The subtitle to the book, Kill All Normies, By Angla Nagle, is “Online culture wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right.” Nagle states she will “cover the internet-cultures and subcultures…that have raged on below the line…” As an attempt to “map the online wars.”
Nagle starts with the viral KONY 2012 video which didn’t clearly set the scene for this exploration of the new phenomenon of the alt-right. We are then introduced to the Harambe gorrilla which was more relevant but still vague in how this is explains where the alt-right came from.
4Chan is introduced as having an anime background, from its anonymity, misogynistic and shock-tactics culture grew. The movie Fight Club is regarded as influential. Kathy Sierra’s attempt at moderation, is an early analysis of the abuse and harassment that can emanate from the 4Chan community. Nagle points out that the online environment has allowed fringe ideas and movements to grow rapidly in influence. This is in spite of a lack of leadership.
Lots of characters are mentioned, and things like “pepe-making” leading me to think a level of American knowledge is needed to understand this book. “Gamergate” is introduced, but treated as a wearisome subject, even though it was pivotal at the time. Without elaboration Nagle argues that it brought disparate groups together under the chan culture. This phenomenon is never fully explored, except how Milo Yiannopouloslaunched his career off the back of it.
With a brief detour into Tumblr, Nagle tracks the early rise of gender identity listing a few examples on Tumblr; she states it has had a huge and unexpected level of influence – which has actually happened since her book was released in how it has mainstreamed into public sector culture.
Nagle then looks into how the alt-right have warped the concept of “transgression.” What it means to the Left looks different to the alt-right. Movies like Fight Club and American Psycho feed the transgression of the alt-right. Trolling takes many forms including ones like “/b/ “is the one who wrote your number of the mall’s bathroom wall.” In other words the it is a grotesque and dehumanising form of transgression, different from positivity of the sixties and feminism.
Nagle then moves on to the more mainstream “alt-light” which Trump gave credence to. However, references to Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones and Steven Bannon don’t come together into a clear narrative. Richard Spencer appears particularly dangerous and Nagle argues the ascent of Trump gave them maximum exposure but for what real impact?
Her statement that “until Trump and the emergence of the new online right, the liberals had been resoundingly winning” is a prophetic one that has become a long-term part of the divided American political landscape, although most of her subjects have self destructed (with Trump just about surviving.) Her other prophetic statement “the right won the economic war and the left won the culture war” is still being fought with the social justice movement taking hold of progressive politics.
Nagle ventures into the “manosphere” on the internet and the “red pill” phenomenon with its anti-feminist traits, as part of the alt-right home. She picks up on the discussion of beta and alpha males – a persistent problem that exists today such as with the Plymouth attack in 2021 with incel issues.
The phenomenon that the book does not quite solve is how the alt-right momentum – partly online – survives as a leaderless one, incisive for a while. Decentralised movements like Occupy do not stand the test of time. Nagle observes, “the leaderless form actually told us little about the philosophical, moral or conceptual content of the movements involved.“ By contrast, the traditional political structures are (political parties or trade unions) are declining long-term.
Kill All Normies is an unevenly researched and oddly uninteresting to read at times despite the controversial subject matter. From 4Chan’s war with feminists trying to gaming culture, Nagle laments how it could have been different if the Left had been more united (unlike Tumblr). The alt-right stepped in to fill a void caused by a left in disarray. To consider how to re-involve broader portions of the population into a communal sense of democratic engagement would mean to take matters offline.
I wanted to know more about Tumblr culture but I walked away from this book with it as just a bookmark against the march of the alt-right. There is much examination of alt-right but it is not brought together clearly with Tumblr. It is difficult to discern from this book the real significance of Tumblr, much faded now. Overall, it is difficult to know what to make of this book. It lacked a clear focus on what the narrative was leading to.