Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cynthia Miller-Idriss's "The Extreme Gone Mainstream"

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is associate professor of education and sociology and director of the International Training and Education Program at American University. Her books include Blood and Culture: Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary Germany.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Extreme Gone Mainstream: Commercialization and Far Right Youth Culture in Germany, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is representative of important claims I make about why extremism appeals to youth. It falls near the end of a chapter in which I discuss the role of fantastical and mythical narratives in the recruitment and radicalization of far right youth. Earlier in the chapter I trace the ways in which what I call ‘myths of sacred origin’ work—through a combination of a designated golden age with consecrated, hallowed territory, a restoration narrative in which individuals are revered and redeemed through mortal sacrifice for the good of the collective, a reliance on ethnic purity and blood-based origins, and some sort of magical thinking involving gods, heroes, and legends. In Germany, I show, the far right’s sacred origin narrative blended two sets of mythical sagas—the myth of Aryan racial ‘stock’ and the myth of Nordic descent—which together has held powerful sway for the extreme right since well before the Nazi era. I then analyze the way in which these Nordic origin myths and fantasies show up in commercialized clothing marketed to the far right, and what young people had to say about the iconography and messages in that clothing. Page 99 marks the part of the chapter where I begin an elaboration of why sacred origin narratives might appeal to disenfranchised youth during a period of postmodern uncertainty.

Nordic myths and fantasies, as I explain in this chapter, do several things for far right youth. For example, they evoke whiteness and Aryan-ness without using illegal or taboo symbols, and identify aspirational traits like heroism, strength, loyalty, integrity, devotion, and purity. But what page 99 introduces is the notion that sacred origin myths appeal to far right youth because of the ways in which they position Germans as poised to restore a golden era in which Germanic tribes were the apex of civilizations. In this sense, they enable utopian anticipation of an alternative future world. This kind of fantasy or magical thinking may be particularly appealing to individuals who are unable to cope in the uncertainty of the postmodern era, when increasing mobility, transformation in family structures, and a loss of predictable careers can make life seem far more isolated, uprooted and anxious. In the remainder of the book, I examine similar themes through an analysis of death symbols, global iconography, and expressions of masculinity in the clothing and brands.
Visit Cynthia Miller-Idriss's website.

--Marshal Zeringue