Recuperation: Romancing the Doomer

(Warning: This story contains explanations of bigotry, extremist material, and links to material in that vein)

We live in the age of the Doomer. As climate change, wealth inequality, government corruption, and economic strife (non-coincidentally all symptoms of Late Stage Neoliberal Capitalism) wreak havoc on the past decade, we’ve seen harsh societal pushback and fatalistic rhetoric spring up from the depths of internet forums. 

While the feeling of alienation under these conditions is valid and common among the youth, the manifestation of it on sites like 4chan and 8chan is of a more toxic brood. 

They’ve birthed a resurgence in Neo-Nazism through the alt-right, a sea of rampant online sexism, and bigotry targeting every minority group you could think of, from trans people to paraplegics. These often-fascist political 4chan users believe that the solutions for political, social, and economic strife are not more democracy, more equality, but in fact a stratified social hierarchy with them (the largely cis, white, male, and heterosexual) at the top. 

They want a return to “tradition”, they want the apple-pie-baking, white nuclear family of the mid 1900’s. 

This is the alt-right. And having come from 4chan, they primarily speak in code and memes, in jargon and jpegs. One such category of meme involves the characters Nordic Gamer, Tradwife, Doomer, and E-girl.

What are those? Well, they’re essentially archetypes made to display the 4chan user’s view on society.

Doomers are the dispossessed youth who feel robbed of emotional connection and the power to determine their own lives. He’s usually portrayed as under 25 and at the oldest, 30. They’re meant to convey the pain of existing in a society that they feel has left them behind, and often the Doomer memes contain the least bigotry out of the 4 main players. Still though, there are counterexamples and these usually imply a dispassionate disgust with “degeneracy” which more often than not just means progressive movements and media, women that don’t dress modestly, or outspoken gay people. 

In that regard, the “Tradwife” stems from racist propaganda that portrays a supposedly utopian picture of a stay-at-home white wife dancing in a wheat field. The original concept is paired with the “14 words” Neo-Nazi slogan, which I choose not to repeat here. The Tradwife of the meme is converted from a stock image of a white woman into their cartoon style. She’s meant to represent the right-wing fantasy of the ideal woman, unsullied by the “cancer” of progressive feminism. The Tradwife is paired in different ways with each character, used to justify the hatred of the E-girl by comparing a symbol of their “morality”

Next comes the Nordic Gamer, a chiseled, black hoodie-wearing portrait of the 4channers themselves, or at least who they feel they ought to be once they break free of their “Doomer” selves. He stems from his own meme, the format of which is simple. A caricature of a crayon-eating mentally handicapped person says “So you believe in [controversial or bigoted opinion]?” He stares to the left and simply says “Yes.” The meme is pretty simple, pretty much a tasteless propaganda vehicle for whatever ideology you tack on. This is interesting when trying to understand how the 4chan user views themself, because while the Doomer is more fatalistic, it’s at least relatively honest. The Nordic Gamer is supposed to represent the same group of men, but is sure of himself. It’s akin to the common far-right rhetorical strategy in which their enemies are insidious, successful, and ever-present, but also inferior to the fascist in-group. The Doomers are beaten down, depressed, and alienated by society, but still clearly superior to the average person who would object to their abhorrent beliefs.

The Nordic Gamer is often made to be in conflict with certain types of women, generally the “E-girl or “E-thot.” These women are the opposite of what 4chan values in the Tradwife. She has colored hair. She has progressive opinions on society. She’s promiscuous, or at the very least a bit of an exhibitionist. She doesn’t dress with the same chaste modesty they project onto their Tradwife. Outside of the caricature, E-girl is a name for women who run racy Instagram and Twitter accounts and typically collect donations as minor sources of income. E-girls are also portrayed as brainless, with conventional tastes in movies, music, and art, in contrast with the obviously discerning and avant-garde tastes of the 4chan user.

The 4chan does NOT like E-girls, viewing all this as degenerate promiscuity destroying “Western Civilization”. This is an unacceptable set of stereotypes and clearly sexist. No woman is exactly like the meme suggests, and even a woman matching every characteristic would not be worthy on the disrespect.

What’s the point of all this? For 4chan users to spread propaganda through memes as they always have. But it seems that, slowly, 4chan is losing its power over the Doomer. 

In recent weeks a new crop of memes have revealed themselves, showing the Doomer with a girlfriend, and a recovering, positive outlook on life. The new crop also neutralizes the Tradwife and E-girl, making them into a same-sex couple with a mutual respect for each other. Any hint of the original racist and sexist content is altered to portray a loving respect. Sometimes one or both of them is even depicted as trans.

The new memes do something I find interesting, which involves the sociological phenomenon of recuperation. Recuperation is the process of radical ideas and symbols becoming mainstream and losing their original context. Usually this term applies to more left-wing examples such as Che Guevara T-Shirts, but this is a case of far right wing material being altered. And I believe that this may be very important to the future of online discourse. 

Online activists have spent thousands of hours researching, explaining, and disproving the rhetoric of the alt-right. This has helped quite a bit in deradicalization and deterrence, but maybe there can be another avenue besides YouTube to aid in this process. If the alt-right can use memes for propaganda, it seems possible to use the same memes in the opposite manner. I believe that this recuperation, the popularity of this Doomer evolution, is a sign that the alt-right will lose their culture war.

Conversely, it’s important to change the actual meaning of the meme instead of just the target. Leftist Nordic Gamer is not the way to effectively and safely neutralize the bigotry or the format, because it just re-targets the meme and normalizes the right-wing versions. It’s different from the others, because the others promote acceptance and positivity as a reaction to the original bigotry and negativity whereas the Leftist Nordic Gamer redirects it.

It’s a hard line to walk, but it should be attempted. Because the most energetic and proactive ideas are the ones that stick. Political change has never happened through apathy. And those ideas should not be the ones of the far right, they should be of cooperation, growth, and justice. Not baseless bigotry. 

If the left side of the aisle is to win over online spaces, I think it would be wise to carefully adopt these contra-memes with the intent of making right wing propaganda useless. Promoting these cartoon stereotypes with new depth and lessons to learn may just have a similar effect to what happens when a fledgling alt-righter happening upon persuasive leftist video essays. I know that if I was not “saved” so to speak, by the compassionate rhetoric and well-constructed arguments of the online left wing, I might have happened down that rabbit hole. Diversifying the tactics seems like a useful avenue.

Deprogramming youth is the most important online war to wage if one wants to stop real-world fascist movements. Because to fight 4chan and the rest of the online right, one should attack what makes them so effective in the first place.