Cases that fundamentally lack evidence in either direction are a fertile breeding ground for these kind of emotional outbursts, because there isn’t much substance to attach them to in the first place. All that leaves you with is your personal feelings, how you choose to react to totally unrelated facts, and what you choose to take away from them.

This is where Fantano rolls in, who more or less towed the Democratic party line, which ordinarily would be unremarkable. Except, the music nerd’s case was steeped in an ignorant self-confidence you’d generally expect from professional Trump-tweet chasers. Many will be quick to point out that righteous but evidence-free opinion-having was to be found on both sides. Who cares? Only one side had the burden of proof to uphold, and attempt after attempt to sidestep it highlighted many of the worst impulses of political hacks. One of those impulses is best depicted by their over-eagerness to look at any superficial contradiction and use it to conclude that their opponent’s entire position has collapsed, or that theirs has been vindicated entirely. Although Fantano isn’t someone who styles himself as political, it goes without saying that he has chosen to be--much like everyone else, which opens him up to the same criticisms pundits face.

This mentality most recently drove Fantano to this sort of behavior that’s described. He felt that he was savvy enough to offer up a boilerplate reaction to a Newsweek article, which implied that Kavanaugh had lied about not having a connection to Yale that would benefit his admission. Fantano seemed to have read the headline, and brilliantly concluded that the now-Justice got up there and “told lies for a fucking hour.” Because of a ridiculously weak connection to the school itself, we are to believe that Kavanaugh is an out-and-out liar about everything, making him a rapist (or at least, an attempted one.) Kavanaugh claimed he got there by “busting his tail.” Neither Fantano nor the article he cites supplies evidence that this isn’t true. In fact, we know nothing about his relationship to his grandpa, nor his grandpa’s relationship to Yale that would compromise him. But to the Busy Melon, it became a definite reality: Kavanaugh is a liar, which presumably stains anything he claims. Many of his viewers were understandably puzzled by this thoughtless take on the part of someone who they believed took a lot of time to break concepts and videos down soberly, quickly noticing that this approach goes out the window when partisan objectives come into the scene.

As anyone who’s used social media should know, combative political disagreements are more the norm than they are the exception--which has its merits. It’s an unavoidable aspect of politics that dates back to Thomas Jefferson’s campaign calling John Adams a hermaphrodite. All things considered, ours is a time of positive constraint. Where Fantano and his political coaches at Chapo Trap House deviate from that rich American tradition is where their smugness overtakes their capacity to even engage with arguments at all. A lot of confusion surrounds the logical fallacy of an “Ad Hominem”, which translates to “to the man.” An ad hominem is when your insult is your argument. Snide witticisms and even insults are a normal part of politics, but they’re only a fallacy when it replaces an argument. At the very minimum, political statements should advance an argument. Fantano was either unwilling or unable to try even that much.

But the reason he prefers to baselessly convict Kavanaugh for his supposed lack of honesty is likely because he simply doesn’t have the ability or knowledge to actually criticize him on the basis of his judicial philosophy. After all, many responsible libertarian and liberals pundits have credibly challenged Kavanaugh's record. Fantano, on the other hand, knows very little about the political, except for the vague idea that he’s “progressive”, which means to be anti-war and pro-Helping People™ .

Don’t try to question him, though. If you do, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of some truly bizarre taunts and tantrums. For instance, maybe a generous viewer can make heads or tails of what a social blade rating has to do with a sincere and important political difference (weird flex, but ok.). Or perhaps how insults like 1791 being nothing more than “dogshit with impressive editing” adds literally anything to the conversation about the integrity of the judiciary. Viewed in this way, it makes sense why he and the sort of celebrities like Trent Reznor, who told Ted Cruz to fuck off, take the sort of approach to politics that they do: it’s a massive melon measurement contest, hardly a pursuit for truth. Your opponents are any set of qualities worse than you, which means their opinions don’t even have to be engaged with in the first place. Fantano has been active on YouTube for years, and considers the fact that his channel is so much larger than 1791 that he doesn’t have to justify his arguments--and he’s right, technically. Most awkwardly, the internet’s biggest music nerd further tries to sidestep our arguments solely on the basis of 1791 being… a YouTube channel? The irony shouldn’t be lost here.

He uses the same bizarre mentality to reject our offer of having a discussion on the subject publicly, reasoning “that you wouldn’t want to rate an album nobody listens to or debate a channel nobody watches.” Sort of cowardly, but more noticeably it’s hilariously elitist for social media’s busiest Acasio Cortez/Bernie Sanders supporter. If you’re willing to engage in an extended social media skirmish, shouldn’t you be willing to defend those beliefs publicly? If a notably large channel doesn’t merit consideration, you have to wonder how the self-positioned defenders of “the little guy” actually feel about the little guy.

But this conceit doesn’t change the fact that he routinely got ratio’d on his own threads to an embarrassing degree. Plenty of his followers, it turns out, expect better of someone otherwise good at what they do, but whom they didn’t subscribe to for half-baked political hot takes and emotional outbursts. It probably does allow him to vent some of his internal rage, though, which is all that matters at the end of the day.

Two further points of absurdity are on display here, that give us more reason to not got drunk on hubris: the Social Blade diss was a consequence of our grade being brought down by having to delete numerous videos in an attempt to get remonetized. Interestingly, Fantano himself had his hand forced in taking down his meme channel, ThatIsThePlan, on similar grounds… and while we’re measuring melons, our grades are basically the same once again.

In our hyper-political era, the times where someone like Fantano could do podcasts with right-wing comedian Sam Hyde feel like a distant past, even if they are only a few years removed. Maybe The Fader accusing him of being Alt-Right has left a chip on his shoulder, but how dull the internet will become if every creator is living in Trump’s shadow, forever having to overcompensate for being too friendly to the right.

Now, the only reason any of this is worth discussing is that Fantano represents a strain of leftist internet pundits popular for their mockery of right-wing style. Sometimes merited in regard to the right’s presentation, it generally doesn’t translate into their criticisms on matters of substance. This class of emergently popular democratic socialists and blowhards can be seen in the form of Chapo Trap House, a trio of laughing hyenas who specialize in this brand of politics, and who like to get drunk to the point of developing a severe neurodegenerative disease. When people like this are your source of political insight, it only makes sense that your approach is going to mirror that of drunken idiocy. Stare long enough into the abyss of cackling Bernie Bros, and the cackling Bernie Bros begin to stare into you.

Fantano, once a purveyor of memes and all things fun, is now - like so many in his clique - a collector of social justice good boy points. Whether he’s a product of the times or a raw egoist, one doesn’t know, but he certainly doesn’t know how to have an argument. Though if he does, he’s angrily unwilling to prove it. First scoffing at internet numbers, then resorting to… whatever this is.

Addendum:

To clarify some confusion and respond to some criticism, it was clearly a heated exchange from the outset, but to respond with an emotional outburst in the way he did isn't justifiable. Nor is refusing to talk it out with the person you're insulting. We extended an olive branch in another tweet with an offer to discussion, which didn't have to take place on his channel if it was a grab toward 'clout chasing." If anything, he could have politely declined, but his anger fueled decision to double down on his outburst just added to his antics. Really cowardly and childish look to say the least. On an unrelated note, the matter of Mr. O'Brien's facial hair has been attended to.