Fascist imagery on campus: memetic warfare or Fashthetic trolling?
The Badger investigated the fascist themed stickers found on Sussex’s campus, leading to the online communities of the alt-right and Fashthetic memes.
While reporting on the statement released by the Student Union, it was believed the original sticker contained Nazi imagery. The Badger has determined that while sticker was of a fascist nature, it did not contain Nazi imagery. Instead, the image instead depicted Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists (BUF).
The BUF is banned in the UK, but far-right groups modelling themselves on it, such as the New British Union, do exist. However, having looked through the websites of some of these far-right groups, it became clear they were not the source of these particular stickers.
Over the weekend a Badger reporter found another three stickers on campus. So The Badger decided to investigate the source of some of the images. This search led to a niche sub-section of internet subculture.
The stickers have an idiosyncratic retro styling. Anyone aware of the ‘Vaporwave’ genre of music would have noticed similarities with the ‘ＡＥＳＴＨＥＴＩＣＳ’ visual style associated with it – which has formed its own set of memes.
The investigation found the images on the stickers stem from the relatively recent phenomena of ‘F A S H T H E T I C’.
Some of this is obviously created by online trolls. There are however strong links to the ‘alt-right’ community, whose ideology is definable as far-right.
[warning: links in this paragraph lead to websites whose content some may find offensive]
Regular Fashthetic competitions are run on the notorious image boards of 4chan, known for its offensive content and abundance of what is referred to as ‘shit posting’ in internet vernacular. With one 4chan thread stating, “we produce and post f a s h t h e t i c memes. Also acts as a collaborative workshop”.
There was also a Fashthetic subsection on the alt-right Reddit forums, before Reddit recently banned the alt-right community from the site. Some of the content created by those who frequent these forums have posted it on Deviantart, which bills itself as ‘the largest online art gallery and community’. There also seems to be a link with an online message board called SUP forums, which is possibly the origin of the memes.
Much of this content seems to have been created in the last couple of months.
A link from 4chan to a Pastebin page contains instructions on how to create Fashthetic memes. It includes tips for the type of fonts to use, suggestions of quotes or phrases and even how to customise them for a given country: “Britain’s should be cozy, traditional and cheeky. Basically a pint with nigel farage, phil harding and afternoon tea with marine”.
One of the difficult things with websites such as 4chan is to tell when it’s purely extravagant degeneracy, or when it’s serious. Its anonymous posts allow its user to push what ‘normies’, 4chan slang for normal people, find acceptable, without any recompense.
A Vice Magazine article on alt-right memes drew special ire on the website, with posts stating things such as: “leftists are terrible at making memes because collectivism stifles creativity and humor. And more than anything else, they have their limits. They don’t have the balls to follow us into the sewer”, or even “Vice is right tho /pol/ [4chan’s politics board] is a cesspool” – showing some level of self awareness.
The community is fluid and difficult to conceptualise, being offended isn’t an option for its members. The /pol/ subsection currently looks like a mixture of hate and an alt-right hotbed.
Given their origin, it would also be difficult to guess the intentions of those posting the stickers around campus. Whether they’re a genuine fascist or trolls looking to ‘trigger some lefties’.
Either way, when you realise some of the imagery is a recontextualized 80’s pastel collection, it takes some of the sting out of it.
One also wonders if this is the person responsible for placing the stickers found around Sussex:
It might seem odd for for fascist memes to come out of the Vaporwave genre, but it would seem as if the alt-right has latched onto it and tried to make it its own. In December 2016 Buzzfeed ran a story titled, “How Electronic Music Made By Neo-Nazis Soundtracks The Alt-Right – “Fashwave,” the sound of young white nationalism”. Which is where the connections start to come together.
Since Fashwave is inspired by the Vaporwave genre, it’s logical to also take on elements of its visual style. According to Thump: “Fashwave has become propaganda for the neo-fascist movement known as the “alt-right””. So Fashthetic memes look like an attempt to create a platform for the alt-right to promote their visual metaphors.
One thing that keeps popping up around these posts is the idea of ’memetic warfare’, how seriously this is taken by those participating is hard to ascertain. A comment on 4chan states: “They [Vice Magazine] don’t realise that you can’t really fight memetic warfare by exposing it — (((they))) wanna target us as a normal hate group, but we’re no such thing. We’re pure memes”.
It does however seem to have real life consequences. An article in the Independent noted how a group called Nimble America used memes to help support Donald Trump’s election campaign. With its founder posting on Reddit, “We’ve proven that shitposting is powerful and meme magic is real”. The group has also taken memes and moved them into real life, which is what has happened at Sussex.
The Fashwave Pastebin guide mentioned above has the following to say on memetic warfare: “What is it that separates our memes from normie ones? The normie creates a quick giggle, superficial and empty. Equivalent to a Big Bang Theory episode. What makes ours last and transform forever? Truth, to be quite entirely honest with you. Truth is permanent. Aesthetic ideals are permanent.
“…these are something like sub-memes, memes that people don’t interact with consciously but which impact their behaviour. Corporate elite have this down to a literal science, and there’s a lot of information out there worth studying. anyone interested in this would do well to obtain a torrent of all the fortune 500 company fonts and logos, and browse through them.”
Memes are perhaps shifting into something more tangible, with a political impact.
Oddly, memetic warfare is also taken seriously by militaries, and is said to be effectively used by insurgencies. A Defence Strategic Communications journal issued by NATO defines memetic warfare as: “competition over narrative, ideas, and social control in a social-media battlefield. One might think of it as a subset of ‘information operations’ tailored to social media. Information operations involve the collection and dissemination of information to establish a competitive advantage over an opponent.
“memetic warfare could also be viewed as a ‘digital native’ version of psychological warfare, more commonly known as propaganda. If propaganda and public diplomacy are conventional forms of memetic warfare, then trolling and PSYOPs are guerrilla versions”.
If this is to be taken seriously, we could be witnessing a complex breakdown in the space given to authority and narrative, through memes. The stickers found at Sussex an example of a fight for meaning in a world where everything solid is rapidly melting into air.
*Edited for incorrect quote attribution by Oswald Mosley.