Kill All Normies | Angela Nagle

Summary of: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
By: Angela Nagle


Cultural war is being waged online, a battleground that sees the rise of both the far-right and leftist identity politics. ‘Kill All Normies’, by Angela Nagle, delves into this phenomenon that has transformed politics, examining how both the left and the right have embraced modern digital culture to spread their messages and fight their battles. In this book summary, you’ll learn about the emergence of the alt-right and alt-light and the key role platforms like 4chan, Tumblr, and Reddit have played in this digital transformation. The book also explores the darker side of online culture, including trolling, doxxing, and the misogynistic world of pickup artistry.

The Power of Culture in Politics

The digital revolution did not bring a leaderless revolution in politics. Rather, it created a new cultural battleground where both the left and right utilize cultural tools to effect political outcomes. Culture, as an instrument of political change, was originally introduced by the leftist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, but both liberals and conservatives have leveraged it. In the 90s, the left dominated the culture wars until recently when the far right effectively used online platforms to construct a counter to leftist identity politics. Online users have also developed a new form of humor that is ironic and mocking, born out of the repeated exposure to moral concern giving way to disillusionment. Harambe’s reaction from the public in 2016 proves how much this humor has spread from online subcultures to the mainstream.

The Alt-Right vs. the Alt-Light

The alt-right movement claims to present an alternative to traditional conservatism and is specifically focused on ethno-nationalist and segregationist movements. Its members often refer to traditional conservatives as “cuckservatives” for being weak on immigration issues. On the other hand, the alt-light consists of young Internet rightists who rebel against liberal identity politics, political correctness, or any constraint on freedom of expression. Both movements have given support to the far right and share some of their concerns and attitudes, such as antifeminism. However, the alt-light’s style and sensibility have allowed it to serve as a vehicle for darker agendas and shifted the Overton window far to the right. This shift helped to sweep Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election and brought new levels of mainstream media attention to the online far right.

The Dark Roots of 4chan’s Influence on the Alt-Right

Christopher Poole created 4chan in 2003 as an anime fan site that evolved over time to become a platform with a dark, violent tone. Despite having different forums on a variety of topics, 4chan is known for harboring meme-based humor, racist and misogynistic comments, and discussions on murder and suicide. The /pol/ board serves as the center for 4chan’s politics, while their /b/ board offers an abyss of shocking cruelty, misanthropy, and racism. 4chan members pioneered practices like doxxing and RIP trolling, which have caused devastating harassment costs for victims. Additionally, 4chan is the birthplace of Pepe the Frog, the Anonymous hacker group, and the Guy Fawkes mask aligned with the alt-right. Overall, the transgressive anti-moral style of 4chan’s culture served as the creative and energetic force that bolstered the rise of the alt-right movement.

The Rise and Fall of Tumblr’s Leftist Subculture

In the same era that saw the emergence of 4chan culture on the right, a liberal identity-based subculture developed on the left, with Tumblr as one of its primary platforms. This subculture was defined by sensitivity, wokeness, and a belief in gender as a social construct, with connections made between identity fluidity and the mystical. However, as this subculture grew, so did its tendency towards aggressive sensitivity policing and “callout culture,” often leading to unjust accusations of bigotry. This trend even spread to college campuses, where it gave rise to “trigger warnings” and the pejorative term “snowflake” from the political right. Ultimately, this style of suppression of dissent and bullying caused the downfall of the Tumblr-style leftist subculture, giving the alt-light plenty to rebel against and ridicule. Even in the wake of criticisms, this subculture stubbornly refused to allow constructive criticism or dissent, leading to the downfall of many social justice warriors who refused to change despite significant pressure from the larger society.

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