The other day, upcoming hip hop artist Pet;wolf emailed Loser City’s Kayleigh Hughes with a link to a new video he put together for his track “Dance with the Devil.” The video is decidedly lo-fi and low budget, a simple straight ahead webcam shot of Pet;wolf lipsyncing his track with occasional scratchy white out illustrations over his face, nondescript and anonymous except for a couple key details: Pet;wolf is in white face and dressed in an actual KKK outfit he bought online.
Before the election, liberal white America chose to view the symbols Pet;wolf utilizes here as artifacts of a time long past, signs of how far we had come in our struggles to be an equal society, so anytime they popped up they were nearly laughable, like the infamous proto-KKK sequences in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Now those symbols aren’t as easy to shrug off as antiques since the people who worship them have risen to the highest levels of authority in our country. Pet;wolf, and other artists who feel particularly threatened by the new “respectability” of bigots in our country have been fighting to make liberal white America acknowledge the seriousness of racism and went mostly unheard, so subversive works like “Dance with the Devil” are constructed as commentary on both recognizable racism and the failure of the white middle class to take ownership of the less obvious racism that allowed blatant bigots to regain control.
One of the most effective ways Pet;wolf accomplishes this in “Dance with the Devil” is through the video’s barebones, YouTube confessional aesthetic, mimicking the style and format that helped take fascist thought mainstream. It’s a nod to the way online communities like Reddit and 4chan enabled fascists and bigots to disseminate their messages more easily and quickly than ever before. Pet;wolf’s use of whiteface is an extension of that, replicating the anti-pc “humor” the alt-right have weaponized, flipping it so that the joke is on the awkward racist nerds who just want to be able to antagonize everyone who isn’t like them.
What’s frustrating is that it’s still mostly Pet;wolf and his peers who are creating subversive, easily shareable art like this, while the predominantly white punk scene that has cherished its right to be as offensive as possible has failed to do much more than shout “fuck Trump!” over and over. Arguably the most direct and potent offensive statement punk has made in this era so far notably came from the all black electro-punk act BLXPLTN, whose New York Fascist Week appeared shortly before the election and featured a cover involving Trump (in a MAGA hat, no less) snorting the dismembered limbs of enemies:
The album was promoted with equally powerful photography by Carlos J. Matos, featuring the band trapped in post-Katrina flood waters, with white X’s painted on their chests:
The image is a reminder of the way black America has been abandoned by middle class whites and New York Fascist Week as an album explores that even further, from the devastating anti-police brutality anthem “How Many Shots” to the sneering anti-fascist screed “Auf Weidersehen.” BLXPLTN seek to force audiences to be aware of the way outspoken black people are targeted, which is why the first video the band released from the album, “Blood on the Sand,” has them literally viewed as targets in the sights of a drone.
Both Pet;wolf and BLXPLTN want to provoke uncomfortable conversations by forcing Americans to consume imagery they wish to ignore, be it white supremacist iconography or military technology that makes it easier than ever before for us to dehumanize the populations of other nations. In the case of “Blood on the Sand,” white liberal America has turned a blind eye towards drone operations for the most part because they are happening in areas we otherwise don’t think about, but BLXPLTN are extremely aware of the fact that police departments in America are already acquiring their own drones to use on mostly non-white communities. Neither of these artists want to divide audiences but their art functions as a desperate plea for the less threatened white audiences to stand up, take notice and stop ignoring the uncomfortable truths people of color must deal with every day.
Too many white artists fall back on lazy, shallow jokes about the fascist state we are descending into. They construct homophobic illustrations of Trump and Putin together, or they unleash a torrent of mindless profanity and rude gestures that only play into the plans of the bigots. But bold acts like Pet;wolf and BLXPLTN are seizing the imagery and strategies of the fascists to use them against this enemy, and in the process shocking liberal white America into deeper awareness of the threat posed by these entities. We need white liberal America to not impotently demand a right to be rude, but to start supporting the far braver acts of radical artists of color and to pay better attention to the issues these artists are righteously shining a light on.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover