Last week, a headline on neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer read like something from an alternative universe: “Alt-Right Icon Gritty Seeks that you follow Adolf Hitler’s Footsteps and turn into Time’s 2018 Man From the Year”. It turned out at least the 3rd piece they have posted within the past month proclaiming Gritty – the googly-eyed, giant, orange, hockey-playing monster mascot for any NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers – addressing the far right.
As it occurs, the Daily Stormer is playing catch-up, the truth is looking to re-appropriate Gritty as being a symbol – to take him faraway from their ideological opponents for the left. Because, the thing is, Gritty is already a partisan. Gritty, this smiling muppety nightmare on skates, is antifa.
To find out about how innocently Gritty’s story began should be to experience mental whiplash. Because the son with the Flyers chief operating officer, Shawn Tilger, watched the on-ice antics of other NHL mascots finally year’s All Star game, he asked his dad why Philadelphia was without a participant. The Flyers hadn’t experienced a mascot since 1976. His name had been Slapshot, and then he would be a one-season wonder. 4 decades later Tilger wondered whether it wasn’t perhaps here we are at another try.
When Gritty was unveiled in September, the immediate reaction was horror and revulsion (including out of this very publication). But within hours, the tide begun turn, thanks largely to Gritty’s early Twitter activity – particularly he told cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins to “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird” – and even his instant visual meme-ability. The gigantic face, the wide mouth from a permanently crazed smile, as well as the massive swirling eyeballs made Gritty a grotesque underdog in the web 2 . 0 whole world of aesthetic perfection. They are hideous, yes, but one cannot help love him for this – recalling for some hockey fans the historically rough-and-tumble Flyers, or, for some individuals, the town of Philadelphia itself and its famously aggressive sports fans. His entrance into the Flyers’ first home game of the growing season further solidified his status as the sympathetic destructive force: he were only available in at a wrecking ball.
Then, instantly, Gritty’s relationship to hockey, or sports, fell with the wayside. Into the mix, another underdog cause attached itself to Gritty: the political left.
A few days after Gritty first appeared, Jacobin magazine, a socialist publication, tweeted simply: “Gritty is actually a worker.” If it was this tweet which sparked what has come since, or whether Jacobin caught on very early to Gritty’s leftist memeification is no easy task to see, nevertheless in the weeks since, Gritty’s image has been utilized by anti-fascist protesters, anti-Trump protesters, also in countless left-wing memes.
Among other things, Gritty is seen anticipating the collapse in the state, stealing Christmas from “capitalist pigs” and threatening to nationalize manufacturing. Gritty has additionally been identified by the city of Philadelphia as being an anti-fascist, and, indeed, advocating for his place as Time magazine’s person of the year.
But epidermis memes, two images notably are perhaps the source with the Daily Stormer’s efforts to assert Gritty for their own. Both depict Gritty triumphantly conquering Pepe the Frog, the alt-right symbol that proliferated online during the run-up towards 2019 US presidential election. In one, Gritty beats Pepe while using the caption “Good night, alt-right.”
In another, Pepe’s fate is less ambiguous: Gritty decapitates Pepe using a guillotine – an image clearly echoing the first Jacobins. “Any last words?” Gritty asks Pepe while in the first frame in the four-part comic. “So much with the tolerant left,” Pepe replies, his head in the blade. Gritty says nothing, and, from a pause, chops Pepe’s take off.
It’s nice to observe Gritty – as well as the left – win one retrace the vile Pepe along with his bigoted fans. Which last image is genuinely funny. But reinserting in the collective imagination the notion that a guillotine is undoubtedly an appropriate type of justice might surprise even sympathetic leftists, if for no other reason compared to impact simplistic memes will surely have. Pepe is a very prominent sort of how memes play a role in shaping modern political discourse, nevertheless it’s only one one, and only one one that is worked. It’s why a lot of groups, including political parties, for the everywhere you look spend so much time creating them looking to ensure they viral. But that virality means memes might get quickly out of control. Guillotines are funny – until they aren’t.
As the Thanksgiving weekend approached, the newest York Times unveiled a power tool it the Angry Uncle Bot, a chatbot that allowed visitors to practice creating a political conversation at the Thanksgiving dining table. The bot encouraged users to inquire about questions with their familial political challengers, rather than engage immediately from a battle of talking points. Simply speaking, it suggested people try empathy.
Gritty v Pepe is, for those engaged, a romp. Hell, I’ve joined in. Gritty is much fun, with regards to it goes – some type of political sideshow lark. But, with time, we risk these meme wars becoming the main event. That, one day, democracy is only about who have the funniest cartoon mascots. No conversations at all, despite having bots. Just memes.