Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.
In 2016, when Professor Jordan Peterson refused to call students by their preferred gender pronouns, he considered it an expression of his free speech. If he found it reasonable to refuse to call people by gender neutral pronouns, surely he’d have no problem with, say, a comic book twisting his identity in a similar fashion? Wrong.
The Marvel superhero comic Captain America launched a new issue in April. In this latest edition, Captain America is pitted against his old enemy, Red Skull. This time, Red Skull is using the internet to radicalize young men to his cause. The villain’s techniques are clear pastiches of Peterson’s work. For instance, Red Skull teaches his followers the 10 rules for life, while Peterson’s bestselling book is called the 12 Rules for Life.
How did Jordan Peterson react to this storyline? He could have said something like, “I find this in poor taste, but because I believe in free speech, I have no choice but to accept this parody of me.” Instead, when someone tweeted an image of one panel of the comic, which clearly parodied his ideas, with an image of Red Skull on a laptop surrounded by Peterson-esque notions like “CHAOS AND ORDER,” he responded with the following eloquent statement: “What the hell?” A little later, he also asked, “Do I really live in a universe where Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a Captain America comic featuring a parody of my ideas as part of the philosophy of the arch villain Red Skull?”
Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who is a faculty member at the University of Toronto. He has gained notoriety on YouTube for his controversial videos, which brand themselves as philosophical self-help and cultural commentary. However, as many have pointed out, his arguments are filled with outlandish claims. For instance, in one 2018 video of an interview he gave with the columnist Christie Blatchford, titled “Jordan Peterson on the #metoo Moment,” Peterson spends almost seven minutes talking about how not all men have conducted sexual assaults and how the #MeToo movement is an attack on masculinity (and also an attack on competence, categories and so on.) This video has gained over 3.7 million views to date.
The contradiction of Jordan Peterson is obvious when you compare this video with his reaction to his satirization in Captain America. When women are highlighting how society enables sexual predators to commit terrible crimes against them, he concludes that it’s, “leading to the eradication of the legal system.” When an issue of Captain America satirizes him, his reaction is, “What the hell?” To Peterson, when a comic parodies him, some kind of terrible injustice has taken place. When women come forward with harrowing experiences of sexual assault, he believes that these claims are dangerous for society.
Personally, I strongly disagree with the majority of what Jordan Peterson has to say, but I do believe in free speech, as Peterson supposedly does. I think that Peterson should be allowed to state his views, even if I disagree with them. But he needs to understand that free speech works both ways. If you say things like the Me Too movement is an attack on masculinity, then don’t be surprised when writers turn you into a comic book villain!
This right-wing free speech double standard is not at all restricted to Peterson, of course. In the UK, when Nigel Farage, the head of the far right political party UKIP and architect of Brexit, released a Christmas card of a van driving over his political rivals, it was all fun and games. But when a TV parody character of him, Neil Fromage, got shot to death in a storyline, he called it “totally sick.” When former President Donald Trump spent years saying incredibly hateful and racist things, he called it all a joke. But when Saturday Night Live made fun of him, he tweeted, “How do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?”
This is why I, a 30-year-old hetereosexual man, have never seen Jordan Peterson, or right-wing arguments in general, as appealing. By all measures of demographics, I should. Jordan Peterson’s core audience is young men. But I disagree when he makes claims such as feminism is an assault on masculinity and that victimhood will lead to extremism. These arguments crumble away when Peterson acts like the “snowflakes” that he’s railing against, as with his reaction to his parody in Captain America.
Why is Peterson contradicting himself so strongly? It’s almost as if he wants to be in the spotlight because he has something to promote. And that’s because he does. He just released a new pseudoscientific tome, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. Naturally, he wants to sell as many copies of this book to disenfranchised young men as possible. He must have seen a golden opportunity to promote himself when he saw that he’d been parodied in Captain America. You don’t need to be an expert in marketing to realize that there’s a large cross section of individuals who read comic books and who want to read a guide on how to be a man and how society is supposedly screwing them over.
I do not think that Jordan Peterson’s views should be suppressed, because I believe in freedom of expression. I just think that if he is such an advocate of free speech, then he should accept the idea that people may criticize him and parody him. I also think that his outrage at his depiction in Captain America should be highlighted for what it really is: a marketing ploy. At the end of the day, Jordan Peterson is a snake oil salesman, with the snake oil being testosterone. The best way to point this out is by highlighting and mocking it, even if he pretends to be outraged by such activities.
Photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images