There’s something I see a lot that I would rather not see at all. It’s the idea that, if you are offending a lot of people, you are somehow being subversive and clever. This gross fallacy has been the rationale for garbage comedies such as South Park and Family Guy, as well as for the kinds of poltical memes that contributed to mainstreaming fascism.
Let’s take South Park for example. One advertisement for it basically just listed a bunch of different organizations and people who condemned it or were openly offended by it, as though offending these people was an accomplishment. Now, let’s look at what South Park’s offensive content actually is. Most of it falls into two different categories. The first is just negative characterizations of marginalized people, such as portraying trans women as harmful to cis women or claiming that neurodivergent people are just looking for excuses to be assholes. These aren’t subversive or clever assertions. They are the tired biases of status quo bigotry pretentiously packaged as “edgy” humor. The other main type of offensive content in the show is to ridicule or vilify people who try to make the world a better place, such as by portraying Al Gore as hunting for “Manbearpig” to ridicule his attempt to get people to take climate change seriously or when they equated antiracism with crimes against humanity. Attacking attempts to improve the world like that is a blatant call to maintain a status quo that harms and even kills innocent people. That’s not “edgy.” That’s vile. It’s born of a privileged and malicious mindset common among people who would rather our society never get better because then they would have to start treating people different from themselves like human beings. They won’t admit that outright of course, so they act like the act of offending people somehow challenges social norms when really it’s just reinforcing the worst of them.
Surprisingly, this mentality isn’t limited to right wing bigots. A similar fallacy exists among the types of self-proclaimed leftists (though whether they actually quality as left wing is debatable) that frequent certain internet spaces. Unlike right wing edgelords, these edgelords cloak themselves in a pretense of radical politics. Rather than directly attack marginalized groups, these people seek to offend and undermine those whom they deem as not left wing enough. For example, there are multiple “leftist” memes where a republican asserts hatred of a democrat and the leftist agrees. This is portrayed as shocking to the republican, the subtext being that hating democrats is supposedly a radical position. It should go without saying that hating the same people that the far right hates doesn’t make you a radical leftist. Yet, these “leftists” will act like using “liberal” as an insult is subversive. While these people seek to offend democrats rather than marginalized groups, they still end up harming marginalized people. One way they do so is by undermining opposition to the right wing. When republicans win, marginalized people suffer. They don’t care because their goal is putting down those they deem impure. Yet, they rarely show the same opposition to the far right that they do to liberals. This hints at their real goals and they aren’t what they claim they are.
Edgelords, whether they wear their reactionary and regressive nature on their sleeve or pretend to be something else, are tiresome people. They think that by presenting offensive content they are showing themselves to be superior to those they degrade. This is self-deception. Offending people does not mean you are clever or subversive. It’s just another way an oppressive society maintains the status quo, which is the least subversive thing of all.