Conservatism Isn’t The New Punk Rock. Shitposting Is.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the coalition of YouTube ranters, Twitter frogs and assorted failsons that made up his most vocal online support base started trying to make a meme happen:
“Conservatism is the new punk rock.”
Noted dwarfish agoraphobe Paul Joseph Watson was one of the first to proclaim it, in a video that’s overflowing with cringe.
Weeble-shaped torture fetishist Kurt Schlichter also tackled the subject in a column for Townhall.com, managing to throw in a paragraph-long plug for his book about a “speculative future history of the struggle to retake our culture.” Because speculative future history is absolutely the baliwick of punk rock and not, say, the Alan Parsons Project.
All of these people are conflating two very different things. Conservatism — the political philosophy that values the preservation of existing social mores and institutions at the expense of progress — isn’t what the 2016 election was dealing in. Trump’s online support, in places like 4chan and the_donald, was all about shitposting.
The term was first used on Something Awful in 2007, but shitposting as a concept is inextricably linked with 4chan. The site’s founder, Christopher “moot” Poole, wanted “high quality posts” on his boards, images and responses that added to the conversation. Because this is the Internet, he got the exact opposite.
4chan is full of shitposts. Bumps to bring threads up to the top, Dubs, trips, quads and other games revolving around the unique post ID number. Memes, endlessly repeated and remixed. Without shitposts, there would be no 4chan.
The site’s FAQ describes shitposting in a single sentence as “knowingly contributing low quality, off-topic, or ill intentioned posts.”
It’s the knowingly that connects shitposting and punk. Sure, Sid Vicious couldn’t play bass to save his life, but Malcolm McLaren knew that and didn’t care. The badness was part of the show. It was a purposeful thumb in the eye of the well-intentioned pro bands on the London scene.
If the Obama years were a genre of music, they wouldn’t be the soul and hip-hop that the 44th President put on his Spotify playlist. They’d be prog: endless, droning, fiddly songs that chased their tails while making incremental progress.
Think about healthcare. “Medicare for all” is a punk song. It’s short, sharp, egalitarian. It doesn’t need interpreting or explaining.
Compare that to the Affordable Care Act we got, an impenetrable brick of regulations, subsidies and tax breaks that did make life better for hundreds of thousands of people, but not in a way that they could actually understand.
Democratic policy is earnest. It’s wonky. It values proficiency and technical skill over authentic human connection. That makes it the perfect target for shitposting.
A single needle can deflate even the biggest balloon. That was the impact of punk on the bloated rock scene of the early 1970s. It doesn’t matter that a great percentage of that punk is well-nigh unlistenable today. Donald Trump was the thumb to the eye of system-driven liberalism that the world needed.
But it’s foolish to pretend that the bloated oaf has anything to do with “conservatism.” The thrice-married public adulterer violates nearly every Evangelical covenant the Republican party has spilled blood to build, with the notable exception of abortion rights. His policy positions are wildly incoherent, swinging from Paul Ryan-driven poor purging to absurd promises of “healthcare for everybody” that only costs $15. Casting Trump’s election as a victory for conservatism is ludicrous.
It was a victory for shitposting. Conservatism was just along for the ride, a helpful vector bringing the hidebound fossils of middle America’s voting power into play.
It’s hard to really extend our musical metaphor to conservatism, because what it “is” has never been more in question. Is it the champagne music of Lawrence Welk, a castrated paean to nostalgia for a time long gone? Is it the relentless bombast of Wagnerian opera, casting every moment as a life-or-death struggle?
Whatever it is, it sure isn’t punk. Punk is Situationist, disruptive, leveling. Conservatism sees the structure of the capitalist world and reinforces it. For all of Trump’s boasts of “draining the swamp,” he has no interest in actual change. All he’s doing is putting a different name at the top of the charts.