Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

There are allusions to personal conviction through abrupt changes in tone, clear diversions from scripted content, or moments where the creator shares how they have been personally affected or why they were motivated to make the video. They assert roles for themselves in the video, identify with some groups over others, and demonstrate a knowledge of their audience’s interests by anticipating questions and points that require clarity. As a basic introduction, Molyneux takes the role of a historian and an objective source for viewers, while ContraPoints frames herself as a philosophical inquirer of contemporary, mostly internet-based behaviours and ideologies.

Molyneux opens ‘Crusades’ by asserting the need for a historian “to put things in perspective, because there’s this kinda general historical principle” that vilifies the history of Europe (0:30). He presents his content as a rebuttal of this principle, based on lesser recognised historical evidence, which he has collated through his experience in studying history. Since he offers no sources, only naming one historians he quotes (David Bryan Davis at 26:31), the work is presented as his personal summation of which tellings of history are the most important to present. In ‘Mandela’, he offers both “thoughts” (0:03) and “facts” (0:54), implying his thoughts have been based on these facts, and he offers a list of sources the audience is invited to verify (1:04). He continually expresses personal condemnation for Mandela, calling him a “sociopathic idiot” (17:52), and extends these feelings to the audience, saying at 7:44 “I think this is all really important stuff to understand.”

ContraPoints sometimes offers points she has decided not to elaborate on, but that she recognises as important. In ‘Peterson’, she explains that the concept of the West is problematic in itself, but chooses not to analyse these implications closely because “we don’t have time for that right now” (24:08) Here she demonstrates her interest in postmodern arguments, but equally recognises the audience is likely growing weary of all her explaining, which she jokes about at 14:02: “boy this is a lot of explaining, it’s so much explaining it’s triggering my gender dysphoria”. Despite her sarcastic disinterest into philosophical inquiries, her knowledge and experience are clear in the anecdotes she adds of her reading experiences, such as her tolerance of Hume (12:47) and disdain for Derrida (14:52).

‘Incels’ offers an intimate look into ContraPoints’ real life experiences with dating and toxic online forums, based on her insights from “the unusual position of being a woman who dates men, who used to be a man who dates women” (17:36) and also her early gender transition which she generalises as “a painful, awkward, humiliating stage of life” (24:14). She uses her “relevant experiences” (18:10) of Tinder habits from both male and female perspectives to frame the different emotional responses for the audience, encouraging each to see the others perspective. Her personal knowledge of a toxic lgbt 4chan forum is used to frame how she built her understanding of the incel thought process, and their similar practice of “digital self-harm” which she admits to having “a long history of doing” (29:56). She follows by sharing her efforts to separate herself from these spaces (30:14), her success in improving her mental health (30:14) and an urgent plea for incels to do the same (31:07).

Both creators frame a shared identity with their audience, or a specified subset, such as common associations with early humans in the opening minute of ‘Enslavement’, women who use dating apps in ‘Incels’ (20:32), and, multiple times in every video, the audience as a whole who are performing the inquiry with the creator. In ‘Crusades’, Molyneux vaguely references an in-group of “white Western European Christians” whose legacy is Western civilisation (30:07). He implies a shared threat to Europeans and North Americans (31:49) whose Western privileges are at risk of being lost, which he expresses extreme anger for by shouting “everything we have inherited we will LOSE if we continue to attack ourselves” (32:18). He expresses frustration and genuine passion in his care for preserving Western civilisation, and this closing sentiment is a call for the audience to share this concern. In ‘Incels’, ContraPoints sarcastically frames the group investigation “from one pretend clinician to another,” addressing the audience as an exclusive group she is sharing speculations with. In ‘Peterson’, she makes assumptions that her audience shares her Marxist identity, labelling pictures of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels as “our boys” (13:22) and joking that “of course, as we all know, when Foucault died capitalism did end forever,” followed by a celebratory image stating “we did it!” (16:04). ContraPoints does include non-sarcastic instances of relating to the audience, such as references to the group inquiry (‘Peterson’ 15:33), but her mockery of her own image and that of certain out-groups or perspectives form a large portion of her content, a theme deserving its own category.

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