In April, Alek Minassian, a twenty-five-year-old from Toronto, wrote a Facebook post—“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!”—and again collection his car into a army of pedestrians. For abounding people, this account aloft two questions: Is there no abyss to which the animal body will not sink? and What’s an incel? Alone one of those questions was Googleable. So, in the afterwards weeks, bodies searched the chat “incel” bags of times. What they got in acknowledgment was a account of links: links to account accessories (“Inside the Aphotic World of ‘Incels’ ”), links to Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia (“Incels are associates of an online subculture who ascertain themselves as clumsy to acquisition a adventurous or animal partner . . . ”), and dozens of links to YouTube, Google’s badly affecting video belvedere (news segments about incels, diatribes calumniating incels, alike affectionate interviews with incels).
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Natalie Wynn, the architect of the comico-philosophical YouTube access ContraPoints, capital to accomplish a video that was both added acerbic and absorbing than the others. “I knew abundance would absorb some ablaze mockery,” she told me recently. “How could it not? I additionally knew that I’d accept to accomplish clear, at some point, that incel credo is dangerous—which, aback you’re talking about a woman-hating afterlife cult, does accept account mentioning. But I additionally capital to accumulate digging until I had a access about how addition adeptness alpha out in a appropriate abode and end up in such a fucked-up place.” This access was not a sop to civility—Wynn, who has alleged herself a “leftist propagandist,” had no absorption in apery both abandon of an abstract debate. “I wasn’t attractive for my kumbaya moment with a misogynist,” she said. “I didn’t appetite to empathize. I capital to understand.”
Three years ago, Wynn alone out of Northwestern’s Ph.D. affairs in philosophy. (She afterwards alleged bookish aesthetics “a guided bout of history’s best arid homosexuals.”) She confused to Baltimore, collection an Uber, and started authoritative videos about, according to her YouTube bio, “Sex, drugs, and amusing justice.” She now has a advancing Patreon page, which affords her a adequate full-time active with abundant larboard over for a adequately abundant apparel budget. Her videos amalgamate ball and aphotic surrealism, Foucauldian badinage and Fleetwood Mac covers, attenuate abstract insights and accessible dick jokes, and calls for left-wing anarchy fabricated in blush wigs and artist heels. She is one of the few Internet demi-celebrities who is as able as she thinks she is, and one of the few leftists anywhere who can be nuanced afterwards actuality boring. She knows her way about a syllogism, but she additionally knows that alignment is not reducible to reason—that the best arguments, on their own, do not consistently win. Or, as she put it in a contempo video, “Politics is aesthetics.”
After the Toronto attack, Wynn spent weeks ambuscade on the incels’ subreddits and bulletin boards, demography in their angled ethos. She wrote a calligraphy and revised it several times; aback it was ready, she purchased apparel (a delicate wig, from Etsy; a sequinned shawl, from Amazon) and backdrop (a beret, arctic blah dogs, a archetypal animal skull). Again she austere her calendar, holed up in her two-bedroom apartment, and spent a anniversary cutting and editing. The final adaptation of the video is thirty-five account long, and has been beheld added than a actor times. In it, she defines incel credo as “more than the article that you can’t get laid. It’s additionally the article that, because you can’t get laid, you can never be happy.” According to “a archetypal incel meme,” Wynn says, the alone affair amid an cureless abstinent from a natural-born alpha macho is “literally a few millimetres of bone”: the amplitude of a man’s wrists, the appearance of his jawline. Wynn acknowledges how antic this sounds. “It’s appealing appetizing to aloof mom the bits out of these kids,” she says—to actual their cerebration and nudge them to accomplish some friends. “But best incels don’t appetite to apprehend this affectionate of advice.” So Wynn tries addition approach. “Hello, boys,” she says, adverse the camera and bouncing a bottle of white wine, as bland applesauce plays in the background. “Let’s allocution about cartilage structure.”
“I watch a lot of YouTube architecture tutorials,” Wynn said.
Not all of YouTube is political, but the genitalia that are angular overwhelmingly to the right. YouTube abnegation ranges from bow-tied Burkeanism to aureate carelessness about Zionist-occupied government; and, as has been acclaimed abounding times, YouTube’s advocacy algorithms can about-face alike the best banal video chase into a besom with abeyant radicalization, sometimes aural two or three clicks. It could be said that ContraPoints videos deflate pernicious ideologies the way that Snopes accessories deflate apocryphal rumors, but that allegory sells Wynn’s appearance short, absolutely because she has a style. “I sometimes brainstorm a academic nineteen-year-old boy attractive for answers,” Wynn said. “He knows that activity in this late-capitalist boscage feels off, that article in his activity is missing. What’s he activity to acquisition on YouTube that can explain that abandoned to him? Well, there’s boilerplate stuff, which he’s acceptable to tune out. And again there’s a accomplished lot of Fascist alt-right advertising and Alex Jones-style nut-baggery. And again there’s me.”
In her video, afterwards she explains why incel credo is a trap, Wynn sets out to acknowledgment a added difficult question: What could possibly accomplish such a allurement alluring? About the seventeen-minute mark, the lighting changes. (Wynn specifies anniversary lighting arrangement in her scripts.) “I’m gonna acquaint you article I’ve never absolutely appear out about on this channel,” she says. “I acclimated to alive as a man.” This is a joke—it’s accurate that Wynn is trans, but she’s never buried this from her audience. (Wynn started ContraPoints aback she was still “in man mode,” and loyal admirers have, in a sense, followed her gender alteration in absolute time.) The way she delivers the joke—adding, in bratty millennial upspeak, “this is, like, a absolutely accessible moment for me”—is archetypal ContraPoints: artlessness wrapped, for protection, in a sequinned capote of irony.
“I apperceive what it’s like to captivate over millimetres of bone,” she continues. “I absolutely had to arrest assignment on this video to go to a appointment for facial-feminization anaplasty so I can pay luxury-car amounts of money to barber off a few millimetres of cartilage actuality and there.” Aback she was chief whether to transition, Wynn says, she spent abounding disturbing hours online, “intentionally attractive for calumniating comments, finer ones that cut to the amount of my centermost insecurities and fears.” Some psychologists accredit to such behavior as “digital self-harm.” Wynn calls it “masochistic epistemology: whatever hurts is true.” This, she posits, is the dissection appetite that drives contrarily accustomed men to self-identify as incels. “We’re all bedeviled with the bones, honey,” she says. Against her bigger judgment, she had accustomed at empathy.
A few weeks ago, I took a alternation to Baltimore and got to Wynn’s accommodation anon afore dark. Aback she answered the door, her face was so apparitional white that I could almost accomplish out her features. “Sorry, I’m at an awkward average date of the architecture process,” she said. In her bedroom, she sat in advanced of a vanity and connected the process—rouge, again contouring, again a few coats of lipstick. “I watch a lot of YouTube architecture tutorials,” she said. “I additionally watch a lot of channels area all they do is eat atrociously huge amounts of food. I’m trash, basically, is what I’m saying.” In aboriginal ContraPoints videos, Wynn stood in advanced of an impressively awash bookshelf (Rawls, Lacan, Gramsci). These days, the books are buried in a closet, and the arresting artifacts in the accommodation are homages to anime, absinthe, bodybuilding, and John Waters. (“Politics is aesthetics.”)
Wynn was about to alpha cutting a video, and she was already in costume: a form-fitting Roberto Cavalli cocktail dress with a blatant tiger print. She activated a dive of atramentous eyeshadow aloft anniversary eye, again unboxed a brace of press-on lashes. “In alum school, I led a bit of a bifold life,” she said. “I don’t beggarly gender-wise—I aloof beggarly intellectually.” By day, she struggled to anatomize Husserl in the aboriginal German; by night, she watched a lot of YouTube—“ ‘Christopher Hitchens destroys creationist in debate,’ that affectionate of thing,” she said. She stumbled on a subculture of YouTubers who alleged themselves skeptics. “A lot of complacent adolescent men who capital to prove how adult they were by adage ‘There is no God’ over and over,” she said. “I can’t adjudicator them too hard, though, because I was one of them.”
Then, about 2014, “they started announcement videos about how feminism is blight and Atramentous Lives Matter is activity to abort us all. Afore you apperceive it, some of them became erect Fascist sympathizers. I was, like, ‘What is happening? Is no one abroad seeing this?’ I wasn’t active as a woman yet—I wasn’t alike absolutely a feminist yet—but I knew abundant to be alarmed.” She resented accepting to say the obvious—that absolutism is bad, for example—but, instead of absolution that acerbity balk her, she congenital it into her YouTube persona. “For the account of affective on with this video, I’m not activity to altercate that it’s amiss to be a Nazi—I’m aloof activity to accept it,” she said in one aboriginal YouTube diatribe. “I anticipation this was one of the three bigger acquaint from the aftermost thousand years of Western history . . . but actuality we are.”
When her architecture was done, she absolved bench to a allowance she aloof for video shoots—crimson curtains, bittersweet wallpaper, a piano busy with mannequins and candelabras. Placed strategically about the allowance were several black L.E.D. ablaze bulbs. “You can adapt the colors with an app,” she said, demonstrating on her phone. “I would say that this, additional my adeptness to change a camera array while cutting press-on nails, are my bigger achievements”—bratty millennial voice—“as a filmmaker.” She circling through the calligraphy on her phone, blockage to accomplish abiding she had all the all-important props. “Clipboard, ruler, Bible,” she said. “I anticipate we’re acceptable to go.”
Wynn is absent with the abysm amid the left’s adeptness to criticize and its adeptness to proselytize.
She adapted a bang mike, sat on a settee, and arrested her attempt in a monitor. “I’m already hungry, but I can’t eat afterwards messing up my lipstick,” she said. “This had bigger go fast.” Then, application a alien control, she started rolling. “Words, words, words. What do they alike fucking mean?” she began. “Well, I don’t know, and I don’t care, but we accept to allocution about it anyway, because of a boy called Ben Shapiro.”
Shapiro, a bourgeois pundit, refuses to alarm transgender bodies by their adopted pronouns, claiming that apropos to a chromosomally macho being as “she” would be “a lie.” Wynn apace poked a half-dozen holes in his argument. “It is not I who misunderstands biology, Ben Shapiro; it is you who misunderstands language,” she said. Despite a few adulterated takes—she had to echo “snowflake-smashing refusal” a few times afore accepting it right—she was authoritative acceptable time. “It’s activity to booty me beneath time to bones Ben Shapiro than it took me to coil my hair,” she said. She compared this video to one she’d fabricated six months earlier, about Jordan Peterson—a member, like Shapiro, of the alleged Intellectual Aphotic Web. “A ContraPoints video is never activity to be affected as ‘I’m so affronted by this idea,’ ” she said. “It’s not, ‘I’m so abashed by my opponent’s big, adult brain.’ It’s more, ‘I’m apathetic of you, and additionally you’re a dum-dum.’ ”
She accomplished in beneath than an hour. There would be added to shoot in the advancing days, afterwards she accustomed shipments of new apparel and props; afterwards that, she would absorb several canicule alteration the video, again abacus music and last-minute effects. For now, though, she was done. She wiped off her lipstick, afflicted into sweatpants, and ordered in from a adjacent restaurant.
Sitting at her kitchen table, Wynn alternate to one of her preoccupations: the abysm amid the left’s adeptness to criticize and its adeptness to proselytize. An beforehand ContraPoints video opened with an m.c., played by Wynn, announcement two accessible speakers, additionally played by Wynn. “Ladies and gentlemen, a Fascist,” the m.c. says. The Fascist is poised. The Fascist is coolheaded. The Fascist’s rhetoric, if you’re not alert closely, sounds alive and patriotic. The admirers cheers. Again the m.c. says, “Ladies and gentlemen, a leftist.” The advocate is halting, hostile, and condescending. “So, actually, according to Hegel, the for-itself can alone be accomplished through the in-itself,” she begins. The admirers giggles and boos. “Aw, fuck you, you fucking racists!” the advocate responds, giving the admirers the finger.
The aliment arrived—goat back-scratch and chana masala—and Wynn pulled aback her beard and started to eat. “You generally hear, with attention to the alt-right or the Intellectual Aphotic Web or pro-Trump nationalists, that the way to abstain normalizing them is to abstain responding to them, or to alone acknowledge by calling them abhorrent and abhorrent and bad,” she said. “And, look, sometimes they are abhorrent and abhorrent and bad, but you don’t win by adage that. You win by pointing out why they’re wrong, and by authoritative bigger advertising than they do.” Aback Wynn acquaint the final adaptation of the video to YouTube, several commenters wrote that it had fabricated them amend their views. “I didn’t alike apperceive what cis meant until I stumbled on your videos,” one wrote. “I assumption I aloof capital to acknowledge you, as abominable as it sounds . . . I apperceive how attenuate it is to change someone’s assessment on the internet.”
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