Right-wing propaganda on YouTube takes many forms, though the one constant in a sea of variables is a disingenuous interest in freedom of speech as long as it hinges on impeding the voice of dissenters. This has been pretty much an on-going discussion amongst conservatives on the platform — do they use the implicit ways YouTube perpetuates that kind of behavior to advance their brand and risk sounding hypocritical, or do they just bank on the audience’s ambivalence to pursue their bottom-line without having to worry about much else?
YouTube is a fickle to deal with — it doesn’t just provide a voice for the oppressed who once had to get approval from the TV industry to voice their opinions and concerns, but it also put on a pedestal those who would’ve not made it past a screen test, let alone have the intellectual caliber to run their mouths on the most theory-involved political questions of our day and how they intertwine with society and order, both in affect and application. This has as a result permitted the rise of a bit of an insurgency within the ranks of political YouTube, one that doesn’t have any traditional partisan affiliations, but one that simultaneously clearly caters to one ideological stream, while denying it to a false pretense of neutrality and a commitment to facticity — it is that of right-wing punditry, and it is eating the potential for discourse on the platform and on social media at large inside out.
If you’re fairly unfamiliar with the space, just know there are a lot of figures you’d rather not let anyone with sub-par critical thinking skills come into contact with — that includes children and young teenagers, but is not exclusive to those most politically unseasoned. The fright of exposure to such an extreme brand of content is not just something that interests the culture critic in me to examine as a collateral of there being just so much right-wing punditry on YouTube, but it is also something of a generational concern to me — if youngsters grow with such a wide breadth of misinformation, how likely is it that we’ll be just left powerless at reverting the harmful effects it could have both on their psyche — as most of it is fear-based — and on their demeanor as active members of society. It turns out that directing an onslaught of harassment towards one single person — potentially doxing them — is not entirely uncommon, it is more of the norm, and the latest victim of it might be a darling to most who are in-tune with a more progressive outlook on life, but to a growing population on the far-right, he’s the latest target of attention and represents a threat to the sanctity of their ideals.
Carlos Maza, reporter for Vox and host of the fan-beloved series ‘Strikethrough’, has now received multiple instances of verbal harassment from fans of a certain political commentator ‘Steven Crowder’. This is not what you’d typically dub as making an “earnest criticism” or “merely pointing out the inconsistencies” — no, this is straight up homophobic and racist garbage being sent out his way because he expressed a view contrary to that of the commentator’s, and this runs the gamut of mocking his demeanor dubbing it as overtly “gay” in a most-condescending fashion, likening his behavior to that of a stereotype of a trans person, and to make matters even worse, Steven pulls out the ever-so-unholy card of identity politics, where he mentions Carlos’ race by name, and uses it as a way to undermine his credentials as a culture critic and a capable host of a one of the very few successful politically-themed commentary series on YouTube.
If that sounds like it’s so bad for Crowder that it could potentially ruin his reputation, one must take a hard look at the overall picture of right-wing political YouTube and see how it morphed from being this religious folk-bashing/Western values-aggrandizing machine, well into the intellectually-inept garble that it is currently.
It is very heavily underscored for conservatives that their views are deemed as inherently foul. For some, the appeal to yell “Stop” at the current of history is irresistible, in and in other cases even noble, but for right-wing punditry on YouTube, it’s more than the aesthetic driving this — it’s a true feeling of not being taken seriously based on principle and not substantive differences. The truth is however, that conservatives are about as full of shit as everyone else calls them out to be, and it is due to an appeal of the conservative current to the aesthetic of logic and reason without adhering its characteristics.
Take the criticism that Carlos Maza is so over-the-top with queer aesthetic for example. That would be seen by most as a sign he’s most-assertive of his identity — being so comfortable in your own skin that you wouldn’t mind putting a little bit of yourself out there even if it entails a bit of emotional vulnerability. But to conservatives, being gay evokes a certain sense of affront to their own sense of masculinity — simply put, they can’t be seen as purporting it valid, so they have to constantly make fun of it to position themselves leading the conversation through simple virtue. The same can be said for his comically-frequent references to Carlos being Mexican — none would disqualify someone from being able to be intelligent, or conversely really stupid if they were of a race that is not white, but because right-wing punditry tries to portray Mexicans as leeches on a waning capacity of America to accommodate them, that thread of incompatibility with American ideals of white supremacy is recurrently invoked to elicit entertaining the thought that Carlos’ opinions are worthy of heavier scrutiny because he’s not straight and white. And If you thought an appeal to identity politics was the extent of it, you’d be very well mistaken.
Steven Crowder’s conversation style adheres to a known quantity in right-wind punditry — because Rush Limbaugh has practically pioneered the art of being a conservative, and has thus cemented his credentials by being most-effective in conservative circles, his successors learned a lot from his style. Steven’s seems to lean very heavily into the element of misrepresenting readily-available information, but also kind of a cognitive trick to convince his audience he has any semblance of an idea of what he’s talking about.
If you watch Steven’s videos, you notice a regular tone of indifference to everything — not that he’s not involved, but you can sense he’s very much repeating from an internal script of end-shaped discourse rather than an idea-led one. He’s not very interested in what his ideological opponents are saying, nor is he committed to the pursuit of a greater truth as he might proclaim to be, but he likes to project the aesthetic of knowing what he’s talking about, even when the content of his words suggests very much otherwise.
A fellow writer on Medium pointed this out to me: “an audience is most easily able to absorb a message when it is set up to make them feel like they came to their own conclusion”. Crowder’s audience projects the illusion of having gotten to the core of what he, and his subjects of commentary are saying, but it is ultimately but a visage for a fairly empty argument. It’s the notion that what he says must be necessarily correct because he carries a legacy of being correct which he self-reinforces and is inseparable from his own person as a result, but also, it predicates its effectiveness on the culture of personality-led discourse YouTube has come to popularize over the last few years.
Simply put, the issue is not specific to Crowder, or even right-wing punditry — it is a cultural issue on YouTube that is both the company’s responsibility, and also partially the users’ on a fundamental level. We’ve let cults of personalities draw the parameters by which we engage with content on YouTube, and it has led those who cape for a specific content creator to just vouch for whatever they say and answer their call regardless if it’s hurting another individual or group in the process. Hell, I should know it since I have an almost 200k views video dedicated to me after I’ve merely taken a moral duty to break the story on something mainstream media refused to report on. This has resulted in me getting subsequently attacked, and even threatened legal action. It is by no means as extreme as Carlos Maza has gotten, but it shares many of its traits exactly as I expected it would. When such a behavior follows a familiar pattern, the issue starts to look like it’s the one isolated action of an estranged online vigilante, and more the doing of an entire culture whose commitment to facticity and accuracy is about as empty as the claims it makes on those who supposedly challenge it.
If I were to sit here and break down Steven Crowder’s falsities point-by-point, his audience will be led to believe it is I who’s ill-justified in pursuing this analysis despite all fact pointing to the contrary. This story carries a significant importance because it is a familiar snapshot of LGBT+ people and PoC being bullied on the platform despite YouTube’s explicit forbidding against such a behavior. But because YouTube is a corporation first, and an entity with moral responsibility second, that concern sits on the far back of their priorities as making way for advertisers to feel unthreatened by bad PR takes center stage.
Follow the buck and see where it stops. For YouTube, avoiding controversy is only useful when it furthers their own corporate mission, and that for now — unless hell froze over — is to make money. And to make money, YouTube will have to let Steven Crowder make his videos that garner millions of views on the regular, and let him earn his bread.
But for Steven Crowder to earn his bread, some people have to lose theirs. He might feel like this is a net positive for his brand — which it so far proves to be — but it just walks against every tenet of thought he projects being loyal to. He wants to be real, candid, and honest with his audience, and yet he makes these repeated assaults on the person and character of a political commentator even when they make a painstaking effort to not mention them by name just to avoid harassment. When right-wing political commentators are not afraid to mention their targets, and their victims have to be so careful not to alert their fanbase’s presence to them, it tells us not only that the playing field is not even, but it also makes a sharp point to underscore just how claims of elitist stature by left-wing political commentator couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The issue of the harassed does not constrict itself to political reporters, nor is harassment an exclusive trade of political commentators. In this case however, it just beams back to a familiar moment in the ‘left-wing versus right-wing’ overarching narrative that we already saw play out with the Ezra Klein and Sam Harris debate. What we saw play out tipped the scales in favor of Ezra Klein significantly, but as one sees the presiding narrative over it, they can’t shake the feeling that there’s a disproportionate likening to Sam Harris’ horrid positions based on academic decree, and self-asserted dominance.
The Strikethrough series boast some of the most intelligent political commentary of the modern internet era, and it’d be quite a sad ending to a noble endeavor if Carlos Maza gets more scold than gratitude for doing it, but what he did to an outlet that was regarded by some as a proxy for establishment Democrats, is he diversified the range of political opinions on it. He gave it a renewed life that depended on explaining the intricacies of class consciousness within what makes sense in the American political system. It’s further help for outsiders to look at his repeated jabs at Fox News-coded narrative, and realize they’d been potentially duped into believing drivel. He acts as a mechanism for this long-held strife against the status quo, and for that, he shouldn’t be harassed unduly — he should rather be appreciated.
Update: After much confusion, YouTube put out an official response. They figured Steven Crowder did not break the rules since his videos’ chief aim was not hate speech. The point made above thus still stands.