Saturday, December 29, 2018

Kettle-Corn Kevin

Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls, 1966.
London Skinheads, 1980s, photograph curated (I guess) by Sean Reveron.

Haven't noticed National Review's Kevin D. Williamson ("Whose Streets, Indeed?") doing this in a long time, pretending to be Tom Wolfe:

o there’s this really whacked-out young lady just absolutely spitting high on rage with one of those weird Chelsea Girl fringe haircuts like skinhead molls used to wear back in the Age of Reagan and she is right at this moment very fixated on — and I am not making this up — kettle corn, that weird repulsive caramel-coated Dutch mutant popcorn varietal sold at state fairs and any place men in laced-up pirate blouses are gathered, and she’s just going on and on about it, screaming at the top of her skinny little lungs: “It’s salty and sweet! It’s salty and sweet! It’s salty and sweet!”

This is some of your High Bad Writing indeed, pounding the reader with cultural signifiers without regard to the laws of physics, in allowing a character to be simultaneously wearing two completely different haircuts and whacked out on rage while fixated on snacks, I mean even if rage really does give you munchies, which is somewhat at odds with my own experience of both, can you be fixated on kettle corn and spitting with rage at the same instant? Or is it the kettle corn that enrages her? Is she high on rage because it's salty and sweet? Does that give her something in common with Kevin D. Williamson? How many places are there where men in laced pirate blouses gather, other than Disney movie sets and maybe a Halloween party gone wrong, and are any of them really state fairs? Do our lungs in fact comport with our body types, do we have fat lungs, skinny lungs, and mesomorphic lungs to match the various torsos that enclose them?

And did Kevin D. Williamson really plagiarize from the 2016 novel The Potentate of Walking Horse by G. Lynn Dennie? Reader, I doubt it. This is probably a simple matter of great minds thinking alike.
Why "Dutch mutant" for Christ's sake? Is GMO popcorn cultivation a big thing in the Netherlands? It's certainly not a thing in the vicinity of Colonial Williamsburg, au contraire.

But then again Kevin D. Williamson isn't in the Netherlands or the vicinity of Colonial Williamsburg in any case, he's reporting from Portland, Oregon, a couple of months ago but only now running the piece, reconnoitering the dreaded antifa organization or disorganization as they seize control of the city, or don't, on Election Night 2018, in a demonstration against a ballot initiative that was supposed to stop Oregon from having so-called "sanctuary cities" (the initiative failed):
The kettle-corn girl is but one of many madcap escapees from the great mental ward of the Pacific Northwest out here making strange noises on the mean streets of downtown Portland on Election Night 2018, and her ecstatic om mani padme hum devotional to kettle corn is soon drowned out as her thuggish black-masked comrades begin their more straightforward and politically meaningful and considerably more comprehensible chant:
“Whose streets?”
“Our streets!”
“Whose streets?”
“Our streets!”
You do not scream "Om mani padme hum" at the top of your lungs, whether in a rage or ecstatically. If you're in a rage you're probably not madcap (an expression normally reserved for the Katherine Hepburn character in The Philadelphia Story).

The meaning of the chant (which I myself first participated in in November 2016 in some of those student-led flash demonstrations roaring up Fifth Avenue after Trump's election) is indeed comprehensible, as (say) A.J. Willingham explained back in September 2017:
"It's about asserting one's claim to public space. Protesters have used it to say, 'We're gathered here. We're significant by virtue of being here expressing our viewpoints. And we matter as inhabitants of this space," said Tamar Carroll, an associate professor of history at Rochester Institute of Technology. She recently co-curated an exhibition, "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Williamson, naturally, thinks it has to be a good deal more sinister than that:
these absolutely are their streets, as the two neutered Portland cops following them dutifully around make clear. The goons and thugs occasionally take a moment to amuse themselves by messing with the cops, screaming obscenities at them or committing flagrant but relatively minor violations of the law in front of them, daring them to do anything about it. The cops trudge and trundle on, calm as monks, pretending not to notice as the hoodlums pound on passing cars, block intersections, and menace bystanders. At the most public of public spaces in Portland, Pioneer Courthouse Square — “Portland’s living room,” they call it — the goons encounter a little bit of counterprotest, not from sad incel Proud Boys or the Klan or simply from other pissant neo-fascists wearing slightly different-color shirts — but from a young black man who intuits, not inaccurately, that this is mainly a bunch of rich-white-kid play-acting by little runts who make pretty good thugs when confronted with people in wheelchairs or little old ladies — more on that in a second — but who are basically chickensh** poseurs who are Down for the Cause only to the extent that it doesn’t stand between them and a soy latte and an MFA.
Violent goons and thugs who are also chickenshit poseurs studying for their MFAs. Or as KATU television described it,
PORTLAND, Ore. – A peaceful protest made its way through downtown Portland on Election Night.
Based on a Facebook event, hundreds were expected to attend the “March Against ICE,” which started at 6 p.m. outside City Hall. A few dozen demonstrators initially showed up; with nearly as many police officers standing in front of the building as there were protesters.
The groups hosting the event said they are also against the now-failed Measure 105, which was aimed at repealing Oregon’s status as a sanctuary state....

And those who failed to bring their own kettle corn were thoughtfully attended to
Protesters also set up a table with bread, avocados and jars of queso dip.
Photo by Beth Nakamura/Oregonian.

But you go to press with the demonstration you might wish to have seen (like the one following Trump's election in November 2016, which was pretty destructive, though contemporary reports don't mention any masked men among the "anarchists" who are blamed in that one), not the stupid and entirely mild-mannered demonstration you actually went to. And of course with the antifa of your dreams, the warriors of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street
in which Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists had attempted to march — lawfully, it is worth adding — through the city. They were attacked by thousands of anarchists, socialists, and union workers organized by the Communist Party and armed with bombs and other weapons, including bags of feces, a kind of low-rent biological weapon favored by their imitators today. They had to go through 6,000 police officers, many of them mounted on horses, to get to their enemies, and they did so, crippling police horses by tossing marbles under their hooves.... 
Antifa has hijacked the name of an earlier German organization, Antifaschistische Aktion, a front for the Communist Party of Germany, itself a creature of Moscow and no stranger to authoritarianism, political repression, and political violence. (The Communist Party of Germany was banned in 1956 by the same constitutional court that prohibits neo-Nazi organizations.) Germany of course had some genuine fascists to fight, but, as in the Soviet Union itself, “anti-fascist” came to cover action against everything displeasing to the Kremlin.
instead of the one you encountered, which, as Williamson acknowledges, wasn't antifa:
It probably is worth noting that these black-bloc hooligans do not always call themselves “Antifa.” The Portland march was organized by Abolish ICE PDX. Sometimes they call themselves “Smash Racism” or something else. But they are the same people, and their goal is the same: They are fascists, albeit fascists whose idol is the proletariat rather than the nation.
And wasn't entirely terrifying either:
If you want to see what a bunch of half-baked idiots and kettle-corn psalmists in a political march are up to, the easiest thing to do is to march around with them, as I did for a while in Portland.... As the march began to peter out, a group of Antifa loitered for a bit on a street corner, and I loitered with them for a while, observing. And then I got tired and decided to bring my labors to an end and go on my merry. As I walked off, a contingent, apparently believing that we were once again on the move against fascism, began to follow me, pumping their fists and chanting, until they figured out that I wasn’t leading them anywhere. And thus did a National Review correspondent end up briefly leading an Antifa march through Portland.
A couple of words on the historical section of the piece and the deadly violent feces-hurling ancestors of Abolish ICE PDX, which in the first place they weren't. The antifa idea in the US goes back to the Minneapolis–St. Paul region in the 1980s, where a group calling itself "Anti-Racist Action" sprung up with the program of protecting the venues of peaceful punk events from the violence of openly pro-Nazi skinheads, which they did with some success until the skinhead scene more or less disappeared, and Anti-Racist Action pretty much did as well, until the advent of pro-Nazi Richard Spencer and the his alt-right recalled them into a kind of half-existence in cells of eight to twelve people now calling themselves antifa, who show up to intimidate demonstrations by known fascists or to "protect" demonstrators against fascists and aren't always completely nice, as on the famous occasion when one of them punched Richard Spencer in the nose. They have no connection to the Soviet Communist Party, which has not existed for some time, or to its successor organizations in the post-Soviet republics, which really do not get up to that kind of stuff, trust me.

Abolish ICE PDX is in contrast mostly a Twitter feed opened in June 2018 which has organized some protests, according to The Oregonian, and is "led in part by people of color" who very unkindly called an African American police officer a "blood traitor" and "Uncle Tom". Which I will tell you right now was very wrong of them, maybe worse than punching Spencer in the nose. Some antifa demonstrators showed up for the election night protest, as you might expect, but as a clearly distinct population, in their black balaclavas and solemn demeanor, not mixing with the hippies, as Williamson ought to have understood.

Photo by Beth Nakamura/Oregonian.
I'm not going to work here on refuting the hypothesis that anti-fascism is fascism except that its "idol is the proletariat", the idiocy of which should be obvious to everybody here, but I have to make some noise about the way Williamson minimizes the danger of fascism at the same time as he exaggerates the danger of its antagonist in ridiculous ways, especially in the passages on Germany and Britain. I guess he may think he's being funny when he says that "Germany of course had some genuine fascists to fight" but it's not something you laugh at; you're supposed to remember that for quite a while the only people in Germany making anything like an effort to stop the NSDAP from taking power were the trade unionist. social democratic, and communist streetfighters who battled them hand to hand in demonstrations, while dignified and respectable conservative German politicians invited Herr Hitler to form a government, and if that doesn't remind you at least vaguely of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan I don't know why. And of course the rich and conservative industrialists profited mightily from the NSDAP and their war economy while the social democrats and communists and union members were its first victims, ahead of the Jews, jailed, murdered, and sent into exile.

As to the British Union of Fascists, it's astounding to me that Williamson doesn't mention why they were marching or where, but it was through the heart of London's East End, the home of most of London's Jewish population, and meant to intimidate the Jews, as the two or three thousand black-shirted fascists marched through Stepney and Whitechapel. Petitions with some 100,000 signatures from the neighborhood begging the Home Minister, John Simon, to ban the event, as he had every power to do (there's no First Amendment in the UK), but Simon refused. Instead he sent 6000 policemen to protect the blackshirts. So yes, it was a "lawful" demonstration, "it is worth adding" (but before the year was out Simon pushed through the Public Order Act banning such demonstrations, and political uniforms like Mosely's black shirts in general, recognizing that he ought to have banned it). But if you want to threaten a large Jewish population in 1936 you're not entitled to any presupposition of innocence after the fact, and Williamson is not entitled to be hiding that central fact.

So, if you were wondering, now you know: Kevin D. Williamson is as terrible a writer, after his misadventure with The Atlantic, and as reprehensible a human being, as ever.

'Also, Alex Pareene's Williamson is a thing of beauty.

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