Cheeky Dandy Plays Lovable Scamp Online
One look at Richard Bertrand Spencer’s cherubic little face, typically framed by a trendy undercut and tasteful oxford-cloth collar, will give you a hint as to why the 38-year-old social media darling has cultivated such a following. But it’s not just his looks that drive Spencer’s legions of mostly-teenaged fans wild- he is also plays quite the insouciant bad-boy, boasting that he takes “a sadistic pleasure” in provoking stodgy old authority figures. Spencer’s signature impish little prank is advancing a white nationalist political agenda that openly takes inspiration from Adolf Hitler. A predictable cadre of grey, old finger-waggers have called this particular jape “not a prank” and an “unironic practice of neonazi politics that should be addressed and treated as such;” they may have a point, but they are also missing out on the fun to be had with a little irreverent private school humor.
Like many a tweed-clad prankster, Richard Bertrand Spencer honed his craft at private school- St. Mark’s School of Texas, one of the most elite high schools in the state, which has been molding fancy boys into adult coxcombs for over a century. Ah, to imagine the boyish capers and horseplay that buoyed a pink young Richard Bertrand Spencer through the tedium of Latin recitations and bare-bottom paddlings. The Duke of Wellington supposedly remarked that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and likewise it was perhaps playing the naughty rascal in the hallowed, marble halls of St. Mark’s where a young Spencer learned to confront his own latter-day Napoleons (Bonaparte was famously pro-Jewish). Spencer joined the generations of southern dandies who continued their education at the University of Virginia, where, like many youths with an eye for fancy and whimsy, he instantly became attracted to the theater. Spencer’s thespian pursuits at UVA favored the avant-garde- perhaps it was here where he developed the tendency to push the envelope and shock his audience which when can still see today when he, for example, advocates the genocide of 45 million black Americans.
As an adult man nearing middle age, Richard Bertrand Spencer put down the rouge and spirit gum of the theater stage to take his avant-garde performance to a much bigger stage- social media. Spencer boasts nearly 50,000 twitter followers, putting him in an elite tier of internet jokesters alongside such names as Jonathan “Jomny” Sun and Sammy “Prodigal Sam” Rhodes. At 38, Spencer is on the older end of the “millennial” cohort, but he is as fluent in the internet culture of memes and Pewdies-pie as the typical fresh-faced “fourchin.org” user, and his trademark ironic rants about “being assaulted by antifas” and “rapist refugees”show he hasn’t lost the impish, boyish sparkle of a private school class clown. Indeed, Spencer is so deeply ensconced in the role he plays online that he moved back in with his mother and regularly takes in entertainment stereotypically enjoyed by young “nerds,” such as Japanese cartoons, Batman, and The Matrix (all of which he has incorporated into his routines). Spencer’s wardrobe hearkens back to classic “youthful fop” characters like Little Lord Fauntleroy and Richie Rich, while taking nods from the contemporary privileged, arrested-development scions of Wes Anderson’s films. The aesthetic has become famous for its own right, and for good reason- the juxtaposition of Spencer’s silly, whimsical clothing and the provocative, over-the-top content of his routines place him squarely in the same tradition as Chaplin’s Adenoid Hynkel or Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode.
Several media outlets have fallen for (or perhaps played along with) Richard Bertrand Spencer’s performance art routine, but as his profile rises, will he be able to maintain the act? Sacha Baron Cohen has famously been forced to retire many of his classic personae as they became too recognizable. And how will such a racially- and religiously-incendiary act play under presidency that actually has ties to the far-right? The young fop himself seems to have doubts, saying “I’m much more skeptical now. We live in the age of Trump.” Whatever Spencer’s next act, we will be watching eagerly, and with enough detachment from the consequences of his words and actions to continue viewing him as an object of fascination.