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Last week the people in charge of Penn State University decided to get in the way-back machine and relive the alt-right days. They invited onto campus a bogeyman so that the usual suspects could engage in performative protesting. They invited internet performers Gavin McInnis and Alex Stein to talk to a student group. A group of entitled children was then invited to throw a tantrum outside the event. Eventually, the school cancelled the event for security reasons.
The only people interested in any of it was the regime media that has yet to find a new set of bogeymen to replace those from the Trump years. McInnis went along with it because it is all he has at this point. His edgy right-wing guy act fell apart with the Proud Boys fiasco and dissidents have no interest in him. Alex Stein is trying to be the Matthew Lesko of ambush comedy, so this provided him with a chance to do his act in front of some purple faced coeds for the streaming audience.
The main takeaway from the event is that the white supremacist bogeyman act has run its course and the regime has found nothing to replace it. As a result, the usual suspects are resurrecting old villains like McInnes. The term “Proud Boys” is still something of a dog whistle for the crazies, even though the rest of the world lost interest in the whole thing years ago. It is sort of like how Nixon remained a villain for the crazies well into the 1980’s, after the world had moved onto Reagan.
Of course, the point of these manufactured dramas is for the people running the college campus to pretend they are in a state of emergency. The college campus is the safest place on the planet, but the inhabitants need to feel they are under siege. The forces of darkness are closing in so they have to heroically defend their abracadabra word from the enemy of the abracadabra word. They stage these events so that they can have a few minutes where their fantasies seem real.
If it were anything other than a performance, they could easily handle these things by either not hosting the speakers or putting an end to the protests. There is no reason for a college campus to have these sorts of people on to talk to students. In theory, at least, the students are there to learn, not hear hacky gags from an aging comedian and an internet prankster. Not only are these two not bringing anything to the campus, their act is easily accessible on-line.
On the other hand, the campus could end the protest business by expelling those who create trouble. The students are there to learn and this event was a good time for them to learn that it is immoral to prevent people from speaking or prevent others from hearing a speaker. Expel a few of the troublemakers and the protest culture comes to a screeching halt. This is a state college. These are not future leaders. They are there to get a credential in order to get a middle-class job.
What these sorts of events amount to are something like the historical reenactments around events of the Civil War or Revolutionary War. Historical reenactors enjoy learning the fine details of the period. They spend hours getting their costumes right and working with others in the subculture. Another part of it is escapism. They get to spend the weekend pretending to be a person in another era, an era they find more interesting than the current era.
That is what we have seen on campus for half a century. The long march through the institutions put the old protestors in charge, so they set about recreating the events of their youth, except this time they were the cool administrators. Unlike the squares running the place in their youth, they were down with the cause, at least until something got broken or someone got hurt. Decade after decade this farcical game of make believe gets rebooted on the college campus.
That said, this nonsense may have run its course. One of the weird side effects of the Covid panic is it broke the pattern. For two years no one was allowed on campus, so they could not stage these dramas. The attention whores that agree to play the bogeyman role for these shows have had to move onto other things. Penn State was left with what can charitably be called D-list bogeymen. Instead of playing weddings they jumped at this campus gig.
There is also a growing regime fatigue. That is another consequence of Covid and the events of the 2020 election. The endless lying from the media has shifted public opinion away from this sort of drama. When people thought the campus was simply biased, they could justify people trying to get on campus to counter the bias. In a world where people use the term “regime” and assume everything that comes from official authority is a lie, these dramas make no sense.
Of course, the January 6 pogrom has changed minds as well. In a world where the state will arrest you for being attacked by regime agents posing as protestors, going onto the street to speak your mind is a fool’s errand. Even the flag and costume crowd has figured out that they cannot march around in public. This leaves the regime elements on their own, which makes for a boring performance. Without a bogeyman to attack, they are left to stare at one another.
All of this points to a slight maturing of dissident politics. Guys like McInnis are not getting attention anymore. He staged his own arrest and the response was mostly indifference at his pathetic play for attention. Similarly, more and more dissidents are simply tuning out of regime media. These dramas only work if there is an audience and that audience is drying up. Slowly, it seems, dissidents are disconnecting from the machine and accepting the new reality.
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