Twelve years ago I joined a band that was eventually called The Black Math Experiment as co-lead singer. If you’ve heard of us at all, it’s because of the nearly-impossible-to-explain anomaly that was “You Cannot Kill David Arquette.”If you haven’t heard of us, that’s okay, too. There’s a book, if you’d like to know more.
Black Math wasn’t a politically-minded band, which is what happens when three very different people handle lyric duties in pieces. I was a young middle class white guy with dumb young middle class white guy problems and ideas, and that’s what I wanted to sing about. I was the literal opposite of woke, if inoffensively so.
However apolitical we were in actual content, we did decide we would create at least the illusion that we stood for something. My bandmate Bill Curtner and I had both been avid followers of the religious protests that centered around things like Marilyn Manson and the movie Dogma, the last gasp of the proper puritanical moral backlashes of the 20th century; this was years before religious protest would be synonymous with protesting the funerals of soldiers to tell people you hate gay marriage. I was also a big wrestling fan, and brought the WWE’s ridiculous fight with the Family Television Council to the ideological table.
With those things in mind, Black Math decided handing out flyers was boring by itself. Instead, we staged mock protests at concerts. We carried signs with vaguely New World Order but mostly nonsensical slogans on them. Instead of flyers, I would alter Chick Tracts into small surrealist advertisements with strange memetic comics on them (full disclosure: I totally stole this idea from Asmodeus X). This unconventional approach to marketing the band is largely what got us our initial attention.
But it was our outfits that really came to define us, especially since after getting well-known enough we dropped the protests as too much work. You can see them in the picture above; Mormon-esque missionary clothes with our red math symbol ties. I remember choosing these outfits very carefully. This is paraphrased from the other side of a lot of memories, but in selling the idea to the others went something like this…
What’s shocking today? Nothing spooky or leather, punk or goth. I go out with my goth friends to Katz’s all the time. No one says anything. That sort of edge is mainstream now. You can buy it in the mall. If you want to unnerve people, you have to go the opposite route. If I see a bunch of people dressed in white shirts and ties walking down the street carrying signs, I’m going to automatically assume they’re part of some fascist bullshit, and I’m getting the hell away from them.
The way I saw it, young conservatism was going to be the new mindless rebellion, and the years since I made that observation have only proven me more and more right. That’s what the alt-right has become. It’s a collection of mostly white, mostly straight, mostly male “edgelords” screaming largely incoherent nonsense as a form of protest against a world they feel left out of. As the West embraces diversity (or globalism, as these charming racists like to call it), the supremacy these people feel they’re owed gets denied them.
The pictographic-rage and hours-long YouTube rants are in the end empty expressions of dissatisfaction being packaged as a kind of conservatism, specifically because conservatism is legitimately threatening to a large swath of people. Women, minorities and other marginalized folks are holding their breath hoping Donald Trump doesn’t saunter into the White House and lay out a new fascist plan to screw them over, whereas his supporters seem to be reveling in the implied power their vote is giving them over people. Being for Trump reminds others of the social-power advantage white men have over everyone else.
One of the songs we wrote in Black Math that was always popular was “Every Five Minutes.” It’s a silly tune, like most of our work. It’s best known for the hyperbolic descriptions of metal musicians in the first part.
However, the second part sums up the alt-right for me. It goes like this…
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The world gets smaller
Our live get shorter
Life gets harder
One less breath to swallow
There is nothing you can do
Let us think for you
A song that begins expressing a ridiculous bravado ends with being small and scared, begging for an authoritarian voice to guide it back to greatness. The past eight years have seen unprecedented social growth, and because of that it’s also seen unprecedented social backlash. Under all the fighting and racist frog memes, though, is this sad, pathetic generation of nobodies confusing being loud with being right. When we did that in Black Math, we were joking. I’m not sure the alt-right knows why they’ve grabbed onto this conservative hate wave, but I do. They’re fumbling towards relevance in a way that makes them feel important and powerful.
I just hope we don’t burn down America so a few people can pretend screaming “cuck” on Twitter makes them punk rock.
Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now.