Posted on by smisu13p
A post written by Jazzlin Carr, based on an ANTH424 assignment.
“He doesn’t seem like that bad of a guy. He just seems hurt, like he just wants a friend or support. I always thought incels were really bad people, but he seems like a good version of them.”
I looked over at my very liberal, ultra-feminist, Jacinda Ardern-loving partner in disbelief. We had just finished watching a YouTube video from the channel Jubilee entitled “I’m An Incel. Ask Me Anything.”. The short clip features a self-proclaimed incel responding to questions from the public. While his identity is hidden from those asking the questions, he is shown to the camera.
An incel, otherwise known as an “involuntary celibate”, is a self-imposed label used by mostly young males who define themselves by their inability to secure romantic or sexual partners despite having the desire for them, often attributing this to their anxious or shy behaviours, women’s high standards, or their unattractiveness or below-average characteristics.  They are most often found in online forums, where discussions are often characterized by self-loathing, resentment of more attractive males (known as “Chads”), and misogyny.
This definition, however, is fluid depending on who you ask. As one incel claims in his blog, anyone can be an incel “as long as they show signs of […] struggling with attaining romantic relationships”.  Others, myself included, would characterize the self-radicalizing nature of incel communities as a key part of the definition. Take a scroll through one of the few incel chatrooms that have not been blacklisted from internet servers and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single discussion that does not dehumanize women, promote racist ideologies, encourage violence, or celebrate incels who have murdered women out of spite. 
You may not have assumed such a thing if your only portrayal of incels is from the Jubilee video I noted above. The incel featured, named Derrick, coolly responds to a variety of questions. He reacts to leading questions with calmness and ensures the interviewers that he is there “to give more of a positive light on [the incel] community”. He discusses his mindset, believing that “promiscuity leads to increased standards in more primitive aspects such as looks and that typically makes it harder for some people to find relationships” and generalizes this to cities such as “[Los Angeles] or London, or in Auckland, New Zealand”. He notes that it was “constant years of rejection” that led him to more “radical beliefs” which he equates to “old beliefs”. It is also noteworthy that he was very quick to say that he condemns the actions of mass murders identifying as incels. Instead, he thinks “the reason why they committed those actions was […] desperation, or […] mental problems.”. When watching the video again, I can understand where my partner’s empathy to Derrick comes from. His demure presence, calm responses, and position as a “traditionalist” who has been hurt time after time again presents a convincing case towards justifying the incel perspective as a matter of difference of opinions, or a wounded community seeking internal support.
But what is the actual impact of this point of view, on the lives and bodies of women? I turn to the writing of British-Australian scholar, Sara Ahmed, to explore this:
“It is the failure of hate to be located in a given object or figure, which allows it to generate the effects that it does” (2004, p49).
In her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion, author Sara Ahmed discusses the organization of hate, and considers its circulation as both a defence mechanism for those who see another body as a threat to something they love, as well as its impacts on the figures who have been aligned by the narrative of hate as the “common enemy”. 
Her analysis seemed fitting for this topic and applying it to the performance of incels has me wonder if it may clarify why Derrick’s narrative could almost seem, dare I say, justified.
In a chapter on hate, Ahmed’s overarching theme is that hate operates as a sort of economy. Essentially, hate is fluid and moves between bodies and signs, and is not fixed on one subject. If an incel posts a rant on a chatroom about his displeasure with a woman who rejected him that day, the specific woman involved is simply a “nodal point in the economy”. The hate has another origin and destination, one which is more broadly connected to the perceived threat towards something the incel desires. In this instance, it may be their desire for a relationship and feeling loved. From this perspective, the hate’s origin was not in the encounter with the individual woman, but rather in years of rejection. The destination of that hate is not towards her, but rather, to a common body of women which the incel deems as a threat to ‘traditional’ relationships that they wish to participate in, but feel they are blocked from. In this example, we see how an incels hate is economic.
It is this inability of hate to be fixated that allows it to grow and fester in these groups. The vagueness of the enemy allows for particular narratives to be applied to any individual who may appear to be a part of that group. In the case of the incels, any woman could therefore fit the narrative as being a threat to traditional relationships.
But how does this economy of hate affect the bodies of the group considered a “threat”?
“There can, in fact, be no hatred until there has been long-continued frustration and disappointment” (Glenn Allport, in The Nature of Prejudice, quoted by Ahmed 2004, p50).
Derricks relatively innocuous comments contribute to the investment of hate towards women by furthering a narrative that their desire for more liberal roles and modern lifestyles is raising their expectations of men to the extreme, so that more traditional or less attractive men can no longer find relationships or love. For one, it is rhetoric that seals female bodies as objects of hate. This kickstarts a chain of effects that promote and support violence. It contributes to real physiological symptoms for those who must live in these bodies in a number of broader ways too. This is evident in the below photo, selected by Stuff for its news article on the event in 2015, which depicts the consequences of incel behavior on women who are not direct victims of its violence, who instead may suffer from fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and anxiety
If hate is an economy, it also performs as a form of capital. The effect of an incel’s hate does not reside solely in the individual object of their displeasure, but rather accumulates over time. I would take Ahmed’s imagery of hate as an economy a step further, and argue that is when these investments pile up and a member of the threatened community tries to “cash out” on this accumulated capital of hate that violence is used as a defence against the hated bodies. The collection of testimonies of rejection, frustration, and disappointment found on these incel chat rooms becomes so overwhelming that an incel feels justified in reacting with violence, in the same way as a person who has accumulated savings may feel enticed to splurge with the surplus.
The investment of hate on these chatrooms is made evident in the justification of violence on women when researching any of the major incel-led terror attacks of the past couple decades. After a one self-described incel posted a 137-page manifesto to a chatroom in 2014, he would thereafter kill six people and wound fourteen more in Isla Vista, California. The reaction from the online incel community was one of praise; his face quickly photoshopped onto Christian icons, and his name being associated as the “primary incel ‘saint’”, a reflection of how they believed he was the saviour of incel values.  In 2015, an incel in Oregon shot and killed nine classmates and a professor, and injured eight others, in what he described in his manifesto as the reaction of his frustrations to being a virgin at 26. The reaction from the incel community was one of support and empathy, with one user commenting a poem, reading “society failed him/it’s not his fault/don’t blame him/he was the hero we deserved.”. 
In 2018, an incel in Toronto, Ontario used a rented van to kill ten victims and injure an additional sixteen, as a form of revenge for perceived sexual rejection from women. Most clearly evidencing the use of hate as capital for the incel community, one commentator on a chatroom posted “This shit right here is lifefuel for me”. 
The original quote from my partner, that opened this blog, shows how important it is to grasp the economy of hate. Even though my partner did not agree with Derrick’s views, the empathy he felt for him could be a slippery slope into justifying the mindset of an incel, thus giving their alignment of female bodies as a threat imagined ground.
The accumulation and investment of this hate is what contributes to not only the everyday pain and victimization of women but leads to the in-group justification of violent expressions of hate, performed in terror attacks such as those mentioned above. In recognizing the performance of hate as an economy, one can work to actively question its impacts and limit the influence one perspective may have on the incel community.
 I’m An Incel. Ask Me Anything. (2019). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdHqzr4DyIs.
 Opinion | Men are in trouble. ‘Incels’ are proof. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/men-are-in-trouble-incels-are-proof/2019/06/07/8d6ad596-8936-11e9-a870-b9c411dc4312_story.html.
 SeventhQueen (2020). The Incel Among Us. [online] Incel Blog. Available at: https://incel.blog/the-incel-among-us/
 Inceldom Discussion [Online] Incels.co Source: https://incels.co/forums/inceldom-discussion.2/
 Ahmed, S. (2015). The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
 Beauchamp, Z. (2019). Incels: a definition and investigation into a dark internet corner. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/4/16/18287446/incel-definition-reddit.
 bust.com. (n.d.). ‘Beta Males’ Want To Kill Women Because They Can’t Get Laid. [online] Available at: https://bust.com/feminism/15551-mo-beta-blues.html
 We Hunted The Mammoth. (2018). Incels hail Toronto van driver who killed 10 as a new Elliot Rodger, talk of future acid attacks and mass rapes [UPDATED]. [online] Available at: http://wehuntedthemammoth.com/2018/04/24/incels-hail-toronto-van-driver-who-killed-10-as-a-new-elliot-rodger-talk-of-future-acid-attacks-and-mass-rapes/
Posted on by smisu13p
A post written by Samuel McComb, for an ANTH424 assignment on ‘visual images and the communication of suffering and evil’.
“What has been seen cannot be unseen, what is has been learned cannot be unknown.”
– C.A Woolf
I love art. Creation in different forms has provided me with an outlet where nothing else can, and exposed me to works that have not left me to this day. Some I have carried lightly, while others remain as haunting as the first time I laid eyes on them.
One particular image has remained with me in a way others have not. It sits clearly in my mind’s eye. Without demanding focus or derailing the bustle of other thoughts, it simply reminds me of its presence with a whisper – “I’m still here”. For years I have held space for it, maintaining an uneasy truce. Decontextualized, it could do no harm nor be put to rest. But upon its most recent resurgence I felt compelled to understand more. I could not have predicted how thoroughly this discovery would challenge my perception.
My familiarity with this image harks back to my high school years. I was around 16, or perhaps 17, and in the midst of what one might describe as a period of healthy teenage angst, channelled and encouraged by an art department with an affinity for the grunge aesthetic. A plastic skeleton lived in the corner of the art room. The gift of a perfectly mummified cat (found when a neighbour’s house was relocated) received promises of “Excellence” grades for the year’s NCEA assessments. One lunchtime, two friends and I made the plastic skeleton a cardboard house, in the middle of the classroom. It was in this environment that our subject matter would be deconstructed, remade and distorted as we explored our theme; War.
Paul Frosh (2016), a media and communications researcher with the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, made a strong argument that our ability to respond morally when witnessing suffering is shaped by how we view it – the medium used in its portrayal changes how we engage our senses. His conclusions are drawn from an analysis of user experience with Graphical User Interfaces (GUI’s) of smartphones and computers when viewing Holocaust survivor testimonies . These provided clear examples of how the experiences and actions we take when witnessing suffering shape our response.
Frosh then considered the moral obligations of the viewer when witnessing and responding to suffering. He divided these responses into three types: attention, engagement, and action. This was a useful framework within which view my own interactions with, and responses to, suffering, and specifically to explore how this raw image (fig.1) became the work I presented in my high school art folio (fig.3).
René Magritte famously captioned his pipe painting ’This is Not a Pipe’ (Fig.2); in other words, an image is not the object it represents. This is an influential idea in semiotics and fundamental to art.
As I began my project, I was searching for images and shapes that represented an idea or a feeling. I first saw the soldier while shuffling through a stack of photocopies collected from old books and internet searches. These photos of medals, memorials, soldiers and statues had been carefully selected by the teacher to help us explore our theme. I recall that several images had been ripped by other students fighting for the ‘cool’ pictures – the ones with the biggest guns – by the time I began my search.
On one level these were just raw materials, no different to any other aesthetic resource provided by the teacher. Yet just as Frosh (2016) argued that how we access depictions of suffering plays a major role in our responses, the way I was searching for images shaped my response. I was holding history between my fingers, taking just enough time to gain some perspective of the content as I shuffled through the photocopies, before passing the stack of unsuitable pictures to the boy beside me. I could almost forget the reality behind the paper as I traced shapes overtop of figures, the smooth monotony of the paper interrupted by creases and rips as I thought of textures and colours to represent what I felt each copy contained. After the preliminary search, every raw image was subject to a deeper focus – I wanted to know what aspect of each photo captured my attention.
Once we have seen suffering we are faced with a moral decision in how we respond. I could choose to ignore what I saw and felt in the image of this young soldier. I could choose another image, another topic to explore – my resulting artwork would have been displayed in the same way, to the same audience, regardless of the content. I could have found more images of big guns, but I didn’t. I needed to share what I had seen and felt.
Frosh (2016) describes the primary response to suffering in the digital age as communicative action – sharing a video or photograph widely, to raise awareness and prevent further actions, or simply to acknowledge that the suffering occurred. Sitting in my classroom, I needed to share what I had felt when I saw my soldier – the destruction of innocence that does not choose a side, the shared suffering inflicted on humanity through war. In this case though, sharing was not the quick click of a digital button, but a belaboured process of interpretation and creation with paint.
Sometimes we can choose to filter or curate our media feed, hide from the suffering before it overwhelms us. As in social media, so too in art we can choose to cover what we don’t want to see and focus on brighter times. Indeed Frosh (2016) makes clear there is the potential, when communicating enormously tragic events, for individual stories to be lost and the narrative of suffering to become overwhelming; the viewer becoming helpless and unable to respond morally to all they are exposed to. Reflecting on my folio (fig.3) certainly could elicit this response, I have to now reflect, as the young soldier becomes one small feature within the whole composition, one piece of a larger picture.
For a moment the viewer too feels the overwhelming weight of suffering that exists behind the barrier of our screens, and we become like my soldier, or perhaps the photographer – left with nothing but the ability to witness and remember.
I never tried to find out more about the photographs I used at the time, nor in the ten years since I made this board. I knew the wars they came from, perhaps who they fought for, but not the stories of the men. In hindsight I was hiding from the full truth, keeping the distance of ignorance to keep from being overwhelmed. The folio received an Excellence, and placed second in my school that year, yet I have been almost ashamed to share it knowing so little about the history of my source materials. The most recent time my soldier whispered, I listened, intending at last to let him rest.
To my surprise it turns out the soldier who inspired my art, who has stayed with me for so long, was a work of fiction – filmmaker Berhnhard Wicki’s own moral response to suffering. My soldier’s photo was in fact a still from his film “Die Brücke”. Released in 1959, this West German film follows a group of seven 16 year old school students enlisting late in 1945. The film shows their experiences as they are sent to defend a bridge in their home town with almost no training, and all but one of the boys die as they experience the horrible reality of war. The film ends noting that it was based on a true story (IMDB, 2020).
Several things suddenly made sense when I found this out. Firstly, the affinity I had felt was real because the soldier was my age. Secondly, everything had been designed to elicit an emotional response from the viewer – camera angle, posture, positioning. I wondered if it was a sense of difference that made my soldier’s photo stand out among the stack – subconscious awareness that it was somehow wrong, or staged. But I soon realised that did not matter.
The intent of Die Brücke was to share an emotional response to the horror of war. More than fifty years on it continues to do so with just one frame. In doing so it continues to offer me a choice of moral action – turn away from the suffering, or witness it, and share a moral response of my own. The eye of the artist may say “This is Not a Soldier”, but through the eye of the beholder we can still say “This is Suffering”.
Frosh, P. (2016). The mouse, the screen and the Holocaust witness: Interface aesthetics and moral response. New Media & Society, 20(1), 351–368.
The Bridge. (1959, October 22). Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052654/
Fig.1 Source: Teeuwisse, J. H. (2017, March 3). NOT a photo of German child soldiers at the end of WW2. Retrieved April 2020, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/hab3045/33231024585/in/photostream/
Fig.2 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images Retrieved April 2020
Fig.3 & Fig.4: My own work, photographed April 2020