No *Insert Label* On Our Streets!
Racism, Alt-Right & Synthwave
“Self-righteous people can talk themselves into forgetting they are part of a civilization.” — David Brin
I’m going to tell you what seems like 3 disjointed stories at first, but it’ll make sense in the end.
The first one happened a month ago when a friend of mine wrote about a rally in Stockholm by NMR (a Swedish nationalistic group) and an anti-racism rally that was held at the same time.
While her intention was good, she used a phrase that didn’t sit well with me: “No racists on our streets!”
This rhetoric bothers me because the racists are saying exactly the same thing: “No immigrants/blacks/asians/muslims/jews/LGBTQ/you-get-its on our streets!”
It’s not their street. It’s not your street. Nor is it my street.
Many of us feel self-righteous indignation over it. And I get it. It feels so damn good to know that we’re so obviously right and they’re so obviously wrong.
But here’s the thing. It’s everybody’s street. We share it, whether we like it or not.
Sure, if we don’t like it we can always move, but that’s not going to solve any of our problems. And yes, they are OUR problems.
Just because we move away from the neighborhood filled with racists, sexists, homophobes, etc doesn’t mean the problem goes away.
Yes, we’ve removed ourselves from a directly toxic environment, but in reality we’ve only managed to move a little further down the river from where the waste is being dumped.
No amount of shaming, marginalizing, or excluding these people is going to help that.
My second story is about what’s helped me gain a better understanding for “the other side”.
You know those alt-right, fake stories that’ve been all the rage lately? I went ahead and read a few of them. And, well, wow!
I had two basic reactions: Disbelief and laughter.
Disbelief that these sites could ever be considered legitimate sources for news. Laughing because it was so blatantly stupid.
The second time I laughed, I stopped myself. A memory came back to me.
I was at my cousins place in the early 2000’s and he had Fox News on. We didn’t have it in our TV-package at home, so this was the first time I saw it.
I remember my reaction so well, I turned to my cousin and asked: “Is this shit for real, or are they joking?”
My cousin said: “It’s real.”
I laughed and turned the channel. This had to be the dumbest news broadcast I’d ever seen.
A couple of years later I started watching “The Daily Show” & “The Colbert Report”, where they had plenty of fun at Fox News’ expense. Well, it stopped being as funny when I realized that there were plenty of people sitting at home watching Fox News who had it as their only source of news.
Later it made me question whether I too had only been serving myself the news I wanted to hear. Turns out, yes. Yes, I had.
Here in Sweden we have pretty decent standards of journalism and networks. It’s in no way perfect, but it wasn’t as polarized as I noticed that the U.S. networks were. Knowing full well that it’s not immune to bias.
Now, I’m not comparing Fox News to alt-right sites, but my basic reaction was the same. Disbelief and laughter.
This time I didn’t need to ask whether it was real or a joke. This time I wasn’t going to turn the channel. This time I would listen and seek to understand.
So, I dove deeper into it and while I haven’t grasped it fully, I learned a lot.
Things clicked together that I hadn’t necessarily connected with the alt-right movement.
White supremacy, anti-feminism, anti-homosexuality, anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, 4chan, #Gamergate, and my favorite music genre for about the last 4 years.
Which leads me to my third and final story, Synthwave. Or as it’s become known when associated with the alt-right, “Fashwave”.
Back in September of 2008 I was messing around with a music program called Logic. I had this idea to do 80’s synth music. So I started researching typical drum machines and what synths were most commonly used during the era. I got the basic drum loop down and made this Jan Hammer-esque/80’s TV-intro theme thing.
Fast forward to 2012 and to my amazement I discovered that there was this thing called “Synthwave” which was a more polished version of what I’d dabbled with 4 years earlier. Another 2 years later the synthwave scene got a big bump thanks to the movie “Kung Fury”. I got hooked on things like Miami Nights 1984 and Mitch Murder along the way and I still can’t get enough of it.
So, a couple of days ago Buzzfeed had an article on how Synthwave had been appropriated by the alt-right as their genre of choice. You can read the article here.
My first reaction was, not surprisingly, righteous indignation. “How dare they associate MY music with that kind of bullshit?!”
I’m not saying that feeling the feels is wrong per se, we’re human. Humans gonna feel. But having it dictate our actions isn’t productive.
A more productive way to handle it is by being curious. Why are these people drawn to the music in the first place?
Well, Synthwave is, as one site put it, “The Whitest music ever”. The site went on to say that Synthwave “is the spirit of the childhoods of millenials”.
I don’t know if you’ve watched the last season of “South Park”, but “Memberberries” illustrate the mentality of that last line.
The mentality is that “I wish I got to live life just like it was when I was a kid”, but it false nostalgia. If you were the same age as you are now and got transported back to the 80’s, do you know what you would say? “This shit sucks, I wish it was the 60’s again when music was GOOD!”.
It’s a nostalgia for a time and place that never really was. Things seemed better because we were kids who didn’t have “grown up problems”. We never had to understand how complex the world was. We just got to fuck about and do dumb shit. Apparently we still do, only now we don’t get grounded for a month. There are actual, real-life consequences.
When life doesn’t go our way we look around to see who’s to blame. What piece doesn’t fit? What isn’t like it used to be? Then we lay all our focus and energy on trying to get rid of that, thinking that it’ll somehow magically solve all our problems.
It’s not going to. And when we realize that, it’s gonna suck. Big time.
Then we think, what the hell, it’s not like anybody listened to us before. It’s not like they respected our concerns. It’s not like they provided a satisfactory solution.
There’s only one conclusion we can draw: “They’re the problem, not me.”
Neither I or the people in the Synthwave community have any exclusive claim to the genre.
What I mean by that is that going out and saying “No Nazis in my wave!” is not going to make them go away. Nor is it going to help if we laugh in disbelief.
So, what do we do? Should we just welcome them with open arms into the communities we’ve built up over the years?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a good idea.
But if they’re already in our neighborhood then we shouldn’t move away from them, nor should we force them to move.
What we should do is to acknowledge them as fellow human beings even if they don’t acknowledge us. What we can do is to offer them a better alternative to fear, hate, and bigotry.
The best way to have the biggest building? Build the biggest building.
However, there are times when no matter how much love, understanding, and support we lend, the other person is determined to destroy what we’ve built.
If that’s the case then we have a choice to make.
Do we destroy their building, or do we keep building a bigger one?