Misunderstanding Memes as a Vessel for Fascism

The Strick article for this week was a particularly interesting case as we touched a bit on this topic in our first class week if I am not mistaken. I mentioned back then that it came as a complete surprise to me that what I had perceived as a harmless medium for people to get a cheap laugh could be utilized in a way that “repeats or reiterates historical fascism.” (Strick) What I feel is of utmost importance to remember is that we should not use the term fascism lightly. Like Strick notes, before applying fascism to any contemporary issue, we must acknowledge that the scenario we are applying it to may not necessarily match the circumstances for which the term “fascism” was born from. (Strick) On a side note, Özçetin also notes that populism is in a similar basket where it is a very vague term that is hard to pin onto things. (Özçetin)

Image from https://journals-sagepub-com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/doi/10.1177/16118944221110451#fig1-16118944221110451.

On this one I’m going to play a little “devils advocate.” After reading the passage the author gave on this image, I couldn’t help but think that this meme was being made to be a lot more than it is. Strick deeply analyses and attempts to explain the meaning behind the meme, and its connection to the far-right. While I don’t think he is necessarily wrong about any of that, I do not think that an internet s***post is going to be the catalyst for some kind of far-right revolution within America. The actual underlying image of Schwarzenegger and Weathers grasping each others hands has no direct connection to linking the war of independence to the present “anti-gun war” It is nothing more than a meme template that is also used for things like the following image… I mean look at the title of the original post, even the author acknowledges that it is nothing more than a s***post.

Image from https://knowyourmeme.com/editorials/collections/the-best-of-epic-handshake

I think that the big takeaway here is that memes can serve as a potential host for political rhetoric, but we must remember that in the end they are mostly if not entirely harmless s***posts that no one should give the time of day to. Because that is where the real problem can arise. If you give these posts your time of day, you are doing exactly what their creator wants you to do (aka reading and trying to understand their discourse).

Sources:

Simon Strick, “Reflexive Fascism in the Age of History Memes” Journal of Modern European History 22 (2022) https://doi-org.proxy.library.carleton.ca/10.1177/16118944221110451

Özçetin B, “‘The show of the people’ against the cultural elites: Populism, media and popular culture in Turkey” European Journal of Cultural Studies. 22(5-6) (2019):942-957.

https://knowyourmeme.com/editorials/collections/the-best-of-epic-handshake

Hate-Crimes (What is Wrong with People?) and Bad Thesis Writing Skills

The two Guardian articles for this week just outright shocked me. Whether or not one agrees with “Gender Ideology”, is irrelevant in the case of the guardian article that mentioned a lesbian couple being attacked. People have basic human rights, and one of those rights is to be ensured safety regardless of who they are and what they believe in. No-one should have to fear for their safety and wellbeing because of who their attracted too. This is not something that is even remotely debatable. Of course people are entitled to whatever view they want to have gender ideology (that’s the beauty of a free society), but violence is never an ok avenue to take. That said, it certainly appears that a lot of the anti-gender ideology movements in and around Europe don’t seem to have any sort of cohesive or central arguments besides stating things like, “the traditional family is under attack, that children in the classroom are being indoctrinated to become homosexuals, and that “gender” is a dangerous, if not diabolical, ideology threatening to destroy families, local cultures, civilization, and even “man” himself.” (Butler) The problem with these being the sort of central arguments is that they come across like a badly written thesis without any reasons for why their arguments are right. It is literally the equivalent of saying “I think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches threaten the stability of the food industry.” See how I didn’t include any valid or well researched reasons as to why they threaten the stability of the food industry? I just stated that they did.

Readings looked at:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/14/homophobic-and-transphobic-hate-crimes-surge-in-england-and-wales

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2021/oct/23/judith-butler-gender-ideology-backlash

What even is Qanon? How did they get to Europe?

The Scott article and the Vice news video provide interesting insight into an issue that I’ve not considered until now. Qanon has been a pseudo cult like conspiracy theory for years now. Traditionally they would often only be associated with their unfounded claims on things like the existence of a global elite group of pedophiles. “Its roots date back to late 2017 when an anonymous social media user — using the name Q — published several cryptic messages on 4Chan, a platform often used by fringe conspiracy theorists and online extremists.” (Scott) However, the spreading of their influence has also led to a spread in their beliefs across the pond. As the Scott article also notes, the outbreak of Covid-19 has allowed the conspiracy to do exactly that. Many groups within Europe like the one highlighted in the Vice News video have embraced Qanon and reinterpreted it by adding their own spin on it in the form of anti-vaccination conspiracies, anti-Semitic beliefs, or even believing in Chancellor Angela Merkel being a puppet of the previously mentioned global elite. Specifically with the anti-Semitic part, this has been a trait that has remained particularly synonymous with Qanon conspiracies wherever they go. In all honesty, this conspiracy group stands testament to the fact that Societies will always have loonies, and if you give them the means to communicate easily with one another (like with the internet), they can spread and thrive in sometimes uncontrollable ways. In other words, we should tread carefully to not enable groups like these to evolve into anything more than what have seen, as this leads down a dangerous path that Germany unfortunately took in the 30’s.

Sources looked at:

https://www.politico.eu/article/qanon-europe-coronavirus-protests/

OP/ED#2 – Voters in France: Macron and Le Pen, Round 2

France is a large country in Europe with a rich history and culture and a population of 67.7 million.  It is an integral member of both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and France’s complexities of diplomacy may be as daunting as 3-dimensional chess, and extremist views domestically limit Macron’s available political capital in the international arena.

Emanuel Macron and his Le Republique En Marche party was re-elected in the 2022 election with 58% of the vote, his top competitor, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally (Rassemblement National) party had their largest-ever gains, winning 89 seats and denying Macron a majority government.  Previously known as the National Front, the National Rally party has been a political force in France for decades. They received 34% of the vote in the last election.

Le Pen voters are often referred to as far or extreme right, or even the anti-immigration party.  In the April 2022 election 41% of French voters supported Le Pen and the National Rally party, who were known for their racist and authoritarian beliefs.  During the campaign Le Pen repeated her intent to make social assistance programs unattainable for foreigners who had not worked for a minimum of 5 years in France and to ban Muslim headscarves (hijabs) in public. In addition, Le Pen associates with Viktor Orban of Hungary whom I talked a bit about in the previous OP/ED, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy amongst other authoritarian and fascist leaders. To make matters worse she even spoke of withdrawal from NATO, and  Since 2011 Le Pen has declared her admiration for Vladimir Putin and his policies.  However, due to Russia’s invasion on Ukraine Le Pen has brushed off questions about Putin and began to shift her public position.

Similarly, here in Canada the issue of religious garments and symbols worn by those working for the Province of Quebec has been hotly debated in the National Assembly of Quebec, in parliament, at rallies, and throughout communities.  Bill 21, referred to as Quebec’s secularism law, has been controversial since receiving Royal Assent in June 2019.  Backlash against Bill 21 is supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association informing us how this law unfairly impacts Canada’s marginalized populations.  In August of 2022 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported on the Association of Canadian Studies new report which was a combined study with Leger, a prominent polling organization.  Lead researcher, Miriam Taylor explained – “Religious minority communities are encountering – at levels that are disturbing – a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression.”

Prior to the 2022 election but after the war in Ukraine had begun, the people of France found Macron to be a good crisis leader, and his poll numbers improved.  Yet Macron’s record on immigration is not a good one, nor did he inherit anything resembling a functioning immigration system.  In 2018 the United Nations (UN) criticized France and the Macron government of inhumane and substandard conditions experienced by asylum-seekers. With an increased anti-immigrant sentiment among the French, Macron’s government has continued to destroy migrant settlements without providing services to even the most vulnerable.  The message they provide instead is move on.  Meanwhile, on March 10, 2022 Ukrainian refugees were given temporary protection in France, similar to those who hold Schengen Visas which are renewable every 6 months.  Neither Macron nor Le Pen offers any reasonable solution to France’s continued abuse of basic human rights,  and this same scenario is being played out in other European countries too.  In France there is room for the white Ukrainians fleeing war and no room for the people of color predominantly from countries that are under travel advisories in the West.

Sources:

https://data.oecd.org/france.htm

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/24/france-election-2022-result-emmanuel-macron-vs-marine-le-pen.html

https://graphics.reuters.com/FRANCE-ELECTION/POLLS/zjvqkomzlvx/

https://apnews.com/article/2022-french-election-marine-le-pen-vision-1dc32d753e839a2c1871db3bb47a3e2f

https://www.lemonde.fr/en/les-decodeurs/article/2022/04/21/what-are-marine-le-pen-s-ties-to-vladimir-putin-s-russia_5981192_8.html

https://montrealgazette.com/news/quebec/quebec-passes-secularism-law-after-marathon-session

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/bill-21-impact-religious-minorities-survey-1.6541241

ACS

https://www.euronews.com/2022/03/17/emmanuel-macron-unveils-policies-as-he-seeks-second-presidential-term

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2022-04-26/what-macrons-win-means-for-immigration-in-france-and-the-eu

https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/france-changes-rules-for-ukrainian-refugees-staying-in-the-country/

Persistent German Racism in the Post-Soviet Era

Image from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/03/berlin-walls-fall-marked-the-end-of-the-cold-war-for-the-american-public/

Even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, vast swaths of people from East-Germany had attempted to flee into the west. Many would attempt to cross the wall in Berlin with some even being killed. Of course this issue would spill over once the Soviet Union fell, and many individuals that made it into the west were not all necessarily coming in with good intentions, and the Molnar article explains how German society found itself more multicultural then it ever had been, and that this had created a lot of tension among the far-right. This tension would spill over in the form of violence against non-Germans, and would highlight that racist sentiments were still very much prevalent in Germany even by the 90’s. What is even more shocking is that these sentiments were not just disorganized far-right groups, but the German government itself “Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his government developed a plan that sought to dramatically reduce the number of Turks in Germany by paying them and their families to leave Germany forever. The plan, overwhelmingly supported by the German people, was put into law in 1983.” (Molnar) The fact that this action was overwhelmingly supported by the German population hammers home that those racist sentiments were still there. What is even scarier is that it is still present pretty much to this day as highlighted by Mamonova when she talks about how the right-wing party “Alternative für Deutschland” is heavily backed by eastern villages in Saxony where racist anti-refugee sentiments are very strong. Why do they still feel this way though? Is it really just remnants of fascist ideology, or is there something else at play here?

Readings Used:

Christopher Molnar, “Greetings from the Apocalypse”: Race, Migration, and Fear after German Reunification” Central European History, (2021), 1-25.

Natalia Mamonova, Jaume Franquesa, and Sally Brooks, “‘Actually Existing’ Right-Wing Populism in Rural Europe: Insights from Eastern Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Ukraine,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47, no. 7 (2020): 1497–1525

Reconciling with the Past Revisited: Italian Edition

The Jarvis article for this week very much reminds me of many of our discussions in previous weeks about German reconciliation with their past. The article describes the terrorist style killings that occurred within Milan, Italy from the 60’s-80’s, which would become notoriously known as the “years of lead”. “The city of Milan’s new “diffuse urban museum” is an attempt to reckon with the violence of the years of lead” (Jarvis). It is undeniably a noble undertaking to commemorate the past, and as the article states, “Confrontation with the past enables us to heal in the present, it claims. Remembrance enables reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, between far left and extreme right, between communities whose own memories have long been fiercely opposed” (Jarvis). Though it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows here, the museum may reconcile with the past, but what it needs to look for what still remains here in the present. Fascist violence is here and now, and you do not need to look very far. The article literally mentions how a far-right Italian politician shot and killed a Moroccan man recently. On this note, the Glynn reading on page 2 talks a bit a bit about how in the immediate aftermath of the “years of lead” in Italy no-one wanted to take part in any kind of wide-spread discussion on what had happened. While it’s understanding that mass killings will obviously be hard to talk about, if discussions aren’t had, and if understandings cannot be created between differing parties as to how and why these things happened, then what is stopping the violence from continuing? As we can see with the aforementioned recent killing of the Moroccan man apparently nothing.

Sources:

Charlie Jarvis, “Milan Museum Commemorates Fascist Past at Expense of the Present” Hyperallergic (August 2, 2021), https://hyperallergic.com/667010/milan-museum-commemorates-fascist-past-at-the-expense-of-the-present/

Ruth Glynn, “Writing the terrorist self: the unspeakable alterity of Italy’s female perpetrators” Feminist Review (Jul 2009): 2.

The Intensity of Voices from Younger Generations

Going through the Biess reading this week and reading about the protests of the Shah of Persia’s visit to West Germany, reminded me of how younger generations are generally active in their beliefs more often than passive. When the younger generation wants to be heard it will be heard at all costs. What really struck me when reading about these protests was the police response to them. While the protests were generally pretty unruly, “they threw smoke bombs, tomatoes, and balloons filled with paint at the Shah” (Biess, 196) none of these actions would warrant the response to them that would come. “One student reported that he tried to talk to a policeman but was quickly thrown to the ground and kicked in the head. When he protested, another policeman reportedly told him, “I will beat you to death if you say one more word.”” (Biess, 196) This response was one you might expect from an authoritarian government like Hitler’s, not an emerging liberal democracy like West-Germany. Just as concerningly I noticed a particular quote from police officers participating in the response, “Six policemen attacked another student, Hans-Rüdiger Minow, and dragged him across the street by his hair. Policemen reportedly called him “Jewish” and “Communist pig.”5 When the demonstrators tried to escape, police resorted to the plan of “fox hunting”—that is, the pursuit of fleeing demonstrators. In this context, police officer Karl-Heinz Kurras fired a shot that killed Benno Ohnesorg, a student of German literature.” (Biess, 196) Outside of the completely unwarranted murder committed here which is bad enough in itself, I would like to note the derogatory use of “Jewish” to one of the protestors coming from a German Police officer in the 1960’s. You would think anti-Semitic sentiments would have all but been eradicated in Germany this many years after the war, but it is clear that this was in fact not the case. In essence, the police were trying to eliminate the student movement like the Nazi’s did with the Jewish people of Europe. Last weeks discussions on German Reconciliation still strongly resonate here.

Reading Referenced:

Frank Biess, “Revolutionary Angst” German Angst: Fear and Democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2020), 195-196.

OP/ED#1 – Modern Authoritarian Snapshot: Viktor Orbán and his Anti-LGBT Legislation

Viktor Orbán is a classic example of a modern day authoritarian that I have noticed in spite of many headlines featuring him, he has slipped under the radar when it comes to general discussions that criticize him. The Hungarian Prime Minister’s recent legislation preventing LGBT content from being in schools or kids TV, shows that he is a man who wants more and more control of the nation he presides over. He is however not the first case in recent European history of anti-LGBT mobilizations. Starting as early as the mid-2000’s, “the Catholic Church, conservative groups and political parties mobilized against the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the same-sex marriage bill from 2004 (Aguilar Fernández, 2010, 2013).”1 Another example can be seen with Russia’s 2013 law against “gay propaganda.” Similar circumstances like these would also pop up in Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, France, Slovakia, and all share in common that they come down to petty policy debates, and only really seek to combat what is labeled as “gender theory” or “gender ideology”.2 Just like with Orbán, these incidents also all share in common that they represent a gross overreaching of authority that undermines the idea of democracy to the core.

The aforementioned legislation regarding LGBT content being blocked off, showed a complete disregard for the basic rights of the LGBT community, and in spite of pleas by European Human Rights officials and boycotts by politicians not in favor of the change, it still went through. These actions against the LGBT community only serve to erode relations with them that have so carefully been built upon not just in Hungary, but globally over many decades. Orbán has been labeled as a result of these actions as a tyrant, bigot, and autocrat, while his party has even been called out for essentially acting as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” On the note of this last label, he is also alleged to have Hungarian state media under his control, and even has supposedly rigged elections in his favor, but whether this is true remains uncertain, though evidence points towards it indeed potentially being the case. If it is true, election rigging is certainly one of the hallmarks of an authoritarian leader.

It is evidently clear that Orbán seeks a traditionalist and conservative society that is not very inclusive. In fact, Orbán aligns himself with the idea that he is establishing an “illiberal state”, and even went as far as to say on the matter, “Societies that are built on principles of liberal democracy will probably be incapable of maintaining their global competitiveness in the upcoming decades and will instead probably be scaled down unless they are capable of changing themselves significantly” (Orbán, 2014). Yet again we see another hallmark of an authoritarian leader, labelling anything that is progressive in the slightest as being in some way, shape, or form an inferior system with inherent flaws, that make it a less desirable option. Based off of what has been looked at thus far, I think it is fair to say that Orbán is a man that bears some of the traits of an authoritarian leader.

The primary issue with the new legislation above all else is that it fundamentally ignores the potential for it to have “tragic effects on the mental wellbeing of young LGBT people.” For a legislation that seems to pride itself on the fact that it is protecting the young minds of those who are under 18, it simultaneously does the exact opposite. Dunja Mijatović, who is the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights exclaims, “The proposed legislative amendments run counter to international and European human rights standards. It is misleading and false to claim that they are being introduced to protect children.”

So what can be done on the matter? It is difficult to say as a regime change is likely the only chance for the new law to be reversed. Though with how much authoritarian control Orbán has over the country and its media, this may be a difficult task that will take some time.

Viktor Orbán – Image from www.populismstudies.org

HIST4606A Sources:

1 David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 7.

2 David Paternotte and Roman Kuhar, “Disentangling and Locating the “Global Right”: Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe Politics and Governance Vol. 6, No. 3 (2018): 7-8.

Outside Articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/15/hungary-passes-law-banning-lbgt-content-in-schools

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/20/russian-gay-propaganda-law-discriminatory-echr-european-court-human-rights

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/09/15/viktor-orban-hungary-eu-funds/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/breaking-fresh-evidence-hungary-vote-rigging-raises-concerns-fraud-european-elections/

https://www.populismstudies.org/viktor-orban-past-to-present/

Reconciliation

Post-war Germany was certainly a mess to say the least. It was a country that was torn apart by the great powers, with new governments established on both sides. The economy was in shambles, and reconciling with its past actions during the war would not prove to be an easy task. As mentioned by Fulbrook regarding the Zimmerman trial, Zimmerman was very upfront regarding his actions and tasks he was assigned pertaining to the liquidation of the Jews. He did not bear any concern with incriminating himself, and clearly wanted to no longer bear the weight of those actions. (Fulbrook, 316) What is interesting here is that we look at this situation and many of the other situations faced by other Germans involved in the killings, and see how complex these situations really are. While he was indeed directly involved in the carrying out of the killings, evidence points to him potentially enjoying the authority early on, but then slowly becoming uncomfortable with the more serious actions carried out later on. On top of this he made it clear that he did not drink alcohol to make the killings easier on him due to it being forbidden by superiors. The fear of being punished took precedence over the suffering of others. (Fulbrook, 317) Protecting ourselves from punishment is a natural human instinct, If we have to make others suffer in order to prevent ourselves from suffering, more often than not we will take that trade off. It’s sad to say but humans are a sad bunch. On a separate note, I would like to highlight a point made by Moeller regarding the film Judgement at Nuremburg. “When in the closing courtroom scene, Haywood reflects on the crimes the defendants have committed—‘The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs . . . A mockery made out of friendship and faith’—he is quick to admit ‘how easily it can happen’ and to add that ‘there are those in our own country today, too, who speak of the protection of country. Of survival’. But, he goes on, ‘Survival as what?’” (Moeller, 520) This quote causes me to beg the question, how can someone reconcile with the fact that they are “sterilizing” an entire religion, race, etc. What are the reasons for why anyone can believe in something like “its a matter of survival for the Arian race”?

Image from https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/the-nuremberg-trial-and-its-legacy

Readings used:

Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 316.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): p. 520.

What is the Appeal of Fascism? A Gender Roles Approach

While we all know the classical story of the basic stuff that attracts people to Fascism. On the surface level its all about securing Arian supremacy for white, blond hair, blue eyed individuals. However I feel that it goes a little deeper than that. The first line of the Kühne reading provides some immediate insight into this. “Nicknamed “bloody Walter,” SS Obersturmführer Walter Hauck embodied the Nazi ideal of manly toughness.” (Kühne, p. 390) Nazi soldiers would certainly have been expected to be “manly” and “tough”, and its entirely possible that this has evolved to be expected of any kind of fascist, not just the Nazi’s. The problem with this is that this idea is not necessarily uniform across all walks of life. “for example, generals as opposed to the rank-and-file, war volunteers as opposed to draftees, soldiers as opposed to civilians, blue- as opposed to white-collar workers, black as opposed to white men, Jewish as opposed to Christian men—may adhere to different masculine norms.” (Kühne, p. 395) With this in mind, it might be generalizing to say that all fascists seek to be “tough”, or “manly”. However, I think an argument can be made that fascism seeks to enforce masculinity for men, and femininity for women, which for those who prefer the traditional family structure of a male dominated household, that might create some appeal to those individuals. “Men in the Freikorps radicalized common Western and German norms about male self-control, as well as about cold, tough, and “hard” masculinity, into a perpetual war against women and femininity—especially against femininely coded desires for domesticity, tenderness, and compassion within men” (Kühne, p. 395) The quote makes it abundantly clear that fascism would appeal to men who seek dominance over women. That said, while this post has focused on masculinity and femininity, it does make me wonder what other factors affect why fascism might appeal to certain people? Of course I have no doubt it will be covered by one of my classmates in their posts!

Thomas Kühne, “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich” Central European History Vol 51, Issue 3 (September 2018): 390, 395.