Written By: Baylie Raddon
In a post-September 11th world, situations are often met with skepticism, criticism, and even paranoia. Being that the last twenty years in the United States have been made up of the citizens grappling with and healing from the effects of 9/11, the creatives of the country have morphed the language of literature into something beyond what it was previously. The definition of literature has expanded with the rise of technology, and social media has given everyday people an opportunity to participate like never before. Building off of the artists before them, modern-day American creatives tend to stick to the classic the American literature theme of honoring one’s individuality, except almost to an extreme. Modern American literature sees its biggest shift, however, in the increase of irony, sarcasm, and comedy as a tool to address larger issues in a comedic manner, especially on the internet. Internet culture is growing rapidly, with the different platforms feeding off of each other and interacting as if they had a mind of their own. YouTube is one of the platforms that supplies many of the prominent internet ideas, ideas that are spread by “influencers” like Natalie Wynn who uses colorful lighting, outrageous costumes, and quick-witted humor to argue against the Alt-Right and educate the rest of the people on the internet. Her YouTube channel, ContraPoints, encapsulates the new definition of modern day American literature through expressing her unique, radical political views and debating moral and ethical dilemmas that have no clear conclusion, all the while sharing her personal struggles as a transgender woman.
Wynn demonstrates the American literature tradition of taking full advantage of free speech by relying heavily on satire and comedy as a way to communicate tough topics. In her Jordan Peterson video, ContraPoints constantly refers to the subject of the video as “daddy.” This reference to the internet trend of mocking submissive/dominant sex terminology creates a character of a submissive woman for Wynn to play. Through this character, she actually regains her power by turning a regular debate into humiliation for her opponent. By bringing the satire into the argument, Wynn shows the confidence she has in herself and in her argument. This method of humiliation is similar to the tactics used by the rich, white observers in the “Battle Royale” chapter of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Though attempting to derail participants in two different types of fights that happen for two very different reasons, the motive is the same; humiliating an opponent takes away their credibility to the audience. Though the humiliation in The Invisible Man is not humorous for the audience, both texts represent the fixation in American literature on humor. However, it is more prominent in Wynn’s media because of the shift that American literature has experienced in the risk of technology and the internet as a vessel for popular culture.
The YouTube creator also epitomizes modern American literature through her cultural criticism, a hallmark of American literature. In her video entitled “Incels,” Wynn informs her audience about a community on the popular internet forum website, Reddit, that claims that genetics and society has wronged them in such a way that has left them to be “involuntarily celibate.” These radical Redditors, or “Incels” as they are colloquially called, pose a threat to society and have even caused purposeful acts of terror; ContraPoints takes this discussion into her own hands as she explains their mindset and derails their points in her 35 minute long YouTube video that currently has 2.9 million views. She argues that their ideology stems from insecurity and repression completely fueled by their concept of masculinity. In this video she critiques the young men on internet forums who turn their resentment and sexual repression into hate speech and violence, while also criticizing the power struggle that many men feel they are a part of because of the way in which women’s roles are changing. The talk and motivation behind sexual violence in the incel community is reminiscent of Stanley’s character in Tennesse Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Both Williams and Wynn use the examples of men who feel threatened by powerful women to argue that a belief in a hierarchical aspect in gender expression can be dangerous. In the case of Stanley raping Blanche, Williams implies that it was a direct reaction to Stanley feeling unsafe in his role. Because the men and boys that Wynn brings up also feel unsafe, they band together and react, creating a force much more dangerous than one man. However, both artists argue through their examples that toxic masculinity, especially in America, leads to intense emotional repression. Wynn specifically claims that this emotional repression is especially prominent in modern America, and in the recesses of the internet, and because of that she addresses the problem on a societal level. Her emphasis on criticizing a whole movement highlights how she is a part of the modern American literature grouping.
In addition to cultural criticism, the ContraPoints YouTube channel is full of country-specific criticism, especially when it comes to the “American Dream,” which is a common theme in both classic and modern American literature. In her “Opulence” video, Wynn addresses the idea that in disenfranchised groups there is often a desire of “the aesthetic of abundance,” even if an individual has not reached actual wealth or status. Through examples pulled from today’s hip-hop to 80’s ballroom culture, she argues that faulting is a common theme amongst people of color, poor whites, and members of the LGBT community because, ultimately, the American Dream is one of opulence to represent success. In the video, she brings up that concept that wealth is attainable for anyone, but not everyone, and that with that disenfranchised people aim for opulence whether or not they are wealthy. In addition to that, she brings up the point that people “don’t actually need wealth to be opulent,” and that “opulence is not abundance…” but instead “the aesthetic of abundance,” (Wynn). She is implying that people do not need the physical wealth to attempt to present as wealth. Her argument highlights the level of denial many American citizens have about their socioeconomic status. The theme of denial is apparent in another piece of American literature, John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.” The slow realization that Cheever’s narrator has shows how immersed in his fantasy he was. This story connects the the themes in “Opulence” in that both artists are arguing that the “American Dream” has lead people into a state of constant pretending. In the last line of the swimmer, Neddy “pound[s] on the door, trie[s] to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, [sees] that the place [is] empty,” which implies that, despite his struggle to swim through the whole neighborhood to return home to his wealth, the wealth he has is unattainable because it is not existent (Cheever 148). His chase represents the same problem that Wynn argues in her video, the issue that chasing the American Dream is detrimental because it is only available to some, unless it’s obtained deceiving others into believing they are wealthy. Because Wynn critiques the American Dream through her new medium, she demonstrates what modern American literature looks like.
The ContraPoints YouTube channel demonstrates the political activism prominent in contemporary culture and media, which reflects the way in which American literature emphasizes transparency when expressing one’s individual opinion as well as criticizing the American economic system. In her “What’s Wrong with Capitalism? (Part 1)” video, she discusses what is at the root of the majority of her other arguments. Being that her main target for criticism is white men, she addresses them with the following wake-up call:
“Guys, you are not under the thumb of a Jewish, feminist plot to turn you into girly, soy-boy cucks. Cultural Marxism did not turn you into placid Ikea consumers, capitalism did. So, what you need to do is stop scapegoating non-whites, feminists and trans people and unite with the rest of us to actually do something about the real enemy” (Wynn).
By addressing the opposite side of her argument so directly, she identifies to the rest of her audience who she believes her argument is most directed to; she reveals who she wants to change. This call to action has within it has the criticism of the system that is causing strife for majorities and minorities alike: capitalism. In another part of the video she addresses how white men feel disenfranchised because the system is causing problems for them, not because minorities are. An example of a white man being disillusioned by the system but being unaware of it is Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. When talking to his wife, Willy admits that “get[s] so lonely - especially if there’s no one to talk to,” which already reveals his discontent, but then he focuses his sadness on the success of business: “I get the feeling that I’ll never sell anything again, that I won’t make a living for you, or a business, a business for the boys” (Miller 235). Like many other pieces of American literature, this play focuses on the breadwinner being unsatisfied because of the place they are in financially. This quote reveals how Willy equates his happiness with his warped sense of success. Wynn directs her arguments to people like Miller’s character. Through their pieces, Wynn and Miller are both arguing that capitalism has the ability to bog the regular, everyday citizens down, so much so that they become wildly unhappy, and even lash-out against others. Wynn argues in her “What’s Wrong with Capitalism (Part 1)” video that this unhappiness is because capitalism does not allow space for much self-expression. Wynn shows her connection to American literature by critiquing the economic system of the United States that is stopping the citizens of the country from living fully authentic lives.
Going beyond the analysis of external issues found in American literature, ContraPoints also shows the internal conflict in her honesty about her gender dysphoria and transitioning process. Wynn has addressed the political as well as the personal throughout her entire Youtube career, releasing the video “Gender Dysphoria” in 2017, coming out as transgender to her audience. In that video, she refers to her voice as “a creepy crossdresser voice,” (Wynn). Her brutal honesty about her issues with in this video shows how much of an American literature creator she is in that she fiercely adheres to her own identity. For Wynn, the cost of being inauthentic is much more than the cost of transitioning into a completely changed body, and through arguing that she reveals her complicated relationship with free speech in the United States. Being that she even criticizes the sound of her own voice in this video, she shows how part of her resents her identity, resents her desire to transition, yet by taking advantage of her platform she shows her appreciation for her ability to do so. This theme in modern American literature is built on the base that creators like Allen Ginsberg provided for future generations. Like Wynn, Ginsberg speaks his mind authentically, most notably in his poem “Howl,” in which his discusses all manner of things the general public at the time would deem “obscene.” Ginsberg writes it anyway, and as he does he says “while you are not safe I am not safe,” which reveals a similar motivation to Wynn’s (492). Ginsberg implies that while any member of his tribe is in danger, he takes it personally. Both Ginsberg and Wynn use their platforms to tell their audience about themselves, and through that, they aim to inspire their listeners to be equally authentic. These two American creators use the free-speech supposedly protected by the government they constantly criticize in order to spark a change in the people who consume their work. The two also relate in the way that “Howl” was banned for a period of time for obscenity, and the ContraPoints YouTube channel receives constant backlash for its vulgarity. Both artists find through employing their free speech, the limitations thereof. Through discussing complicated personal issues on the public stage and revealing the complexity of free speech, Natalie Wynn embodies the essence of modern American literature.
Natalie Wynn represents the new definition of American literature in that she expresses herself fiercely, whether it be through criticizing American culture, revealing her personal struggles, or making light of intense situations. She reflects the way in which the American Dream gets dissected in American literature by calling out men who are causing problems in society because of their obsession with success, just like many works of older American literature. She also pokes fun at her opponents which shows how she embodies the newer version of the craft and its connection to a social media focused society. What’s more, she takes all the practices of classic American literature a step further and represents the contemporary culture. She displays her view of the post 9/11 war caked in sarcasm, and through it she basks in the irony of people, who would probably call her a “sensitive snowflake,” getting wildly offended at her sentiments. The way in which she utilizes her free speech also shows how the very people who are riddled with fear and skepticism have become more comfortable with speaking their minds because few things can scare them after the effects of September 11th.
Handley Finalist - Baylie is a second-year student at Pasadena City College where she tutors in the writing center and takes more English classes than she needs to transfer. She plans on getting a PhD in either English Literature or Linguistics, that is, if she can stand being on this side of academia for 6+ more years. She participated in National Novel Writing Month and published The Flipside when she was thirteen. She loves few things more than the scene in The Stranger where the old man is crying for his dog in the hallway and Meursault thinks of Maman.
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