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A recent English article that lavished praised on the well-dressed nature of the modern Nazi is merely the latest example of a rather worrying trend.
“They Dressed Well” is an article from TIME magazine, referring to the Nazis. No, it’s not an article from 1938, although it could be. It’s from a piece in June of 2000, long before Donald Trump was on anyone’s mind as a presidential candidate, before “alt-right” was a term on everybody’s tongues, but two years after American History X hit theatres.
The piece talks about “Nazi chic” in Korea, where people idolise the style of the Nazis. Something which, as everyone knows, they were very good at; Hugo Boss made the SS uniforms, as everyone is so fond of reminding us all, and the Volkswagen Beetle was made at Hitler’s request.
But the bar the journalist is visiting is not a Neo-Nazi hangout, he tells the reader; some of the patrons “aren’t even quite sure who Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were.”
“Others, like regular patron Chung Jae Kyung, 22, are aware of the evil the Nazis did but not especially moved by it,” Donald Macintyre writes. “’I don’t hate them, I don’t like them,’ says Chung, a neatly dressed English-lit student with an easy smile. ‘But at least they dressed well.’”
“Any power whatsoever is destined to fail before fashion,” Mussolini is quoted as saying in a 1930 issue of British Vogue.
“ was intended to highlight the need for fascist regimes to capture the fashion system for their own purposes,” Mel Campbell writes in her piece for Crikey. “And because clothing can also express subversive ideas of dissent and solidarity, the fascists will come for your community’s favourite looks, too. Spencer’s ‘dapper’ dressing and trendy side-fade haircut are a deliberate attempt to confuse far-right politics with hipster progressivism. Normalisation of fascism begins when we internalise fascist aesthetics, either through irony or self-preservation.”
In other words, fascism intends to make itself presentable so that people aren’t scared of it, so that they view it as non-threatening, as acceptable, as palatable, and then others can adopt it – even ironically – and thus normalise its aesthetics and, therefore, its existence. The punks did it in the 1970s and ’80s as a way of rebelling against the uptight society they were breaking out of, but that created a splintered subculture that could be radicalised.
Also on The Big Smoke
- The “alt-right” label: What’s real, what’s fake, and why we should care
- Milo’s formula: Free speech and hate speech are the same thing
- I escaped Trump’s Muslim ban…but now what?
Today, we don’t like to use the word “Nazi”. We prefer “alt-right” or “Neo-Nazi” or “anti-immigration”. They are the “hipster fascists” inspired by the neatly trimmed Mike Pence, the aforementioned “dapper” Richard Spencer and the calm Steve Bannon.
“Middle class and well-spoken, dressed in skinny jeans and New Balance trainers rather than bomber jackets and boots,” Andrew Gilligan writes, “members of Generation Identity (GI) are accused of using slick branding and coded language to ‘normalise’ extremist views.”
And the media is always quick to comment on the looks of these new fascists, although there is nothing new about their ideas. Genocide and race-hate are quite passé; someone should let the hipsters know. People like to read about these well-dressed jackbooters because it’s so unexpected, even though it shouldn’t be.
“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said from a podium. “It is our creation. It is our inheritance and it belongs to us.”
These “respectable” looking boys and girls, spewing their hate using words like “globalist” and “nationalism” and “hail” are so novel to people because they expect to see hooded Klansmen or shaven-headed thugs covered in tattoos to take the podium and spew bile with unrestricted fury.
But those guys sat down with a publicist. They don’t want to look “dangerous”. Their parents or mentors or teachers wore hoods and got tattoos. They beat up the Jewish kid or burned down the store owned by the black family, and they realised that it didn’t work. No one empathised with their struggle except a measly few.
They realised that it’s so much more effective to put on a suit, or a nice dress, and step out onto a stage and act sweet and speak with all the words their expensive education taught them. By doing so, they make their enemies – people of colour, Jews, Muslims, women – look like “animals” by not getting their point across the “right way”.
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” Martin Luther King Jr wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season’.”
By seemingly taking the high road, they make groups like Antifa appear criminal simply because they don’t play nice, especially after one punched Richard Spencer in the face during a filmed interview.
Their fashion is a distraction, and it’s a good one. People – and by that, I mean mostly white people, from all walks of life – see them, neatly trimmed and suited up, and compare them to what they see on TV of anti-fascist protestors in jeans and T-shirts and bandanas in the streets and think, “Well, those people are just causing trouble. Those nice young men and women must be saying something important.”
So forget their clothes. Their clothes are no different to what your dad wears to a business meeting, or your mum wears to a funeral, or your brother wears to the formal, or your sister wears to a date at a nice restaurant. They’re just nice clothes. They don’t mean anything. They are a way of saying, “I’m just like you,” but these people aren’t. Those people, dressed so nicely, I hope are nothing like you. They want to see me dead or, at least, expelled from the nation. They don’t care what happens to me, or what happened to my people, or what happens to my friends of colour, or my LGBTQI+ friends.
Just because what they say doesn’t affect you, personally, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter at all. And, besides, it does affect you, because I’m sure you, like many others, have thought about what you would have done if you were alive during WW2. Whether you would have fought back, spoken out, stood side-by-side with your threatened neighbours. And if you don’t ignore their fashion and listen to their words, and see what they really are, then you’re just an enabler.
There’s a famous quote by Martin Niemöller about not speaking out, which I’m sure everyone knows. If you don’t know it, know that it could be modified for today, and it could read:
First they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for the Immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an Immigrant.
Then they came for the Women, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Woman.
Then they came for the Jews, and the People of Colour, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew or a Person of Colour.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.