Soy Boys, the Palmy Army, and Degenerates: On Australian Fascism’s Young New Wave

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Words || Cameron Colwell

Clive Palmer is often called a meme, and, like a meme, he is inherently changeable. His ‘Palmy Army’ Facebook group has become overrun with proponents of the alt-right. A meme that becomes big does so because of its versatility, that is, its ability to become morphed into a shape that resonates with its creator and its audience. That’s what happens when you stand for nothing but the accumulation of capital, I suppose. Far right-wing youth are bored of the polite, hollow-souled neoliberalism of the Coalition, and have instead become attached to Clive Palmer, whose lack of concern for decorum, posting of incoherent poetry, and cartoonish rich-person antics have allowed him to become a symbol of a particular kind of Australian nationalism.

The first meme I saw of the ‘Palmy Army’ Facebook group, which I have become a member of in preparation for writing a piece on it, was an edited version of that viral ‘Big Ad’ ad for Carlton Draught. Palmer’s head is Photoshopped onto that of an army’s general, with his opponent being Richard di Natale. At the end of the video comes the words, ‘The war is coming, enlist in the Palmy Army today.” I’m wary of crying ‘fascist’ but when there’s such a culmination of adoration for masculinity and glorification of war, what else could you call it? Palmer may not be a fascist but he certainly appeals to them. Comments about bringing back the White Australia Policy and deporting people who aren’t white have become common. Labor and the Greens are ‘cucks,’ a word stems from white fear about black men seducing their wives.

A few months back, a picture of a male member of the Greens became a meme, the joke being that he was a ‘soy boy’; that’s what they call leftist men, due to the erroneous belief that soy reduces the body’s testosterone. The belief of the Palmy Army that decaying masculinity is leading to societal ruin has a lot in common (including the same iconography of memes featuring a character similar to Crocodile Dundee), to the alt-right ‘Dingo Twitter’, who received national attention in late 2016 when a member’s tweet made it to QandA, reading “Conservatism is impotent. Nationalism is the future.”

The group also sports that classic red flag of the far-right: a love of the word ‘degenerate.’ Gays are degenerate, feminists are degenerate, leftists are also degenerate. It’s a word which means breaking the wholesomeness and security of the nation at large. This usage came to popularity last century in Germany when the Nazis decried art they saw as decadent and morally suspect, like all Modernist art, which they labelled as ‘Entartete Kunst,’ or ‘degenerate art.’ As a gay, leftist, feminist artist with an interest in experimental writing, the popularity of the Palmy Army gives me a lot of reason to be pissed off.

Palmy Army’s queerphobic hate and deep-seated paranoia of the feminine comes through in their characterisation of Australia’s cities: Northern Territorians and Queenslanders are proud, smiling Australian men in farmer’s clothes, while Victorians are indeterminately gendered, squat creatures who wear shirts that say ‘Check Your Privilege.’

‘Melbourne’ is shorthand within the group for everything wrong with the modern day, purportedly due to its population of queer people, and should be nuked. Their alternative, judging by their ideals, is an Australia populated by tough, laughing, bushmen-figures, like protagonists of a Henry Lawson short story, with added fascism.

Members of the group are encouraged to put a Word Art ‘Palmy Army’ filter on their Facebook profile photos. I’ve seen people who consider themselves centrists use it. But that’s sort of the point of fascist irony — once everything is presented as a joke, all criticism can be dismissed as missing the point.  The banal cruelty is right there in the WordArted name: It’s a joke, but it’s also a threat, with an evocation of the military.

Settler states are built on cruelty. I have been educated in Australian history, which gives me the ability, I hope, to identify that there are direct links of thought between the tyranny of our Border Force, Australian breakfast television shows that casually discuss the pros and cons of the same ideas behind the Stolen Generations, and meme pages festering with fascists.

The forefather of all these things is the brutal colonisation of Australia. My belief is that the only way a country described by its politicians as civilised can bear to have a consciousness of itself, with this cruelty in the past right through to the present, is by overlooking it and covering it with a laid-back, humorous image, even as the forces of colonisation and offshore detention are continued.

What’s the alternative to this laid-backness? My guess would be the so-called ‘hysteria’ of a woman. To laugh and not care is seen as masculine; to give a shit and raise a fuss is seen as feminine.

Five months ago, ABC’s digital channel for kids, ABC Me, posted a video on its Facebook page which explained to children what privilege is, using the examples of a white, middle-aged, wealthy man and a poor refugee woman who cannot speak English. Recently, a number of meme pages and groups, including Aussie Man Cave, Memes for the Urban Gentleman, and the Palmy Army, targeted the ad, flooding the ABC Me page’s channel with furious comments about leftist indoctrination and calls for the ABC to be defunded due to its bias. In response, ABC Me deleted its Facebook page. The meme pages gloated over their victory.

Is this what happens, now, when you step on the toes of the political right? How did we get to the point where fascists have so much confidence?

These right-wing chauvinists have seized ground that the modern left have lost. Issues of class have been overlooked, so the new young right creates an image of being working class — if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look back at Yeah The Boys. Large portions of the online left groups have become humourless outposts of moral one-upmanship, so the young right put emphasis on their vulgarity.

In the US, Milo Yiannopolis made such an impact on culture because he targeted fear of masculine power loss and resentment of being critiqued. This was especially potent in contrast to an online left that largely seems more interested in circular conversations about Hollywood representation than countering these new waves of global fascism.

I don’t believe in reasoning with fascists the same way I don’t believe in reasoning with a bushfire. At this point, Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance comes to mind. It states that endless tolerance leads to intolerant elements exploiting the systems which allow them a voice and using it to shut out the voices of others. In the US, Richard Spencer has said that Antifa action has ‘sucked the fun’ out of his public appearances.

Moral quandaries about violence against fascists aside, what’s the equivalent of stifling a new wave of fascism?  I don’t claim to know the answer. But it definitely isn’t in giving fascists oxygen and room to spread. We cannot allow fascists to feel comfortable to espousing their beliefs, but we must also not forget that this new wave is not an aberration, but an extreme variety of thought that has been part of this state since its inception.

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