Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. So when I first saw the picture of the bloated nazi from the Mother Jones "Dapper White Nationalist" profile and thought the guy looked familiar, my first thought was: nah. Surely not. But as it turns out, that bloated nazi was Richard Spencer, a guy I know from our days at University of Chicago. The day after that article went viral on twitter, I watched with the rest of the world as Richard stood behind a podium in a conference room in Washington, leading a room full of white men in the nazi salute. It wasn't long after that when I saw a chyron on CNN: "Alt-Right Founder Questions If Are Jews People." On Thanksgiving, I saw a video clip of Richard explaining to a black newscaster that actually, white people built the pyramids. Yes, I feel like I'm losing my grip.
At U of C, Richard wasn't out as a nazi, but there was plainly something wrong with him. I don't mean that in the spirit of, oh, looking back on it now, there was definitely something sinister going on. I mean that he seemed like the kind of guy who picks his nose and fucks his mother. He could have been a boy king in Game of Thrones. He was badly dressed, pretentious, and arrogant, though of course it was graduate school; there was plenty of that going around.
Some of my best friends in the world are people I met at University of Chicago. But also, Jesus, that school attracts a lot of people who are the absolute worst. Not nazi-grade boy kings, for the most part, but socially disabled jerks who are extremely vested in performing their intelligence. I can handle the socially disabled--they are my people--but people who try to seem smart are some of my least favorite humans. I see traces of such performance everywhere in Richard's media footprint, which is alarmingly large. Ironically, I believe the profile that captured him best was the one at Mother Jones, which has received a huge amount of blowback from people who thought it made him seem glamorous. It's all there: his desperate need to impress, the deep insecurity, the quasi-intellectual conversation. I didn't buy it back at U of C, and I certainly don't buy it now. It is of some comfort to know that the best and brightest cover boy the alt-right can come up with is the charmless likes of Richard Spencer, hunched over his lectern, squinting down at his notes to find the single word of the "original German" he used to impress his fellow boy kings. I do not speak German myself, but I recognize this as a textbook example of what my friend Tobias, who is from the Vaterland, calls "sucking shit out of your fingers."
On Facebook messenger, I read a long thread of my classmates' memories of Richard, which the condescending guy who looks like Moby has been collecting for a piece he's writing for the New Yorker. Some people's recollections echoed my own, painting a picture of a socially awkward guy with a strange affected accent (since dropped) who mocked people if they hadn't read the right things. Other responses reminded me of everything I dislike about University of Chicago. "Maybe if he had spent more time studying Shakespeare he would have questioned the veracity of his views," one woman wrote. "His arrogance likely inhibited any true self discovery." (Imagine having that opinion about anyone. Now imagine that being your opinion on a nazi.) There were pictures, including one from a Halloween party of Richard dressed in a toga. I think I have a similar one around here somewhere. He was dressed as Caesar, if memory serves--a group costume, with two other classmates dressed as bloodstained Caesar and the Ghost of Caesar. (What did I tell you? The worst.) In the Facebook thread, Moby was soliciting photographs. "If anyone has a photo of him with anyone of color, please send those especially," he wrote. You know, I think I may have mentioned this, but lately I feel like I'm losing my grip.
Nazi nip pic interlude
After I read the Mother Jones profile, I remembered that my program's office at U of C archives copies of everyone's thesis for students and alumni to read. The article mentioned that Richard's thesis was on Theodor Adorno, "who he argued was afraid to admit how much he loved the music of [the composer Richard] Wagner." I mean, does that sound like an academic thesis to you: Jewish intellectual #actually loved nazi music? Yeah, me neither. Your girl also wrote on Adorno, as it happens. I contacted the office to have a look. I thought that, in the face of Richard passing himself off as an intellectual--and much of mainstream media buying into it--that reading this really terrible sounding academic paper might be sort of soothing. But I was told that the program, in conjunction with the university's public relations and legal departments, is currently revisiting its policy of letting students and alumni read old theses.
I mention this last part not because I think the University of Chicago is sitting on some big story--I don't think that at all--but because something rubs me the wrong way about a university's reaction to fascism being to batten down the hatches and lock down the exchange of ideas, such as they are. Public relations' involvement is telling; it's hard to see how it would be a complicated a legal matter, given that we submitted those theses with the express purpose of making them available to students and alums. As you may have observed, Moby's forthcoming article bugs me too--something about him soliciting those particular pictures, you know? Something about packaging a portrait of the nazi as a young man for my supposed edification. I mean, maybe it will be great. Moby's absolutely incredible personal essay for xojane, "The Mindless Co-Opting of a Loaded Word: Am I Your N**ga?" suggests that this is extremely unlikely, but of course you never know.
I'm sure that Chris Ware will draw a beautiful cover.
Meanwhile, I still can't find the bolt I need to reattach the leg to my desk. I'm thinking about replacing it with one of those hydraulic contraptions. Maybe I should stand up more. Maybe that would clear my head. For now I've propped up the broken part with a giant garbage can. It's a little off-kilter; probably it could collapse at any time. This fucking desk is symbolizing so hard lately that sometimes I fantasize that Shonda Rhimes is writing my life. Maybe she got tired of dreaming up surgeries that represent Meredith Grey's emotional problems, and has moved on to a gripping series about a sad writer who sits at her tenuous garbage desk as she contemplates her acquaintance with the country's foremost nazi. Maybe she's about to write me a fantastic new storyline where I just go to sleep for the rest of the winter, or possibly for the rest of my life.
Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind. Maybe it's that nazi nipple staring out at me like an evil eye, the ghost of bad Halloween costumes past. Maybe it's hypnotizing me. Mitt Romney is sounding pretty damn good as Secretary of State, right? Maybe Shonda's doing an episode where the Overton window is literally in this garbage can propping up my desk. It is the only explanation. I'm thinking about printing Moby's xojane article so I can keep it in my wallet. Feels like I'm gonna need it for whatever comes next.