The Red Skull has represented far-Right propaganda through multipile eras. Today, Jordan Peterson is the approachable face.
In 1941 the Marvel comics character Captain America was introduced to fight the Nazis — including his arch-nemesis the Red Skull — at the height of World War II.
At the time, every comic book hero was pictured taking on the Axis powers. But after the war, it was necessary for the villains to evolve.
By 1946 Superman was facing off against a home-grown enemy in the form of the Ku Klux Klan. In a series of radio episodes about the "Clan of the Fiery Cross)," the hero helped to undermine the real-world KKK by exposing the absurdity of its bigotry and rituals to the next generation of potential klansmen.
Needless to say, Klan members did not appreciate children being taught to view them as villains. Today, a similar dynamic is playing out with the modern evolution of the Red Skull — public "intellectual" Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.
Do I really live in a universe where Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a Captain America comic featuring a parody of my… https://t.co/CJeeGnc5NA— Dr Jordan B Peterson (@Dr Jordan B Peterson) 1617682963.0
With author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates taking over the Captain America comics in 2018, it was inevitable that the iconic hero would take on some of the political issues facing America today. With his 2015 book, Between the World and Me, Coates did perhaps as much as anyone alive to expose how modern, insidious forms of white supremacy — which aren't as blatant as the KKK or the Nazis — ultimately point in the same direction toward racialized violence and dehumanization.
To adapt that concept for a comic book audience, it was necessary to update Captain America's foes. So, just as the Red Skull has changed over time — from a Nazi terrorist to a Soviet official to an infiltrator inside the American government — Coates has brought him up to date as the new face of fascism. The Red Skull is now a YouTuber.
Back in the 1940s — with SS officers committing atrocities across Europe under actual skull insignias — it made sense for the Red Skull's fascism to be repulsive and terrifying. It was an outward-facing propaganda that told the world to fear the Nazis, and Captain America had to combat the Red Skull's terror with fists and shield.
But America has a very different relationship with fascism today. We just barely avoided reelecting a president who called himself a nationalist and who — if not a full-fledged fascist — certainly used fascist tactics and appealed to fascist sentiments. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Donald Trump's fans believe his "Big Lie" that the election was stolen from him, and many of them were willing to overthrow the Democratic process — violently storming the Capitol building — to prevent his ouster.
The threat of fascism today is not as an outside force threatening to use soldiers and super-weapons to impose its will. It's a threat of seduction and indoctrination from within. It sends its message not with skull emblems but with even tones and "rational" arguments telling lost young white men that all their disatisfaction can be blamed on cultural changes that are designed to hobble them — to suppress their natural superiority.
That is the narrative being sold about efforts to achieve equity for marginalized groups in America. Despite the fact that white men remain the wealthiest and most powerful demographic in the nation by any metric, there is a whole media ecosystem around convincing them that they are being victimized by feminism, Black Lives Matter, cancel culture, and the liberal media.
Jordan Peterson | ContraPoints www.youtube.com
They are being told — by Right-wing figures like Steven Crowder, Lauren Southern, Ben Shapiro, and yes, Jordan Peterson — that the supposed natural hierarchy (akin to Peterson's beloved lobsterslobsters) is being undermined. They are being told that — unless white men like them are restored to the top of that hierarchy — it will mean the death of society as we know it.
But Jordan Peterson — the Toronto psych professor/reluctant darling of the Alt-right — doesn't go that far. And even if his ideas are misguided, or even harmful, does a Canadian psychologist who writes about "dragons of chaos," the philosophy of belief, and the importance of cleaning your room really belong in the guise of a villain?
Surely Peterson — with his hit book Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, and its recent sequel Beyond Order: Twelve More Rules for Life — has more in common with the likes of Marie Kondo than he does with David Duke or Adolf Hitler.
It's a fair point. It seems unlikely that Dr. Peterson thinks of himself as a fascist, and it's probably not entirely fair to claim that he is one. So of course he was offended this week when a fan pointed out to him that Ta-Nehisi Coates' version of the Red Skull, in a recent issue entitled "Skull Fracture," is spouting rhetoric that resembles his own ideas more than a little — with "Ten Rules for Life" and "Chaos and Order" featured as two titles of the Red Skull's online videos.
What the hell? https://t.co/CGkuztpEjq— Dr Jordan B Peterson (@Dr Jordan B Peterson) 1617680703.0
But if Peterson's ideas are as innocent and inoffensive as he seems to think, why do so many of his fans end up finding themselves flirting with more radical ideas straight out of Mein Kampf? Why does there seem to be a straight line from his content to conspiracy theories about Jewish globalists sparking race wars and flooding Europe and the US with refugees?
Could it be that Peterson's defense of tradition and interest in "debunking" evident realities like white privilege and the patriarchy are not as innocent as he claims? After all, the Nazis were all about tradition.
They claimed that German values were under attack by Jewish agitators. They rejected the sexual liberation of the Weimar Republic and burned the archives of the Institute of Sex Research in Berlin — where many modern concepts around gender identity were pioneered.
Jordan Peterson, meanwhile, talks about the societal threat of birth control — and the resulting imbalance of sexual outcomes for men — refers to same-sex marriage as "an assult on traditional modes of being." And he first rose to prominence for refusing to use gender-neutral pronounsns when requested — while painting himself as the victim.
Maybe the fact that "cultural Marxism" — one of Peterson's favorite bugbears — seems to be only a slight variation on anti-Semitic Nazi propganda about "cultural Bolshevism" eroding German society should be taken as a bad sign. Maybe Peterson shouldn't feel comfortable discussing misguided and poorly researched theories of racial IQ difference with Stefan Molyneux — a man who thinks feminism's true purpose is "reducing white Christian birth rates," and remarks that he "could have peaceful, free, easy, civilized and safe discussions in what is essentially an all-white country."
While Peterson himself may not be a devoted fascist working to stoke racist unrest and violence in America along the lines of Red Skull — someone like Molyneux or Laura Loomer might have been a more accurate analogue in that sense — his ideas share much in common with fascists, and his effect is much the same. He's part of a pipeline that delivers many of his fans further and further into Right-wing extremism and conspiracy thoeries.
So while it's true that he has little to do with the 1940s characterization of the Red Skull as a murderous, cackling fascist terrorizing the world, Peterson's online presence as the "reasonable" voice of tradition and hierarchy is absolutely complicit in the contemporary surge of fascism. He and his online ilk are promoting ideas that lure misguided young men into conspiracism and hate.
Even if you're charitable enough to assume that Peterson is innocent of his role in this dynamic — just likes the attention and thinks the "cultural marxists" are the ones to blame for driving people toward fascism — the best you can say is that he's a dupe, spreading exactly the kind of anti-communist/Marxist/Bolshevik propaganda that fascists have always relied on to grow their movements.
Like Hugo Weaving pulling off the rubber mask, it turns out that the Red Skull was inside him all along.
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