The biopolitics of desire and neo-nazi fashion icons
Last week I wrote about the “erotization” of known abusive men, that is, how prioritizing and amplifying the ideas and rhetoric of abusive men in detriment of the women they were targeting paved the way for the normalization of “dapper white supremacists”. I pointed out then that under the pretense of “empowering” women, these abusers used their platforms and notoriety to further advance their personal “brands” at the expense of their victims. To me, these mechanisms matter in the sense of how they operate as a sort of “genealogy of ideas”. In this genealogy, I do not view our current historical moments as isolated from what came before. In fact, in every sense, I view contemporary politics as a continuation.
There have been for the past few months a proliferation of profiles of notorious white supremacists as fashionable, well dressed, attractive men. Richard Spencer has been subject to numerous fashion columns, the most infamous one on Mother Jones where they referred to him as “dapper”.
However, Mother Jones has not been the only outlet jumping on the fashion bandwagon. Los Angeles Times described how the formally dressed men in alt right groups “more resembled Washington lobbyists than the robed Ku Klux Klansmen or skinhead toughs that often represent white supremacists”. This phenomenon is not circumscribed to American white supremacists, though. The Guardian devoted many words to the fashion choices of British right wingers and, as Anna Silman points out in her detailed account of fashion as another tool for propaganda at New York Mag, “In Germany, the leader of the country’s far right Alternative für Deutschland party is Frauke Petry — “forty-one, with a pixie haircut and a trim, athletic build” who cuts “a disarmingly wholesome figure,” according to The New Yorker.” Herr Dr. Alexander Gauland, another Member of Parliament for the far right Alternative für Deutschland is described as “noteworthy for his gentry tweed coats and his navy blue Jaguar sedan”.
Yesterday, on a Twitter thread I discussed how these profiles that present white supremacists as desirable go beyond mere normalization of extreme right wing political figures and are instead a tool of the biopolitics of desire and sexual reproduction.
To further understand how the profiles are part of the biopolitics of desire and sexual reproduction, this succinct intro by Jessica Cadwallader on the Biopolitics of Marriage (emphasis mine):
Foucault sought to demonstrate the political shifts that occurred around the early 1800s which asserted power over life itself. Biopower — the power over life — was enabled through two intertwined functions. The first, which he called biopolitical, focused on the administration of the life of the population, seeking to strengthen and enhance it through techniques as wide-ranging as labour laws, public hygiene, and the regulation of heredity. The second, called anatomopolitical, focused on the disciplining of individuals, primarily through knowledges and institutions from medicine and psychiatry to principles of taxation. This discipline was peculiarly effective partly because it deployed the notion of power as oppressing natural desires to produce those desires as the individual’s own, and liberation as the expression of those desires.
As Foucault argued, circulating between these two intertwined elements of biopower was “the norm,” and a proliferation of knowledges and institutions engaging with questions of health and pathology, sexuality and race, and bodies and disability. This enabled what Foucault calls a “caesura” or “fragmentation” of the population into two, in the name of enhancing life. On the one hand was life, the “superrace”, those whose lives and well-being must be prioritised and nurtured. On the other hand were the “subrace,”, those associated with death, who, according to Foucault, could be subject to “not… simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on” . This fragmentation of the population, then, which Foucault names racism (in a slightly misleading way, since he is talking about the structural fragmentation of a population in the way described above, which includes racism but also goes beyond it) enables the creation of techniques of biopower designed to enhance and support life as a general principle, rather than simply at an individual level.
There is a well documented obsession of these men with sexual reproduction with white cisgender women. It is no coincidence that a good deal of his supporters emerged from MRA groups, pick up artists and other splintered factions of white men who hold extremely regressive ideas about women, gender and sexuality. Spencer himself uses MRA rhetoric in interviews claiming that “most women secretly crave Alt-Right boyfriends because they want “alpha genes” and “alpha sperm.””. It is in the context of elevating MRAs and MRA adjacent white cis men, a group that until recently was portrayed in popular media as stereotypically “unattractive” and “undesirable”, that Spencer’s advancement to the status of fashion icon takes on a whole new level. This is particularly noteworthy when he has expressed his goal of banning interracial relationships to fulfill his political ambition of an all white ethno-state where women would return to their traditional role of bearing children. His remarks about “alpha sperm” cannot be separated from his insistence on being perceived as “desirable” since he is promoting his political ideology and, by association its supporters as equally desirable and sexually attractive.
Up until recently, eugenics related discourses were treated by mainstream media as either Nazi extremist “deviations” or marginal phenomenons, relegating them to historical footnotes such as John Harvey Kellogg’s Race Betterment Foundation. Most commentary around the rise of MRAs and other radical white men’s groups were not necessarily analyzed as part of these traditions even though their ideas around gender roles and women’s sexuality share a lot of commonalities with Kellogg’s regressive ideology. With the rise of white supremacy not just to the mainstream but to the highest positions of power and Mike Pence, a known anti LGBTQ and staunchly anti choice Vice President, perhaps it is time to see these “fashion” profiles for what they really are: the promotion of a return to “anti-miscegenation” and mainstreaming of the biopower of Men Rights Activists.
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