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26 April 2019updated 01 Jul 2021 12:14pm

The rise of the ironic teenage right

By Eleanor Peake

“Your average teenage art hoe is about as disposable as a journalist”, says YouTube star Sophia as she looks jovially into the camera. Sophia is good at offensive one-liners. “Nowadays, taking anus by force isn’t appropriate according to the god damn democrats,” she adds in the same video. Her channel has over 800,000 subscribers. Its USP is a careful combination of profanity and irony: the sort of mix popular with online alt-right spaces. Sophia is just 14.

When she opened her account in 2015, she was barely 11. Since then, she has totalled over 15 million views across 39 videos. Sophia is best known to her fans as Lieutenant Corbis, but more recently has changed her online name to Soph. “Lieutenant Corbis was kind of a corny name”, she tells Brittany Venti, another young, far-right YouTube star.

In all of Soph’s videos, she is alone in a room, giving monologues to the camera. She speaks with the confidence and eloquence of a man in his forties but if you were to guess her age simply from her face, you would probably aim for nine. Her content is deeply offensive, yet at times it’s unclear whether she means anything she says at all.

One of her most popular videos is titled Women are cool and should vote. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a video about female empowerment but rather a sarcastic rant dissecting the various ways women are manipulative and power-hungry. “Women, after all, are much smarter and better at decision making. That becomes obvious when you look at all the successful matriarchies in the world,” she says as she looks deadpan into the camera.

To add to the joke, she wears a black beret with a red Castro t-shirt. The video ends with a compilation of different women getting slapped around the face while a song with the lyrics “slop on my knob like corn on the cob” plays merrily over it.

Soph’s racism is as forthright as her overt misogyny. In the video, Multiracial White Supremacy, she uses the n-word and argues that being black shouldn’t prevent anyone from being a white supremacist. Yet wedged between her hateful content are videos about typical teenage life, such as the pains of middle school or “the cult of moms”.  

Soph tells me she got into YouTube by “watching Pewdiepie every day in 4th grade”, but as with most things Soph says, this is most likely back-handed. As Sarah Manavis concisely explained for the New Statesman in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, the online right frequently “shitposts” with references to “memes upon memes upon memes that have become increasingly complex over the course of years.”

Soph is aware of the heightened media awareness of Pewdiepie since the Christchurch shooting in March and it’s likely she is telling me what I want to hear in order to troll me later. Or, maybe she isn’t.

When these online spaces are so easily accessed, the hardly legible line between irony and reality becomes a gatekeeping tool for the online right, built to exclude “normies” and keep true believers in. Yet what happens when the most prolific gatekeepers are barely teenagers?

For those who have spent a significant portion of their adolescence online, it isn’t difficult to see how stars like Soph are born. “Could be YouTube autoplay raising her,” says one Reddit user on a thread dedicated to Soph. “A lot of younger kids watch insane amounts of videos on YouTube and it’s scary to think how one-sided their feed can become”. “Can confirm I went through that phase as a kid”, another user chimes in.

Yet Soph’s age is almost certainly part of her appeal. As a young girl, Soph subverts the stereotypes of the online right. Liberal Twitch star Steven Bonnell, known online as Destiny, debated Soph on a live stream in early April. The stream gained over 26,000 views.

“People that subvert these expectations often get held up as ‘icons’ to reinforce views about certain minority groups because they are self-hating, kind of like an ‘Uncle Tom’ would be,” Steven says.

For Soph, her age is irrelevant. “As long as I have had an online presence, my age has been the main source of contention in discussions about me”, Soph says in a recent video discussing YouTube’s latest child protection regulations. “Gen Z-ers have a very refreshing and interesting set of ideas,” she added.

On Soph’s Patreon page (a popular patronage website) she proposes a shared mission with her fanbase. Her site’s tagline reads that she is “creating a generation of dissidents”. Her bio urges fans to donate to her if they want to “prevent Gen Z from becoming like millennials”.

For the online right, Soph is hailed as a child prodigy. She debates adults on the left with eloquence and she laughs nonchalantly at systems of power. When I asked Soph why she relies so heavily on irony, her reply was typically curt: “the current paradigm does not deserve to be taken seriously.” But where humour only momentarily masks ideology, the laughs can only last so long. In the words of one Reddit user, “there’s no humour in it, it’s just dark, man.”

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