I usually don’t write about this side of American culture, but it is hard not to these days. The man in the photo is Graham Allen, an “internet personality” (a meaningless, convoluted term I despise) who nevertheless has over millions of followers on Facebook and Twitter. He is known best for his “Rant Nation” and appearances on Fox News and other rightwing media. The photo was posted on Facebook and Twitter with the caption:
Practicing our “toxic masculinity”
Hey Gillette does this offend you?! 😂😂
I’ll raise my kids the way I believe they should be….thanks for your advice😉
To be clear, I despise corporate moralizing and virtue signaling. It doesn’t matter which corporation is doing it, Gillette, Nike. It’s a cynical and puerile marketing strategy designed to latch on to some au courant trend in bourgeoisie society. It inoculates consumers to the loathsome and abusive character of corporate capitalism and the record of egregious labour or human rights policies of these companies in particular. But what is interesting is that the Gillette ad had actually nothing to say about gun rights. It was an ad denouncing (albeit in the smug parlance of corporate doublespeak) that bullying and sexism are wrong. It was, in essence, the corporate sanctification of the #MeToo movement. But it is an interesting study into the psyche and entrenched angst at the heart of white America.
Most of Allen’s videos are too obnoxious or stupid to sit through (I have). He is a sort of rightwing Kim Kardashian. Spectacle with no substance. His bizarre Christian Oprah-esque self-help talks are complete with sappy background music, I guess to show his audience that he is being serious. But they are also juxtaposed to tirades against the demands of millennials, working people and the oppressed, which kind of goes hand in hand with the reactionary American evangelical notion of puritanism and punitive work ethics. Most try to be humorous in a lowbrow sort of way, but several of his videos are far from harmless.
He has minimized or denied police violence against people of colour, employed Donald Trump’s vile rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees (see him blaming migrant parents for the inhuman policy of separating them from their children at the border), supported the idiotic border wall, dehumanized LGBTQ people through mockery or even the implied threat of violence (see his copious use of guns as props in various videos), promoted feckless nationalism (enforce the pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth or kneeling for an anthem drenched in racist blood), American militarism (Allen is supposedly an Army veteran who has had 2 tours of combat and pushes the tired trope of “support the troops or else” mantra despite decades of murderous wars of imperialism), many tirades against newly elected senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or what he believes is “socialism” sans any historical or class analysis (a topic forbidden in America to both liberals and conservatives alike). His favourite rants seem to be against people who supposedly hate America (the “greatest country in the world” and “better than everyone else” on the planet according to him), socialists, activists, etc, or posting sentimental slop that erases or glosses over the nation’s imperialistic militarism or its dark legacy of racism, bigotry, genocide and colonial oppression.
Some of Allen’s videos are full of blatant falsehoods. In one where he disparages Colin Kaepernick, for instance, he trots out the lie that another football celebrity, Pat Tillman, died for his country. In reality he was killed by “friendly fire,” a fact buried by the Pentagon. There is even evidence that suggests he was possibly murdered and his personal effects, including a personal journal, were destroyed. Prior to his death Tillman came out against the war and did not want his name to be used as a war propaganda tool. But Allen doesn’t care about those wishes. He would rather parrot Pentagon talking points that excuse the imperial war machine in Washington.
But Allen’s recent photo is rather emblematic of the toxic rot at the heart of American society. Celebrity internet personalities are experts, albeit unwittingly, at illustrating this cultural degeneration. Excessive posturing to the point of making one appear more like a caricature than a human being, historical revisionism via sentimental language, belligerent nationalism for the sake of belligerence alone, a deep seated loathing for any intellectual curiosity and no real interest in the issues that ordinary working class people are actually facing or the systems that cause strife to begin with. But Allen’s “rants” are generally about distraction and he operates in an echo chamber that can be found among liberals as well. Insulated to reality and uninterested in anything that contradicts or dissents from their worldview.
This particular photo isn’t offensive because it fetishizes guns (it does, of course) but this phallic-like obsession is indeed associated with a pervasive insecure masculinity that is endemic to American culture. This photo is a sort of micro-study in how the culture itself has steadily become infantilized. Gillette’s ad was annoying in the same way all corporate moralizing is annoying. But the backlash is mostly hype. That there is no discussion of the malfeasance of corporate capitalism itself tells us who is narrating, directing and moderating this so-called discussion. And while #MeToo has had some successes, that Gillette has seized on it is telling. Most of this movement has remained a largely bourgeoisie phenomenon mainly because it fails to address the enormous role of class and capitalist exploitation in regard to institutionalized misogyny and sexism.
Allen, like so many of these “personalities” today, embodies this odd disconnect from reality we see on display among the corporate and political class and the mainstream media as well. While he posits himself as being different from his liberal nemeses, he is really the same. Peddling manufactured outrage about manufactured issues and nonexistent threats, e.g. attacks on masculinity or gender, terrorists coming over the southern border, communists, government taking away guns. And I would guess he makes a tidy sum doing so.
Meanwhile, the lived realities of most Americans are rendered a pale shadow. Nationalistic xenophobia becomes the narrative forced on the working poor by people like Allen who hardly represents them. Meanwhile, most Americans have blended families. Families with LGBTQ, people of colour, and members on either side of several borders. Families of faith or no faith at all. Families with little to no healthcare coverage, that have to commute hours to at least two or more jobs because they cannot afford rent or mortgage closer to them, and that could not economically survive beyond one paycheck. Families struggling to survive under corporate capitalism, imperialism, and the dictatorship of money that is, in fact, the real United States.
Kenn Orphan 2019