A simple phrase, which captions a meme posted to Reddit, makes a certain group of internet-savvy young adults shudder.
“Don’t ask a Gen Z kid what they watched on YouTube during 2015-2017.”
While this meme doesn’t make sense to people who are outside of the age demographic it refers to, the meme elicits a collective response of shame among certain members of Gen Z who spend a large chunk of their time online.
Unlike other embarrassing phases, their video choices weren’t just harmless self-expression. Instead, these kids were involved in communities that flirted with fascism.
The videos that Gen Z watched during these years started out harmless. The first video on the trail down the rabbit hole was likely a “cringe compilation” — a popular YouTube trend started around 2015 to 2017 showcasing people doing embarrassing things. These videos are painful to watch, yet fascinating, giving Gen Z kids a feeling of superiority similar to bullying.
One of the most popular “cringe” compilations were “feminist cringe compilations,” seemingly innocent and similar to the other “cringe” compilations.
The danger of fascism comes from the video reactions to clips featured in these compilations. The YouTube algorithm, seeing an interest in “anti-feminist” videos, recommended video reactions by content creators to these “embarrassing” videos.
Many YouTube commentary channels identified as “rational liberals,” claiming the work they did helped better the left. Despite this self-description, these videos almost exclusively criticized SJWs’, or social justice warriors, a straw-man of a radical liberal.
The creators often reacted to videos of SJWs and media that portrayed the left as embarrassing at best, and societal destroyers at worst.
Such video topics include a 15-minute video featuring a woman complaining about “man-spreading,” the act of men sitting with their legs far apart on public transport, “brainwashing” of children with LGBTQ themes such as drag queen storytime and radical Black Lives Matter supporters who are often depicted committing acts of violence.
The people are fun to laugh at for the judgmental viewer, but they also threaten the societal order. Despite being a loud minority, the amplification of these YouTubers gave these styles of video increased significance of these fringe voices.
This creates a sense that the voices that are fringe in reality appear as the majority. As such, the viewers of these videos feel threatened by radical yet relatively unpowerful voices. They believe that such voices will have the chance to act on whatever is espoused.
That feeling of being threatened creates a sense of brotherhood.
These videos provide a solace from the insanity of “leftists” that want to destroy society. However, they likely didn’t know this type of person existed prior to watching such videos.
During the popularity of these online communities, a certain New York businessman was running for president.
Donald Trump was the counterculture. He was the opposition to those people trying to destroy society. Trump was cool. He was funny; he had the power of memes on his side, which is a surprisingly effective recruiting tool.
While YouTube and memes can be employed as radicalizing forces for Gen Z, the far right would be unsuccessful if it could only recruit Gen Z. The far right speaks the language of those it wishes to recruit. While the Internet is successful for radicalizing the youth, cable television, such as Fox News, is used for those who spend less time online.
Regardless of the medium of radicalization, the message is the same. Non-white people getting opportunities, according to propagandists, diminish the opportunities for white people. Advancements for groups that have been historically underrepresented are seen as setting back the group that has been the majority.
To people subject to such indoctrination, progress cannot benefit everyone. Societal advances are therefore a zero-sum game — one must lose for another to gain.
This fear of losing one’s place in society drives violent action associated with far-right ideologies. It is why more than 2,000 rioters stormed the Capitol with weapons, with the majority of people charged being from Florida, and why armed protestors surrounded FBI bases after Trump started being investigated by the government agency.
Many believe Trump is the only protector of their freedom — and the seeds of this belief may have been planted by a seemingly innocuous YouTube video.
Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.
Featured image: Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Unmodified photo by TapTheForwardAssist used under a Creative Commons license. https://bit.ly/3VxI0Ozv.