To the surprise of no one, Fox News has been a gleeful participant in the latest demented wingnut crusade: eviscerating food stamps. Only Fox isn’t merely broadcasting endlessly repeating rounds of right-wing talking points. This time, it’s also treating us all to an hour-long “special report” on the subject. Oh goody!
Tragically, I missed last night’s airing of the report. But Media Matters has previewed the special. Some of what’s in it is exactly what you’d expect: there is the de rigueur social worker bashing, as well as the all-but-mandatory immigrant baiting. Of course, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from receiving food stamps or other welfare benefits, but don’t let that cloud your beautiful mind. No doubt viewers will also be regaled with tales of strapping young bucks using food stamps to gorge on lobster, caviar, and filet mignon.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, the special apparently does break some new ground, at least where right-wing mythology is concerned. Included in its rogue’s gallery of food stamp recipients is the latest right-wing hate object: the young, white hipster. Media Matters reports that one of the food stamps beneficiaries Fox interviews, which it has labeled “the new face of food stamps,” is a young doofus named Jason Greenslate, an aspiring musician and “blissfully jobless California surfer.” We’re talking Jeff Spicoli, basically. Media Matters earnestly notes that Greenslate “bears no resemblance to the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients, many of whom are elderly, children, or rely on the program for a short time while looking for work.”
But reality-based perspectives like the one from Media Matters almost never make a dent in the conservative imagination, and it’s unlikely to do so here — especially when someone like Greenslate make such a convenient hate object for them. The contemporary uses of hipster-bashing and young people-bashing is related to, though somewhat different from, the function that has long been served by the venerable right-wing sport of hippie-punching. Like hippie punching, hating on the hipsters enables puritanical conservatives to feel morally superior to young people who reject certain bourgeois norms and who seem to be having some fun in their lives.
But the hipster bashing is a little different as well. In the context of food stamps, for example, it enables the right to drink the haterade about the “undeserving poor” and congratulate themselves that their hatred of poor people is untainted by racism. (“See, we hate poor white people, too!”) It also allows them to pretend that young peoples’ economic woes can be blamed on their own alleged laziness and narcissism — rather than on a depressed economy that the right, along with their neoliberal frenemies, created. This is an economy that not only has left near-record numbers of young people without jobs, but has also indentured them with crippling, undischargeable student loans.
The war against hipsters is also an effective propaganda tool for the right because, as two Jacobin writers, Peter Frase and Anthony Galluzzo, have observed, hipster hatred is hardly limited to conservatives. As Frase points out:
People see others whom they perceive to have lives that are easier, cooler or more fun than theirs, and instead of questioning the society that gave them their lot, they demand conformity and misery out of others.
He also notes that anti-hipsterism serves an important ideological function:
The rage directed at the figure of “a hipster on food stamps” is only intelligible in terms of the rotted ideological foundation that supports it: an ideology that simultaneously glorifies the suffering of the exploited and vilifies those among the dispossessed who are deemed to be insufficiently hard-working or self-reliant.
Yes, that’s about right. Undoubtedly, Fox’s audience will revel in its sense of self-righteous superiority to Greenslate, who will become the latest object of the right’s two-minute internet hate. And instead of looking at what needs to be done to get the economy working again for all Americans, we’ll get roped into a giant silly season distraction about lazy hipsters. The eternal verities that poor people have too much money, and rich people don’t have enough, will thus be affirmed. Brilliant!, as the Brits would say.