As of late, the conservative movement has been noticeably bereft of truly invigorating charisma, besieged instead by the irrational exuberance of tea-baggers and perilously commandeered by pseudo-leaders like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. As it has been for years, the right wing remains a space largely populated by America’s more aged citizens, while the progressive movement is almost synonymous with “young people.” But say hello to Steven Crowder. Young, photogenic, and Canadian, Crowder is quickly blurring the lines between comedy, reporting, and fringe hate-speech, creating a style of vulgar conservative demagoguery all his own.
Born in Detroit and raised in Montreal, Quebec, the 22-year-old actor-comedian has recently captured the attention of the thousands of conservatives in search of ideological reaffirmation. Formerly the voice of Alan “The Brain” Powers, of the popular children’s show Arthur, Crowder reworked his image in 2006, when he took the stage at Just for Laughs, a comedy festival held annually in Montreal. Since then, his conservative comedy act has seen his popularity surge, especially on the Internet. On YouTube, he’s earned more than 4.5 million total video views, and over 25,000 subscribers. Such fanfare has landed him appearances on XM Radio, Hannity’s America, and Your World with Neil Cavuto. He’s even been invited to do USO shows, an honor he quickly sullies with a glaringly trite, homophobic routine.
Depending on your political sensibilities, a glance at any of Crowder’s dozens of YouTube films might leave you a bit concerned—the fact of the matter is, he’s undoubtedly media-savvy and, though his jokes are rarely funny, he’s got the timing and delivery of a deft comedian. Nevertheless, beneath the fast-paced editing, kitsch filmography, and exaggerated impressions, there lies an almost proactive dedication to ignorance.
Now a regular contributor to the far-right online media outlet Pajamas Media TV, Crowder has started a series of guerrilla style videos, films for which he goes undercover to ascertain the “true stories” that the “liberal mainstream media” conspires to keep secret.
In one, a visit to Guantanamo Bay, Crowder exposes the “true” conditions of prisoner treatment at the base. Opening the segment with establishing shots of a sandy paradise and a cheerful bounty of friendly people, Crowder’s “investigation” concludes that prisoners are granted unfathomably generous benefits, including regular access to video games, recreational time, self-improvement classes, and views of a perfect sunset.
Of course, throughout his exposé, Crowder conveniently avoids reporting on much more legitimate findings concerning treatment of Gitmo detainees, and that things are continually getting worse in the prison. He also totally ignores issues that have been the crux of the Guantanamo debate since its inception: the denial of legal and procedural rights to its many occupants.
Indefensible misrepresentations abound in Crowder’s other videos as well: Undocumented immigrants are portrayed as stupid and shiftless, and told to “simply ring the bell and come in through the front door.” U.S. torture techniques are described as mere “pinkbellies.” “Idiots” promoting peace are characterized as simultaneously intent on destroying morality. Embryonic stem cell research has no promise. The mere allowance of same-sex marriage will actually force churches to wed same-sex couples. Islam is attacked as inherently more violent than Judaism and Christianity. And, of course, everyone’s (but mostly Glenn Beck’s) favorite: Obama’s policies can be reasonably compared to those of Hitler and Stalin.
Amazingly, rampant, vehement bigotry and considerable contradictions aren’t the most dangerous part of Crowder’s increasingly obnoxious schtick. That, after all, wouldn’t separate him from several other shouting heads populating cable news. Rather, most shocking is the unflinching morbidity with which Crowder seeks to make his arguments.
Disturbingly, many of the young man’s videos include macabre—and even patently violent—overtones. Guns are drawn, aimed, or waved in almost every one of Crowder’s videos. And characters are frequently shot dead. In an anti-PETA screed, he fakes beating an unruly dog. In another, Crowder dresses in drag as Nancy Pelosi, who is then forced to the ground and waterboarded as Crowder stands over her yelling “Shutup, you old bag!”
Crowder’s pleasure with himself and his sadistic use of physical power is obvious, thanks mostly to his expressive gestures, facial reddening, shrill vocal manipulations, and erratic hand movements. But his glee belies the worrisome nature of his work. Steeped in bigotry and violent humiliation, the point of most of the clips seems clear: Liberalism is a threatening pathology in need of urgent, punitive extermination—by whatever means are at hand.
Such violent proclivities cause Crowder’s videos to come off as more gross, twisted fantasy than illuminating analysis. Worse still, and ironic, is that they’re all also precipitated by a false sense of moral superiority—I’m better than Nancy Pelosi, so I have no problem pretending to beat and torture a caricature of her.
Exacerbating everything is Crowder’s large following, which proves that he’s clearly tapping into some deep wellspring of discontent throughout the country (and doing so in ways that reinforce feelings of estrangement, exclusion, and irreconcilable differences). Troublingly, as of today, the video in which Crowder mocks drowning a defenseless 69-year-old woman already had over 100,000 views.
Delaney Rohan is a former intern for Campus Progress and is pursuing his master’s degree at American University.