ANTISOCIAL by Andrew Marantz
Kirkus Star


Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
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A searching study of the right-wing gate-crashers who have overwhelmed social media in the Trump era.

New Yorker staff writer Marantz is fond of Martin Luther King’s arc of history/arc of justice trope, though he allows that King himself wasn’t quite as optimistic as his famed aphorism might suggest: We bend the arc of history, he notes, and it’s pretty twisted at the moment. More to the point is political philosopher Richard Rorty’s 20-year-old warning that the decline of progressivism meant that the only political figures “channeling the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed” would be populists on the right. Bingo, and with them, Rorty added, would come the rollback of civil rights gains, to say nothing of heightened misogyny and socially acceptable sadism. Marantz’s travels into the camps of those right-wingers at the gates proves Rorty correct, and the author clearly documents their use of social media to advance right-wing causes, leveraging such vehicles as Facebook, whose owner, Mark Zuckerberg, pleaded innocence by insisting “that Facebook was a platform, not a publisher.” Some of the figures that Marantz covers are self-serving disrupters who threw verbal grenades into the crowd just to see what would happen. Others are true believers, notably the alt-right figure Richard Spencer, who turns up at odd moments. Some are even more or less reputable journalists who weren’t upset to see the “smug little cartel” of the establishment press taken down a few notches by the Trump administration. TV news, “dominated by horse-race politics and missing planes and viral outrage,” may be bad, writes Marantz, but what if what comes along next is worse? He makes his own case, wading into the throngs of rightist influencers with some trepidation but no effort to disguise his establishment credentials. It’s not a happy picture, but Marantz does offer some hope in the evident splintering of the right as the provocateurs discover that “all memes eventually outlast their utility.”

Invaluable political reportage in a time of crisis—and with little comfort in sight.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-525-52226-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019