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The Second Time as Farce:
The Remarkable Return of Richard Spencer

[1]

“We will ritualistically humiliate them!”

2,444 words

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste[1] [2]

He liked looking forward to his pleasures, to stolen exeats between the working hours. He enjoyed day-dreaming about them, down to the smallest detail.[2] [3]

While reading Nicholas Jeelvy’s latest installment on the Groyper Wars, [4] a commenter, one Shane, suggested viewing an “evisceration” of Richard Spencer by Nick Fuentes, which was “hilarious.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link, and found myself plummeting down the latest Dissident Right rabbit hole.

Here’s the Nick Fuentes version [5]. And for study purposes, here’s the original clip [6].

And for further study, here’s a transcript:

I’ve had some good burgers in my time. Uh, I . . . I love a good swiss, melted swiss cheese and mush– roasted mushrooms[3] [7] and caramelized onions on a burger. Uh, that is hot stuff. You can get that at, at a number of different places.

I was immediately captivated by this fourteen-second clip; as were, I soon discovered, thousands of others, to count only those who chose to post some comment or meme. It had quickly become the most analyzed and commented-upon clip, per frame, since the Zapruder film [8].

Commenter Shane helpfully added later that “the [Daily] Stormer has create[d] a sea of memes out of it,” from the main banner [9] to this gem [10]. Later Anglin himself posted a collection of memes, under the title “Revolt Against the Modern Burger [11].”

What is the fascination with this clip? What makes it meme-worthy?

To start with, although it’s a video clip, the visuals are not that interesting. Although the comments under the YouTube videos are necessarily limited to text, even the visual memes simply juxtapose the text of Spencer’s remarks to some vaguely related image. Even the commenters often do nothing but reiterate Spencer’s remarks verbatim, as if it were a motto or pledge by which they were swearing or demonstrating allegiance to something, or a really good joke that could bear repeating over and over and just gets funnier every time [12].

What is it about this simple, really rather banal statement? Well, it’s the banality itself. I found myself asking, why is this man saying this? Why is he bothering to say this? I mean, in a world of five-hour livestreams, there’s a lot of dead air to fill, but still . . .

I found myself recalling my days in graduate school, studying Kierkegaard; specifically, his Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846),[4] [13] and the story he tells to illustrate how objective truth can be akin to madness. As Elliot Kaufman tells [14] it:

A young man escapes from a mental asylum. He quickly realizes that to evade detection, he needs to convince the mentally sound that he is one of them. He reasons that if he sticks to the objective truth, no one will doubt his sanity. Consequently, every step he takes and to every person he meets, the patient repeats, “The Earth is round. The Earth is round. The Earth is round.” He is returned to the asylum immediately.

Kaufman leaves out the detail that the lunatic places a ball in the back pocket of his frock coat, and as he walks along, the ball hits him on the ass, each time prompting his statement. But I could see no such ball hitting Spencer’s ass. The answer must lie elsewhere.

My next thought was American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, but Bateman’s deadpan recitations of brand names [15] are meant to shore up the vacuum of his personality with high-end brand names and status symbols; he’d never be describing a hamburger you can get “at a number of different places.”

In the darkly satirical world of Bret Easton Ellis’ cult novel American Psycho, dining out is a shared obsession among Patrick Bateman and his Wall Street cronies, who brag about reservations at Dorsia and trade stories about the sea urchin at Le Bernardin. For these moneyed, name-dropping yuppies, food is status – it’s not so much what you’re eating, but where and with whom. In fact, they’re usually too drunk or knocked out on Xanax to actually enjoy a meal; instead, they poke at grotesque creations – pasta with fennel and banana, peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash – while reciting lines cribbed from Gourmet and New York magazine (that peanut butter soup is a “playful but mysterious little dish,” Bateman famously tells his date).[5] [16]

Mud soup and charcoal arugula, yes. Mushroom burger with swiss, no.

But then it hit me: the Fleming Effect! It was Kingsley Amis who coined the phrase, describing it in The James Bond Dossier [17][6] [18] as “the imaginative use of information, whereby the pervading fantastic nature of Bond’s world . . . [is] bolted down to some sort of reality, or at least counter-balanced.” When applied to guns or hydrofoils, the reader feels assured that he is in the hands of an expert; but when applied to more mundane matters, such as food and drink, it becomes controversial: many readers feel Bond comes off as a snob or know-it-all.

The Fleming Effect comes a cropper especially when dealing with America. Fleming supposedly had contempt for America in general, but was still fascinated by its exotic details. Unfortunately, he’s often out-of-date; his gangsters talk like they’re in ‘30s Warner Bros. films, while his “negroes” speak in a Steppin’ Fetchit dialect so lovingly transcribed as to be unreadable.

But it’s here where Spencer comes up, as Fleming often finds the most mundane details of life in these United States as worthy of comment as a fine English fowling piece.[7] [19]

For example, in “007 in New York” (later reprinted as “James Bond in New York”), an exceptionally minor story from 1963, Bond looks forward with some relish to enjoying dinner at the Plaza (today’s Trump Plaza, of course), where on a previous visit he had already taught the chef how to make . . . scrambled eggs.

This is so important that Fleming gives us a footnote, detailing the exact method, which I shall also provide you here and now:

Recipe for Scrambled Eggs “James Bond” from “007 in New York”

12 fresh eggs

Salt and pepper

5-6 oz. of fresh butter

Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy bottomed saucepan) melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk.

While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove the pan from heat, add rest of butter and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittinger) and low music.

I would have loved to watch the face of the head chef of the Plaza as Bond detailed this recipe.[8] [20]

And, to return to the return of Richard Spencer, I can certainly see his face, and hear his voice, delivering this bulletin. And indeed, Fleming did not neglect the humble burger [21], although unlike Spencer he seems to have been maddeningly vague on the details:

In the 1950s, however, the hamburger was still sufficiently exotic and regional, at least to visitors to the USA, for Ian Fleming to include it in James Bond’s quintessentially American meal, along with soft shell crabs [22] and ice-cream with butterscotch sauce [23], at New York’s St Regis Hotel in Live and Let Die (1954). In the text, Bond consumes what are described as ‘flat beef Hamburgers’. He clearly has more than one, but how many (two? three?) is uncertain. And are Bond’s burgers encased in buns? Again, we don’t know, although I suspect that the burgers are presented without the usual trimmings. The recipe here is adapted from Mary McBride’s Harvest of American Cooking, published in 1957, just a few years after the publication of Live and Let Die. It’s possible that Bond’s burger or, rather, the burgers that Fleming is likely to have eaten during his visits to the country, tasted something like this.[9] [24]

Spencer, in short, seems to be unconsciously channeling Fleming’s Bond at his most pretentious and, simultaneously, most banal; becoming in the process as eminently meme-worthy as Bond himself. In fact, I thought I would try my hand at a little Fleming/Spencer pastiche:

Bond scanned the menu. He liked these American “burger” places and had sternly vetoed Felix’s suggestion that they stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken (Bond refused to call it “KFC,” he hated the whole modern obsession with speed and abbreviation). “When I’m on the job, I only order one burger, but it must be very large, very good, and very hot.” Felix smiled and shook his head; he knew he was in for another epicurean lecture. “The cheese must be Swiss, or a very good Jarlsberg at least, and the mushrooms must be roasted, never sautéed – it bruises them. You can only get a good one at a number of different places.” “What to drink, James, Coke or Pepsi?” Bond fixed Leiter with a cold, implacable stare from his damnably blue eyes. “Do I look like someone who cares?” Felix shrugged, and Bond gathered up both of their large, plastic-coated and slightly greasy menus and folded them while mentally preparing how he would instruct the waitress.

Not bad, eh? Alas, there’s not much market today for Bond novel parodies.[10] [25]

To return to Richard, however: The final, real genius of his little monologue is that it’s banal in not only content but form as well. What pushes it over the top – and still triggers a laugh from me – is the deflationary conclusion: You can get that in a lot of places. He sounds like the novel Bond when he’s actually describing some exclusive dish at some exotic locale: shark chowder at Puss-Fella’s shack off Bay Street in Nassau; but then it just thuds back to Earth with, “You can get that in a lot of places.”

It’s really quite brilliant, though accidental; the sort of thing “you just can’t make up.”[11] [26] While I guess it’s not worth wading through any more five-hour podcasts to find more such jewels, we have this one!

And, lucky for Spencer, we do. You may have noticed that Spencer has been a bit out of the news lately, and mentions of him that do occur tend to be a bit, um, negative. In public life, he can walk the streets without fear of being sucker-punched, and in his favorite restaurants, instead of the heartening “We don’t serve Nazis like you,” it’s “Do you want fries with that?”

While his political calculations may have come to naught, sheer luck – O, Fortuna! – may have granted him a reprieve. Finally, Spencer is famous for something other than “Hail Trump!” His off-the-cuff burger review is the “Hitler rants [27]” of the Dissident Right.

They say there are no second acts in American life, but Richard Spencer – the Fitzgerald, if not the Gatsby, of the Alt Right – has done it. While his deliberate, cunning [28] plans made him a hated figure across the political spectrum, this accidental moment of surreal banality may have transformed him into the man we love to hate.[12] [29]

Notes

[1] [30]Sympathy for the Devil [31]” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; performed by The Rolling Stones, Decca single, 1969.

[2] [32] Ian Fleming, “James Bond in New York” (1963; reprinted in Octopussy and The Living Daylights [Las Vegas: Thomas & Mercer, 2012]), p. 93.

[3] [33] Who the hell says “roasted mushrooms”? Does he mean sautéed? Are the mushrooms stuck along a stick and flamebroiled, like shish kebab? Or pan-roasted in the oven?

[4] [34] Want to share the fun? Read along with Prof. Ralph Henry Johnson’s textbook, The Concept of Existence in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1972). There are a number of Scandinavian jokes along the lines of “What happened to the escaped Danish lunatic? He’s now the Mayor of Oslo,” with various substitutions.

[5] [35] Chris Schonberger, “American Psycho 2014: Where Would Patrick Bateman Eat and Drink in Contemporary New York? [36]” Another, earlier article asks “Have the Dorsia’s of the world been replaced by Shake Shacks? [37]”; the latter also notes that The Four Seasons, mentioned by Bateman, “is also the first restaurant in the US to cook with fresh mushrooms (as opposed to dried).”

[6] [38] Kingsley Amis, The James Bond Dossier (London: Pan Books, 1966), pp. 111-12.

[7] [39] The very best are custom-made by James Purdey & Sons [40]., hence the Bondish name of former Bond Girl Joanna Lumley’s Bondish character [41] in The New Avengers.

[8] [42] Fleming was apparently obsessed with scrambled eggs; only three Bond novels do not feature someone, usually Bond, eating them. “Scrambled Eggs James Bond [43]” helpfully provides a rundown. “In How To Write A Thriller, Fleming mentions that so frequent was Bond’s consumption of scrambled eggs in an early draft of Live And Let Die that a proof-reader pointed out to him the security risked [sic] this posed to Bond, writing that whoever was following him need only walk into a restaurant and ask, ‘Was there a man here eating scrambled eggs?’

“Although Fleming reduced the number of times the dish is mentioned in his second book, it is still a dish James Bond enjoys frequently. The first morning after arriving in New York in Live And Let Die, Bond calls room service after he wakes to order scrambled eggs, bacon, orange juice and coffee.

“And later, on the train to Florida, he and Solitaire dine on scrambled eggs and bacon with sausages (along with salad and Camembert and dry martinis). Then, after discreetly slipping off the train in the early hours in order to escape the ever-watchful gaze of Mr Big, they order the dish again. At a Jacksonville diner Bond orders them both scrambled eggs, orange juice and coffee for breakfast.

“Finally, after arriving in Jamaica Bond eats scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast with Blue Mountain coffee along with the tropical additions of paw-paw, red bananas, purple star-apples, tangerines and guava jelly.”

[9] [44] Piz Gloria, site of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is not one of many places you can get the burger à la Spencer or Bond; despite the “007” branding (literally), I suspect this is more like the Blofeld Burger [45].

[10] [46] Such as 1962’s Alligator, by the same chaps at the Harvard Lampoon who later gave us Bored of the Rings [47]; Amis rather liked it (op. cit., p. 64).

[11] [48] Like, for instance, RussiaGate.

[12] [49] Well, actually the subtrope of “Laughably Evil [50],” as defined by John Cleese: “The strange thing about comedy is that if an awful character makes people laugh, people feel affectionate towards him. It’s insane because if they had to sit next to him for five minutes at a dinner, they would absolutely not be able to cope with him. They would loathe him. But because he makes them laugh, they think, deep down, he’s alright.”