I have a hobby that I suspect is not unique to me in the age of online media. While it is possible to relax and unwind with uplifting and comforting pastimes, making oneself deliberately angry can also be an effective way to relieve stress. For years now, I have been outsourcing the task of getting my blood pressure up to one group of people: the new right-wing alternative media. Peer through my window, any night of the week, and you are liable to find me on my bed with my laptop inelegantly balanced on my chest, combing through the darker, more infuriating corners of the internet.
Red-faced Texan firebrand Alex Jones is a staple of my own media masochism. Jones has been amassing an audience on radio and online for decades now but shot to international fame when it became clear that Donald Trump was, if not sympathetic to Jones’s worldview, at the very least attempting to court his audience. Jones deals in a political philosophy that is light on ideological commitments (lord knows what his views are on, say, tax rates in the US) and heavy on conspiratorial babble that seems to transcend beauty and pass into the sublime in its neurosis. For all the toxicity of his views, I watch Alex Jones with the amused outrage with which one watches the drunken bender of a close friend: unsure of what’s going to happen next, unable to look away, and finding the absurdity of their behaviour strangely endearing.
Jones’s snivelling heir is the less famous Englishman Paul Joseph Watson. Although he beavers away in the shadows of Alex Jones’ conspiratorial claims, Watson’s feverish little shouting-matches with a camera are in a more familiar tradition of chauvinist, bigoted, anti-media reactionary journalism. Watson has drawn more from, say, Katie Hopkins, than his mentor Alex Jones and thus is more difficult to laugh at. Paul Joseph Watson is a mirror image of his typical fan – that petulant classmate of yours from secondary school who obsessively re-tweets Daily Mail journalists and made a big show out of supporting UKIP for scraps of attention and distain. Watching Paul Joseph Watson is like being trapped in a loveless marriage with him. Every day we get angrier at each other but neither of us can bear to leave.
The fact that I enjoy watching these bombastic figures is pretty clearly not benign. Like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and countless blowhards posing as buffoons, figures in the alt-media often hide their malignancy behind their own quirks and absurdities. Whenever I feel I may not be taking the success of the new right-wing media seriously enough, my special poison of choice is Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos and his eighteen-syllable name has come closer to crossing the threshold from alternative to mainstream than any other figure of his ilk, a fact by which no serious person should ever cease to be terrified.
The best way to understand Yiannopoulos is as a bad facsimile of what his fans consider him to be. He plays the journalist, while not writing his own articles. He presents himself as the victim, while victimising trans, overweight, and many other groups of people for the entertainment of his audience. Most importantly, he rails against supposedly pernicious with a hidden agenda, while colluding with white supremacists in an attempt to mainstream their monstrous ideas.
Yiannopoulos is the alternative media’s Frankenstein’s monster: other people’s work, ideas, and bigotry stitched and woven together into the hem of a tacky Gucci blazer. When I can stomach it, I watch his self-indulgent videos and speeches to remind myself what ill-intent seemingly vacuous rhetoric can hide.