If Oscar Wilde were on Twitter, he might note that the only fate worse than being talked about is being canceled. Readers fortunate enough to still be dwelling on shrinking islands of civility amid the rising tide of contemporary barbarism may be forgiven for not knowing what ‘cancel culture’ is. To be canceled is to undergo the digital equivalent of people pretending that you no longer exist. Ostracism was the worst of ancient punishments, solitary confinement is the cruelest of legal modern punishments, and cancelation is the next worst thing in the lands of digitalia. Laura Loomer has been canceled. At this juncture, it may be necessary to explain who Laura Loomer is too.
Loomer is a 25-year-old internet celebrity, notorious for practicing a bizarrely modern kind of journalism, and for being banned from doing it by her expulsion from social media. No one ever confused Laura Loomer with Oscar Wilde, though both could be described as attention-seekers and cancelation-courters. Perhaps this is because Oscar Wilde had a way with a one-liner, while Laura Loomer’s digital communications were disorderly and unpunctuated. Wilde was a journalist before he was a playwright, and Loomer was a journalist before she got canceled. Her strategy was the Wildean game of turning life into performance, her tactics the Gonzo style pioneered by the tiresome Hunter S. Thompson. As this is the 21st century, not the 19th or even the 20th, Loomer’s technique mostly involved chasing down celebrities and politicians with an iPhone and shouting at them.
Loomer also made bigoted generalizations about Islam and Muslims, unhindered by any knowledge of either subject. It was this that led to her ‘deplatforming’ from Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media from which she made a considerable living. Of course, ‘deplatforming’ is a euphemism for financial and social punishment. No one could argue that Loomer had behaved badly and profited from saying nasty things, and few would argue that Loomer was making an indispensable contribution to public life. Still, did she deserve to lose her livelihood to the faceless moral policemen of the social media companies, whose principles of deplatforming are ill-considered and arbitrary? And what happens after someone is cast into the digital darkness?
Art Tavana, heedless of the risk of digital contamination, met with Loomer for a Spectator USA profile. The resulting article is a sensitive and disturbing study in the kind of modern celebrity who intuitively mirrors the demands of social media, and is then consumed by it. Each man kills the things he loves, Oscar Wilde said. Laura Loomer created a character inspired, she says, by post-9/11 paranoia and Fox News talking points, and was then wrecked because of it. Did she follow the media’s script, or her own?
On this week’s Green Room podcast, Art Tavana and I discuss the making and unmaking of Laura Loomer, and what her modern morality tale says about media, politics and the way we live. Tavana feels that Loomer’s sanity and safety are in the balance, in part because she cannot escape her notoriety, but Loomer insists that she is going nowhere: ‘I’m here forever. I’m here to stay.’