The Bluestocking, vol 237
he’s a 68-year-old kept woman
I’m considering a series on “terms you need to know to understand the modern internet”—since my piece on the “orphan take” went down so well. Current contenders include the mimophant, the euphemism treadmill and pluralistic ignorance. Are there are any concepts that, when you heard about them, made you go “ohhhhhhh” in deep recognition?
Steve Bannon, American Rasputin (The Atlantic)
There’s a scene I keep looping back to in Errol Morris’s 2018 documentary about Bannon, American Dharma. Bannon is recalling his Hong Kong days in the 2000s, when he was working for Internet Gaming Entertainment. He notes how stunned he was to discover how many people played multiplayer online games, and how intensely they played them. But then he breaks it down for Morris, using the example of a theoretical man named Dave in Accounts Payable who one day drops dead.
“Some preacher from a church or some guy from a funeral home who’s never met him does a 10-minute eulogy, says a few prayers,” Bannon says. “And that’s Dave.”
But that’s offline Dave. Online Dave is a whole other story. “Dave in the game is Ajax,” Bannon continues. “And Ajax is, like, the man.” Ajax gets a caisson when he dies and is carried off to a raging funeral pyre. The rival group comes out and attacks. “There’s literally thousands of people there,” Bannon says. “People are home playing the game, and guys are not going to work. And women are not going to work. Because it’s Ajax.”
“Now, who’s more real?” Bannon asks. Dave in Accounting? Or Ajax?
Ajax, Bannon realized. Some people—particularly disaffected men—actively prefer and better identify with the online versions of themselves. He kept this top of mind when he took over Breitbart News in 2012 and decided to build out the comments section. “This became more of a community than the city they live in, the town they live in, the old bowling league,” he tells Morris. “The key to these sites was the comment section. This could be weaponized at some point in time. The angry voices, properly directed, have latent political power.”
I mentioned this moment to Bannon the second time we spoke. On War Room, he frequently talks about three levels of participation: the posse, the cadre, and the vanguard. It sounded to me like the gamification of politics. Yes, he told me. That’s just it: “I want Dave in Accounting to be Ajax in his life.”
But that’s precisely what happened on January 6. The angry, howling hordes arrived as real-life avatars, cosplaying the role of rebels in face paint and fur. They stormed the Capitol while an enemy army tried to beat them away. They carried their own versions of caissons. They skipped a day of work. And then they expressed outrage—and utter incredulity—when they got carted away.
As a Briton, it’s impossible to read this profile of Steve Bannon and not think of Dominic Cummings: they have the same monomaniacal, frenetic energy, the same need for attention, the same desire to play the heel, the same compulsive desire to tell you how clever they are, the same inability to work within a conventional system, and the same love of verrrry specific bits of history.
See, for example, this passage:
“I think it’s very dangerous for democracy. And I’ve said this to Steve.”
What does he say back?
“He just starts talking about Confucius and Alexander and all this fucking shit.”
And, sadly, both men share same lack of respect for democratic norms—and the same desire to win, even if the outcome is that you end up undisputed king of a smoking hole in the ground. I think Bannon’s “precinct strategy”—of trying to get Trumpist partisans to become low-level election officials, in order to contest/manipulate/derail the results—will be a big story of the 2024 US presidential election.
PS. Wondered what Naomi Wolf was up to now? She’s a regular on The War Room. Turns out that genital-shaped pasta really did give her a funny turn.
PPS. Of all the ferociously mean quotes given by Bannon’s former friends/sworn enemies/both of the above, this is the meanest: “This guy stumbled into the MAGA movement as a way to make money and to get fame and fortune . . . He lives off other people’s money—Andrew Breitbart, Bob Mercer, a Chinese billionaire. How is he any different from a kept woman? He’s a 68-year-old kept woman.”
“Organizations full of people who are publicly at each other’s throats can’t be effective. Your workplace is not Fleetwood Mac.” Josh Barro on the Twitter drama between Washington Post employees (Substack).
“Ray Hill, who has died aged 82, was a leading member of Britain’s neo-Nazi movement who underwent a profound change of heart, becoming a celebrated mole operating inside the extreme right, determined to make amends for his earlier misdemeanours.” (Guardian).
Deidre McCloskey’s advice on how to take notes. Useful for anyone writing a book (or a long article with academic sources). Thanks to Duncan Weldon for the tip. (Word document download link).
“From history we learn that wherever a throne is eliminated, in due course so are ethnic minorities. Consider the multiculturalism of Mitteleuropa under the Habsburgs or of southeastern Europe under the Ottomans. A dozen languages were spoken in the imperial parliament in Vienna, while on any given day in an Istanbul cafe conversations could be heard in Turkish, Ladino, Greek, Armenian, French and Kurdish, at least.” The Queen’s War on Nationalism (Unherd).
A new puzzle for you: Artle.
“Eugenia Cooney will likely die on Twitch.” Discretion advised for the disturbing photos in this story about a streamer with severe eating disorders, who was banned from TikTok for her pro-ana content.
‘“I would find myself yelling or hissing or reprimanding,” [the author Keith Gessen] observes, like a clinician making rounds. Elsewhere he says he keeps a diary of incidents in which he’s lost control. In one, he finds his tempest veering from simple yelling into slapping Raffi’s wrist; in another, a push turns into an unintentional rap on the head. “These were the low points,” he says. “But scarier to me were the times when Raffi drove me so out of my mind with anger that I would imagine hitting him for real.”’ On Dad Rage. (The Atlantic)
Chris Curtis, formerly of YouGov, reflects on the polling failure in the 2017 general election, when pollsters dismissed the Corbyn surge because “that never happens”. (Twitter)
“In the weeks to come, as Mr. Trump would continue to insist that he would remain for a second term, [Jared] Kushner set about chronicling the first. He even took an online MasterClass on how to write a book, taught by the prolific best-selling novelist James Patterson. In the course of a two-week stretch after the election, he secretly batted out 40,000 words of a first draft. The final version is set to be published in August.” FORTY THOUSAND WORDS IN TWO WEEKS???? THE ABSOLUTE ROASTER. (New York Times)
Top Gun’s Taiwanese flag tells the story of Hollywood’s relationship with China (Common Sense, Substack).
See you next time!