One of the latest hobgoblins of the Terrified Right is the idea that conservative students are being punished in academia for their beliefs. You get the idea—it’s just another variation on the culture war pablum (“there’s a war on Christmas!) designed to enrage old people who watch Fox News. Pundits with nothing better to do know they can rile up that base with stories of liberal professors doling out Fs to kids who dare to question the far-left doctrine of American universities. Most of the examples they’ve dug up are extremely stupid, but who needs proof when there’s a divisive story to be milked to death?
The main catalyst for the recent spread of this narrative was a tweet by Charlie Kirk, a self-appointed leader of the conservative student movement and founder TPUSA—a group that has had to apologize for anti-Semitic jokes in the past. The tweet:
A bunch of followers chimed in with their own stories about how a leftist professor ruined their college experience, and how their low grades definitely weren't because they were bad students. But a few of the responders were leftists making fun of Kirk and his acolytes, and one of them, Jesse Farrar—podcast host and writer—went for the jugular:
“they shouldnt do that,” Farrar wrote. “its not right. they should hold the conservative students heads udner water until they stop breathing, instead.”
Now, for those who don't spend every waking moment on Twitter, and aren't familiar with the so-called “ironic left,” this may seem a little shocking. But for anybody even remotely fluent in Internet discourse, and particularly anybody who follows Farrar, it's clear that this is a joke. An extreme joke, of course, but a joke nonetheless.
Dissecting this kind of humor is annoying and complicated, but essentially Farrar is mocking Kirk's attempt to foment outrage over a non-issue by exaggerating the perceived offense. The start of his tweet sounds like a typical conservative reply (“this is wrong”), but the punchline is that he considers grade-slashing too mild a punishment, and advocates for the drowning of conservative students. If Kirk's aim was to create an archetype of the liberal bogeyman professor, Farrar shows the absurdity of his tactic by embodying the most hyper-extreme version of this caricature—the one who literally wants to put conservative students to death.
The most famous example of this, on Twitter, came from Randygdub, who issued this instant classic in October 2016, at the height of the baseless “liberal voter fraud” frenzy and just a month before the presidential election:
Again, we see the same tactic: Use a legitimate conservative concern (liberal agents tampering with Trump votes), and demonstrate the absurdity by play-acting as the most outrageous version of a character in the paranoid fantasy—in this case, a postal worker bragging about destroying absentee ballots in an important swing state.
Personally, I think the joke in both cases is obvious. But the ironic left is wrapped in subtlety, while our culture-at-large has been conditioned to respond to blunt stimuli only. The reaction to randygdub's post, almost unbelievably, was more of the very outrage he was parodying. Per Snopes, conservative outlets ran with the story, the USPS was “deluged with complaints” to the point that they were forced to issue a statement clarifying that Randygdub didn't work for them, and had fabricated his story.
To confuse matters more, part of the credo of “weird Twitter” is to never blink, or to concede an inch when the conservative outrage comes crashing down.This is partly because it would spoil the joke (where keeping a straight face heightens it), and partly because it would be conceding ground to a despised group of fear-mongers. In the case of the Ohio ballots, randygdub antagonized right-leaning Twitter users who claimed he would get arrested or fired by announcing that he'd received a promotion, and when the USPS sent a tweet saying that he was not, in fact, a postal employee, he refused to break character:
The governing idea behind this, I think, is that if the right-wing in America has proven itself susceptible to scams and conspiracy over and over, to the extent that it is almost blind to truth, then it's fair game to screw with them. You get the dual satisfaction of a good laugh as they spiral into rage-fits, and the fallout, at least in theory, demonstrates the idiotic gullibility of a political opponent. (In practice, there are probably a good deal of people who hear the original story—”liberals tamper with Trump votes!”—and never learn the truth.)
Back to Jesse Farrar. After his tweet about drowning conservative students, Kirk smelled blood and tried to call him out in a way that would direct outrage to Farrar and prove some point about the viciousness of the liberal mind and the double standard of political society:
And in accordance with the “never blink” philosophy of weird twitter, Farrar doubled down:
Just like in the randygdub situation, conservatives at large either failed to understand the joke, or chose to misinterpret it as sincere in a bad-faith effort to hurt Farrar. Conservative outlets like IJR ran with the story, and even contacted Farrar’s employers in a thinly disguised attempt to bring real-world consequences down on his head.
Incidentally, Deadspin, where Farrar used to write, provided this wonderful rejoinder:
While Farrar no longer writes regularly for Deadspin, we as an organization do support his stance of trolling white supremacist-supported and -associated organizations like Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA. And while I would not personally advocate the method mentioned in Farrar’s obvious joke Tweet you seem to be using to try to snitch on him to his employers, I can’t argue that it wouldn’t make the world a better place.
The amount of attention directed Farrar’s way was apparently substantial enough for him to delete the original tweet. Then, in arguably the most ridiculous turn in an already ridiculous story, the whole thing ended up on Fox & Friends (Trump’s favorite show). You can watch that here if the YouTube video below gets removed:
“I hate playing the victim,” Kirk says at one point, but in fact that’s what he and all the other cultural conservatives love. They belong to a demographic that is the overwhelming majority in this country, in numbers and political power, but they like nothing better than portraying themselves as an oppressed minority. And when someone has the gall to mess with them, their response is to take it to the highest level they can access and to bring public punishment on their enemy. This happens over and over, and it’s why the richest irony in America today is a conservative calling anyone else a “snowflake.” They’re building entire snow castles with their delicacy.
Farrar is only a public figure in the loosest sense of the word. He made an off-color joke that I found funny but many found upsetting, but the fact remains that he’s not a major figure in the political world by any stretch of the imagination. Does this really merit the breathless shock we see in that video? Imagine if Rachel Maddow at MSNBC featured every Twitter egg who tweeted some piece of hateful rhetoric at her—she’d never have time for anything else. So why is Farrar getting this treatment?
The answer is that it serves a purpose, which is to stoke outrage and punish the very concept of mocking the right. On a smaller scale, it’s also just an extremely petty response by a person whose skin is paper-thin even by conservative standards. Charlie Kirk is a hyper-sensitive dweeb, and his idea of justice is trying to ruin the life of someone who made a joke on Twitter. People like that are poison, and deserve the worst.