The prevailing philosophy in the world today, one that’s probably valid, is to refuse to give any further oxygen to the noxious beliefs of the alt-right. The Internet, after all, gave them the platform that has allowed them and their toxic swill to ascend to the halls of power, or at least, of influence, and only the Internet can take it away; therefore, we should all collectively stop following them on Twitter, publishing a million outraged hot takes on their latest provocations, and generally ignore them back into oblivion.
However. Something happened over the weekend that I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t share with you. It was something I have been expecting to happen since Pepe the Frog first emerged from the swamp I keep hearing someone is planning to drain: a white supremacist unironically tweeted a clip from the 1972 Bob Fosse-directed musical film Cabaret, in which an angelic faced youth (or “twink,” as one may prefer to call him) leads the denizens of a Berlin beer garden in a rousing singalong of a patriotic hymn with the refrain “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” As the song reaches its operatic crescendo, the youth raises his hand in a stiff-armed gesture, and the camera pans down to reveal the swastika adoring his otherwise nondescript brown shirt. And thus does the audience—and Michael York as Brian Roberts, the Christopher Isherwood stand-in that the audience is intended to identify with—absorb a sinister sense of what is happening to Germany and of the horrors that are to come.
So like I said, I’ve been expecting some idiot neo-Nazi to not understand the intent of the satirical song and to share it with his followers for some time. I just didn’t expect it would be the current neo-Nazi in Chief, the indomitable Richard Spencer. And I certainly didn’t expect that he would get so immediately and hilariously owned by Missouri Democratic senatorial candidate/war hero Jason Kander, who took it upon himself to point out to Spencer that the song he was touting as a prophecy of America’s brave and racially pure future was written by his uncle, the legendary musical theater composer John Kander (who wrote Cabaret, and Chicago, and basically invented the entity we know as Liza Minnelli, by her own admission), as a parody of overwrought and sentimental Nazi anthems. Behold:
Spencer, as I believe the kids are saying these days, got PWNED.
And it also made me think: I mean, who knew Richard Spencer was such a show queen? Has he always been interested in musical theater, and could his entire career be the result of a simple misunderstanding? When I was a kid and played one of the orphans in Annie (alas, not Annie) the girl who did get the title role allowed her identification to be terrifyingly complete for years after the production ended—dressing up as Annie for Halloween, drawing pictures of Annie for classroom projects. Might something similar have happened to Spencer? Might he, say, have gone a little too Method in the role of Rolf in a high school production of The Sound of Music, taken the actor’s maxim that one must be on the side of one’s own character a little too much to heart, and wound up terribly confused about who the hero was actually supposed to be?
There’s only one way to find out. These are serious times, and we are all theater producers now. We have to correct the imbalance. We must crowdfund a new, remedial production of The Sound of Music, and prevail upon Spencer’s clear love of an audience (and his weakness for a finely tailored suit) to convince him to take the leading—and corrective—role of Captain Georg von Trapp. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll figure out who the good guys actually are, or maybe he’ll just be too busy with rehearsals and research to engage in much “activism.” Either way, we won’t be seeing him again for a very, very long time.
Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.