Paul Joseph Watson might look like a Millet's in Runcorn is missing a shelf stacker, but he claims to be the coolest man since the sixties ended. As provocateur-in-chief for conspiracy news site Infowars, he's a high profile spokesman of the #AltRight, and a rumour monger for fake news stories like #Pizzagate.
But Watson wants to be so much more. Forget Beyoncé. Forget Colin Kaepernick. Today’s real icon of cool, according to authorities including himself, is an angry YouTube star. Watson wants you to believe that “Conservatism Is The NEW Counter Culture” and that he is it's Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Tom Wolfe all rolled into one.
When you’re done dying of laughter, it’s worth reflecting on the seed of truth that fake news exploits to get its hooks into the minds of the ignorant. It’s true that liberalism is facing a shift change. The counterculture energy that fuelled the civil rights movement, the liberal nineties of Bill Clinton and then Barack Obama, is no longer a counterculture. It’s the culture.
But it does not follow that the youth of today are ready to toss away their freedoms and go back to enjoying bible readings, polite tea dances and no sex before marriage. Some will. But then the great victory of liberalism is that you can choose the lifestyle that suits you. Even if it’s a lifestyle your grandparents struggled to escape.
In fact all evidence suggests that millennials and Generation Z are so liberal they will make the sixties counterculture look like a Mormon fun day. Today’s twentysomethings aren’t just against Brexit – they’re living as digital nomads all over the world. Polyamory is now so commonplace that marriage is starting to look like a minority activity.
Even if you can find some young people who identify as conservative, it often turns out they spend weekends dressing in furry animal costumes for kicks. We all know conservatives get up to all kinds in private, but I think we’re some way from Reince Priebus and Mike Pence embracing furry fandom in public.
Paul Joseph Watson is like an ageing rocker telling you metal is back because he saw some hipster kid wearing a Black Sabbath tee. It’s hilarious and also disturbing to see that cultural myopia played out en masse, because while Watson’s claims are laughable, the anger fuelling them is serious.
It’s the same anger that manifests as outrage at female leads or a black actor in Star Wars. The anger of those who once lucked in to a dominant status over culture, but now have to compete on fair terms within it. It’s the anger of racism and bigotry that has found some resurgence in the era of Trumpism.
There will never be another counterculture, because there is no longer a mainstream culture for it to counter. Culture today is a sea of sub-cultures, some smaller and some larger, but none dominant. Hollywood is learning that lesson slowly, but it’s going to take throwbacks like Watson a long time to learn they aren’t the hero of every story any more.
In the place of a counterculture, our generation is living in the midst the greatest cultural renaissance in history. Today we can taste the food, music, art, and storytelling of every culture in the world. And with the help of the internet, creators can combine parts of all our cultures to make something new. The decades ahead will be a cultural wonder we can’t begin to imagine.
Conservatives can stay scared of this for as long as they want, or they can step out of their shells and join in the fun.
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