You think Youtube’s bad? Wait til you see Russia Today’s kids channel

What a jape!

I saw the best minds of my and other generations destroyed by Youtube videos, friends sending me 3am emails furiously denouncing the conspiracy by the powerful to sell us the idea that the climate is changing, kept awake by the conviction that the Twin Towers were a mere hologram, or convinced that Isis is an illusion created by the CIA.

Having just sent some thoughts along those lines to a friend who had also read this essay detailing how soon and how easily our offspring are, thanks to Google, being entranced by and drawn into a world which is infinitely crueller and more absurd than our own, I was startled to see that the very first comment on the piece included a link to another article centred on the very same poem I had (in my glib manner) just quoted.

Such serendipitous connections are, of course, infinitely abundant on Youtube, which plays a particular role not just in the lives of very young children but also, as another friend recently pointed out, in the growth of the alt-right. As the writer says, and as that semi-regular succession of emails from newly- (and, mercifully, usually briefly-) converted conspiracist friends confirms, the role of the platform in the spread of political propaganda is terrifying to the point of nausea. In a not unrelated phenonmenon, it’s a salutary and unsettling experience to see how our baby daughter’s face lights up when it meets the screen of our phones. Like all sensible parents we had decided that we would keep the whole world of digital screen technology a dirty secret from her for as long as humanly possible; anyone who sets out with this intention soon finds that given the preponderance of Whatsapp calls, Skype and so on combined with our evident dependence on it for our own purposes, the talismanic qualities of the device are impossible to disguise. One creeping influence is indeed Youtube, with its immediate and infinite access to hours of nursery rhymes. We are allowing her to be led right into the jaws of the monster that will seize her imagination and attention as soon as it gets a chance.

The article describes how the word salad titles of the billions of videos aimed at infants (typical example: Wrong Heads Disney Wrong Ears Wrong Legs Kids Learn Colors Finger Family 2017 Nursery Rhymes) right from the moment they can tap on the device are an indication that they are produced not by conscious humans but by algorithims set to maximise views and thereby income. Perhaps the non-syntactical way in which such mechanisms operate resembles or is a part of the same phenomenon as Trump’s seemingly incoherent appeals. Such messages, although ostensibly nonsensical, bypass our rational brain and go straight for the limbic system, triggering our deepest and least conscious fears and desires. If we combine what we know about Youtube on a political level and the formative effects it has on very young brains, it starts to make any dystopian fantasy such as The Matrix or Brave New World almost quaint and comforting. Even leaving aside the horrors of Twitter (which at last now with 280 characters stands a chance of becoming more thoughtful and respectful) Youtube is becoming the 24-hour two-minute hate, opium-of-the-masses and soma all in one.

More disturbing still are some of the reflections contained in this must-must-must read account of how the Brexit and Trump nightmares came about, which includes several points of crossover with the previous article. The head of Russia Today once said that

“It is important to have a channel that people get used to, and then, when needed, you show them what you need to show. In some sense, not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a ministry of defense. When there is no war, it looks like we don’t need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical.”

Evern worse than finding out that a friend has been spending dozens of hours puffing away contentedly on the crackpipe of Youtube conspiracy nonsense is discovering that they are being exposed to the pseudo-radical manipulations of RT (often in the form of Youtube clips). I know that within a couple of years our daughter will start clamouring for access to the likes of Nickelodeon and Cbeebies (along with, it should go without saying, Youtube); if Putin and his cronies ever hit on the idea of creating a version of Russia Today for children, we really are screwed.

I’ve thought of a great way of dealing with the “alt-right”. It’s called “shush-pat”.


Jacques Lacan said of the student revolutionaries of 1968 they were looking for a new father. By contrast, the so-called alt-right appear to be seeking someone to breastfeed them. In this excellent lengthy article about hanging around with fanboys of that pro-pedophile sociopathic freak Milo, Laurie Penny writes:

I enjoy most respectful conversation, and these boys are scrupulously polite to me. They were polite to me a month earlier when I slept on their tour bus — right until a door closed between me and them, and they immediately started talking loudly, to each other, about the crass and anatomically implausible things they wanted to do to me. Intellectually, they must have known that I could hear them, but these kids grew up on the Internet, the world’s locker room, where if you can’t see a woman, she doesn’t really exist. The one grown man on the bus started yelling at them to go the hell to sleep — “there’s a girl back there!”—and they yelled back that they’d let me sleep if I let them “suck my titties.” It’s no surprise to hear that they’re still yearning for the teat, but these babies had best be careful where they go slobbering for the milk of human kindness. I’m just about dried up.

Now it turns out she was spot on: milk is indeed a Thing among alt-righters. Nazis have been using it as an emblem, because it’s ‘pure’ and, er, Asian people don’t drink much of it. They have apparently been pouring it over each other in celebration of its and their ‘whiteness’. This taste for moomoojuice seems to have inspired this remarkable work of art. Where Hitler called for Lebensraum, his latest disciples are after milky-wilky.

It eloquently demonstrates the infantile nature of the whole project. They want someone to mother them. Perhaps Le Pen fits the bill, or maybe Trump himself, given the famously female cadences and rhythms of his speech. It also explains why they have a thing about cartoons. Their undeveloped brains and nascent eyesight are unable to deal with anything more cognitively demanding, hence their emotional attachment to a white supremacist equivalent of Peppa Pig and Teletubbies (one which happens to be green, but still). There’s also something distinctly ‘Lord of the Flies’ about their inhouse media outlet, Breitbart. And as Laurie Penny points out they, like punks, have no actual understanding of what Nazism is, they’re just trying to annoy adults by any means necessary.

As it happens I am currently undergoing a crash course in dealing with infant hysteria. I am developing my skills in calming down my six-week-old daughter and sending her to sleep. Her screaming has been honed by evolution to be as distressing as can be, as she alone has no means of dealing with hunger, tiredness or discomfort. Her screeching, like that of the überbrats of the new far-right, has no actual meaning beyond that.

Luckily there’s a solution (beside feeding her, naturally): shush-pat. This technique, invented by the currently ubiquitous childcare guru Tracy Hogg, consists of tapping her firmly on the back while saying ‘shush’. It’s simple and it works. With (sometimes immense) repetition it soothes and comforts her. Eventually her eyes close and her breathing slows. She’s totally relaxed which means we can be too (actually we lie awake for hours worrying that she might explode into fury at any moment, but you get the point).

How would this work with the alt-right? It’s hard to say. I personally have no inclination whatsoever to cuddle Steve Bannon, and although Trump himself appears desperately in need of a breastfeed I’m not about to lift him out of his cot and hand him to my wife. In any case the most outspoken Trump supporters (of whom the angry young men of the alt-right are a self-styled postmodern Hitler Youth) only exist online, where they trade in a currency of memes, mostly originating on 4chan (“the internet’s hate speech hit factory”). Most can only communicate in bright, colourful images with slogans written in big letters. Shush-pat could be an effective antidote to their unsolicited and unwarranted venom and denial, whether they happen at that particular moment to be be sticking up for rape or torture or murder or pedophilia. These are, after all, not rational adults. They are no more open to reasoned arguments and the sober presentation of factual evidence than a hungry newborn baby is. They are, in fact, not post-factual but pre-conceptual. They are screaming for attention and consolation and they need to be told, patiently but firmly, to shut up. I offer the above hastily-assembled collage as a contribution to the cause.