This week, literal tens of cranky chaps on Facebook are rising up and asserting their right to pay to view a budget documentary they know very well that they can get on Pirate Bay for nothing. Come on, lads. Membership to the loose, midlife coalition of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) comes as surely with a free VPN as it does a “Bitches Be Wack” shirt, and if you’re one of those joining News Corp in their demands to see The Red Pill, well, you’ve already seen The Red Pill.

This film, which I viewed last November — lawfully, mind — is made by a purported feminist who became so disenchanted with the principles of her sisters, she set out to find the truth of male oppression. Filmmaker Cassie Jaye does wedge some credible data in with the anecdata; for example, it’s absolutely true that men are far more likely to die by industrial accident in the West. It is not even a little bit true that these deaths are the byproduct of feminism. Like those liberal feminists she critiques, Jaye is unable to see beyond the parameters of gender and into what truly takes the many male lives that we all must mourn. It’s late capitalism, silly. Not some beige speech by Gloria Steinem. And, if you don’t believe that business is blind to gender, just have a squiz at all the women now dying by industrial accident in the Global South. There’s some equality in murder by profit for ya.

Jaye has been praised for daring to speak with these MRAs so “objectively”. I can’t say that I found the thing any more impartial or balanced than one of those segments on Fox News or Sky where they drag in a purported “leftist” who was always going to say, “Well. Before I came in here, I was a devout Trotskyist. But now I truly see your point of view about taxing the undeserving poor”. If you really want a good, and even sympathetic, anthropological account of alt-right and MRA types, there’s the recent book Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle. If you want to get really shitty with your ex-wife, there’s the The Red Pill.

OK. So it’s a bit mean and it’s not much chop and has all the even intellectual force of a Facebook post by a Year 11 Young Liberal who skipped his Ritalin dose. This is no reason to “ban” it. But, of course, it hasn’t really been banned, unlike so many films in our history of cultural quarantine. I mean, heck. We Australians not only made the world’s first feature film, we were the first nation to ban a feature film. We didn’t ban this one. The market — of whose wisdom so many commentators supporting the “right” of people who have already seen The Red Pill on the internet to see it in a cinema are so fond — decided. Showing this movie would be bad for business. I mean, I’m not going up to the concession stand if I know there’s a good chance an MRA will tell me that me and my kind always lie about rape.

The thing about The Red Pill is that it’s one of the few things the right has left to fight for. This, I believe, is why this old news story is being exhumed by local outlets. As the plunging page views of Breitbart and the death of UKIP demonstrate, the right is seen as the left was — even by me — just a short time ago: a group of whiners who don’t care about real life, but would prefer to talk about the content of popular films.

Both Comrade Rundle and myself have written in the past for Crikey of our fear that nearly everything The Australian said about the contemporary left was accurate. If we ignore the age of Nick Cater’s cultural references — the guy seems to think that chardonnay is an aspirational grape, and not something that Kath and Kim made so hilariously unfashionable, it’s cycled into fashion again — a lot of the stuff he said was sort of correct. The left was consumed with the fight for diverse representation on TV shows and culturally appropriate foods. This is now the work of the right, a political force now growing in the West at not one nth of the pace of an emerging hard left. Trump, as Mark Blyth told me last week, is the one exception in the West where the right has won a significant battle and was (briefly) seen as the antidote to the politics of the centre. And Trump is now increasingly seen as the kind of cultural guy more fascinated by things that happen in popular media than things that happen in the world.  

There are decades in the West when nothing happens and, then, there are weeks into which decades are compressed. This, I imagine, is how the pace of history might have felt to US citizens last November, to UK citizens who find themselves in a tragic present, or to Greek citizens living with the burden of an externally imposed and unserviceable debt. French citizens, perhaps, are dealing with the problem of change by choosing to ignore it; Macron’s was a victory not for the status quo centrism he represents, but for record-low voter turnout.

Here at home, our neoliberal regime is yet to face a true challenge from either neonationalist or neo-left groups. This is largely due to us not dying in tower block fires or of medical neglect in large numbers. The political centre can hold if it holds onto the remnants of our social safety net.

Right now, our relatively moderate experience of wealth inequality is not playing out in the streets. We don’t have a passionate popular figure like Jeremy Corbyn demanding the immediate seizure of assets. We don’t have a Trump able to tell convincing lies to a forgotten class, but instead the amateur Pauline Hanson who doesn’t even seem to be able to convince herself of her slavish love for the investor class, let alone the people. If we overlook a recent moment in Greens history, professional politics hasn’t changed much. Politics as it plays out in media, though. That’s another matter. Here, we can find the decades compressed. Here, the opposing forces of the neonationalist and the emerging left are starting to appear. And, really, the former is starting to stink.

They have Safe Schools, The Red Pill and 18C. They have thin arguments about “freedom of speech” and tales of men who can’t even go to the cinema. They have become the obverse of BuzzFeed at its worst. They are consumed with the consumption of tiny things that don’t matter as much as our survival and our future of labour does. They have a bunch of listicles as a truer, more material left takes hold, and only a chain of cinemas to bang on about.

Just as the left once banged on, decades of weeks ago, about the need for more plus-size models at fashion week, the right now does the same. They are a dying cultural elite whose pettiness is becoming visible to the truly hard-done-by precariat they claim to represent. You, Nick Cater. With your cultural trifles. Get your head out of your ivory armchair! You’re a real Chardonnay Chicago Scholar.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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