One of the more popular ways for people, with modest talents, to gain public attention is to be edgy. The best examples of this are the pop stars who have modest musical ability, but are willing to degrade themselves on stage, well beyond what is common. Comics used to play the edgy card, by dropping the F-bomb in their act or making increasingly bawdy sexual references. The game is to set yourself apart from the other mediocrities by saying and doing outlandish things. That way, the public pays attention to you instead of others.
You see something similar in the commentariat. There are millions of people able to talk and write about public issues well enough to succeed on stage. It’s not that hard. Most TV presenters are remarkably stupid, but they can learn to read from the teleprompter and look into the correct camera. The Atlantic Magazine has shown how easy it is to create a black intellectual with the TN Coates experiment. Getting on TV or getting a perch at a big site, therefore, requires something else, something to set you apart from the crowd.
That’s where the edgytarian comes in. These are the folks who stake out the turf just on the fringe of what the commentariat has deemed acceptable. Bill Maher is a good example of a Left edgytarian. He says the things that most Progs are thinking, but avoid saying for fear it is over the line. There are Right edgytarians too. These are the guys who will make a joke about feminists or dissent from the orthodoxy on trannies. They are not full blown heretics, just a bit reluctant in their enthusiasm, which makes them bad boys.
Left edgytarians have always had it easy. They just needed to find the limit Progressives had set to the Left. The edgy Prog put his right foot on that line and his left foot outside the line. That way, he is outside the acceptable, but not out there where people like Jill Stein live. His only worry was the line would move faster than he could keep pace, as the line always moves in that direction. Dave Letterman went from edgy comic to creepy old man in a couple of decades, because he could not keep pace with the changing line.
Right edgytarians have always had a more challenging problem. They needed to find the line the Progs set on the right and place their right foot on that line and their left foot inside the line. This means living in fear of the line slipping inside of their left foot. That’s why they make a study of Prog fashion. To suddenly be outside the bounds of acceptable is death. Inevitably, theirs is a life of defending the line between themselves and those to their Right and keeping pace with the ever changing line of what is acceptable to the Progs.
Even more troubling for the Right in general, but especially the Right edgytarian, is that the Progs can willy-nilly declare someone a heretic retroactively. That means the edgy guy can suddenly find himself being hurled into the void because of past statements, which were just inside the line back then, but are suddenly heretical. It’s why conservative commentators always have rabbit ears. They are always watching for sudden changes in the zeitgeist so they can get ahead of it. It’s why they love the word “zeitgeist.”
The successful Right edgytarians figured out how to avoid this problem by going into the safe zone as soon as they had anything resembling success. Jonah Goldberg is a good example of this type. When he was a blogger, he played the edgy card, but as soon as he had some success, he raced to the safe zone and became Mr. Conventional Wisdom. In the 90’s he was doing pop culture references and scatological humor. Today he so boring and tedious, he manages to make John Fund sound like a wild man.
It’s the smart move though. Look at Gavin McInnes. He burst onto the scene as the hyper edgy night time guy on Red Eye. He was mocking the JQ, race and sex, all the while being the middle-aged wild man. Then he got named by the inquisition over heresy regarding homosexuals. Then he was seen in public with known hate thinkers. No matter how many marital aids he jammed up his rectum, he was suddenly off-limits. His choice was to go to the dark side or find a new act. He’s now doing a grumpy dad act on CRTV.
What makes life suddenly perilous for edytarians of both varieties is the old paradigm is breaking down. Progs are rocketing into fads that are essentially the habits of the functional mentally ill. You can’t be more edgy than a guy in a bloody sundress, who just castrated himself, while belting out Helen Reddy tunes. On the Right, the people who would be the audience for guys like McInnes are losing interest in chasing that shadow and are instead wandering out into the new world of new politics.
The result of all this is our official discourse is suddenly becoming very dull. Reading a modern political site feels like you’re re-reading articles from the 80’s or 90’s. It’s the equivalent of listening to pop songs from three decades ago, while everyone pretends it is new and original. Of course, pop culture has become moribund, as well. Hollywood does nothing but churn out remakes and sequels. Music has become so dull that even the elevator people refuse to play it. Comedy is no longer funny.
That’s is what distinguishes this counter-culture movement from the 1960’s version. In the old days, the game was to get to the main stage and be slightly outrageous. The hippies and radicals were all about freaking out the squares. Comics like George Carlin were all about pushing the envelope, from their perch on the big stage. Radical politics was about being radical within the established parties. The edginess was never authentic as it was simply a means to an end. The point was to eventually be mainstream.
Today, a guy like PewDiePie has 57 million subscribers to his video channel and his videos average 2.5 million views. He has no interest in going mainstream. A guy like Milo was better off avoiding the official media entirely. His attempt to be an edgytarian has made him into a sad joke. Of course, the new politics is completely off the main stream reservation. Today’s counter-culture is not a reaction to the old culture so much as an abandonment of it. It’s an ad hoc, chaotic effort at something entirely new.
That’s why being Mr. Edgy is a dead end street now. A guy like Gavin McInnes is smart enough to figure it out, which is why he is putting on the cardigan and scanning old shows like Leave It To Beaver for material. You can’t be edgy in a world where the gap between what is allowed and was is taboo is impossible to span. You see this in comedy where guys like Andrew Anglin and The Right Stuff can never possibly “cross over” and do their thing in what is now the main stream. They are all in on this side of the divide.
There is an old gag where a chicken and a pig talk about opening a restaurant. The chicken suggests they call it “ham and eggs.” The pig declines, saying, “I’d be committed but you would only be involved.” That’s what’s going in the culture. For years, the edgytarian could just be involved in fringe culture and the dominant culture. Now, everyone must be committed. you are either fully on one side of the chasm or on the other side. To mix metaphors, those who try to be both fall into the void.