September 18, 2019

Youtube's Latest Star Is Taking On the Alt-Right

“In April, Alek Minassian, a twenty-five-year-old from Toronto, wrote a Facebook post—“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”—and then drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians. For many people, this news raised two questions: Is there no depth to which the human soul will not sink? and What’s an incel? Only one of those questions was Googleable. So, in the ensuing weeks, people searched the word “incel” thousands of times. What they got in return was a list of links: links to news articles (“Inside the Dark World of ‘Incels’ ”), links to Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia (“Incels are members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner . . . ”), and dozens of links to YouTube, Google’s hugely influential video platform (news segments about incels, diatribes ridiculing incels, even sympathetic interviews with incels).

Natalie Wynn, the creator of the comico-philosophical YouTube channel ContraPoints, wanted to make a video that was both more trenchant and entertaining than the others. “I knew mine would involve some light mockery,” she told me recently. “How could it not? I also knew that I’d have to make clear, at some point, that incel ideology is dangerous—which, when you’re talking about a woman-hating death cult, does seem worth mentioning. But I also wanted to keep digging until I had a theory about how someone might start out in a decent place and end up in such a fucked-up place.” This approach was not a sop to civility—Wynn, who has called herself a “leftist propagandist,” had no interest in representing both sides of an imaginary debate. “I wasn’t looking for my kumbaya moment with a misogynist,” she said. “I didn’t want to empathize. I wanted to understand.”

Three years ago, Wynn dropped out of Northwestern’s Ph.D. program in philosophy. (She later called academic philosophy “a guided tour of history’s most boring homosexuals.”) She moved to Baltimore, drove an Uber, and started making videos about, according to her YouTube bio, “Sex, drugs, and social justice.” She now has a thriving Patreon page, which affords her a comfortable full-time living with enough left over for a fairly lavish costume budget. Her videos combine slapstick and dark surrealism, Foucauldian banter and Fleetwood Mac covers, subtle metaphysical insights and unsubtle dick jokes, and calls for socialist revolution made in pink wigs and designer heels. She is one of the few Internet demi-celebrities who is as clever as she thinks she is, and one of the few leftists anywhere who can be nuanced without being boring. She knows her way around a syllogism, but she also knows that persuasion is not reducible to reason—that the best arguments, on their own, do not always win. Or, as she put it in a recent video, “Politics is aesthetics.””

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