Alex Jones is a bad artist

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Alex Remnick, Portrait of Alex Jones (2019)

In the spring of 2017, Alex Jones, the founder of the InfoWars and infamous conspiracy theorist, appeared at a custody hearing where his lawyer characterized him as a “performance artist,” and that his behavior on The Alex Jones Show should not be taken into consideration in the proceedings, because it was satire.

Before I go any further, I would like to be perfectly clear about what I think of Alex Jones as a person. I believe that he is a fraud and a propagandist, a dishonest bigot, a vile misogynist, and every other -ist in the book. He’s an amoral charlatan who stokes fear in the general public in order to sell snake oil supplements. But for a moment, let’s do the impossible, and attempt to take Jones at his word. If he is truly a performance artist, than what is his art doing?

The most notable thing that Jones does in his work is to blur the line between satire and sincerity. As a point of contrast, let’s begin by looking at the work of a similarly popular  personality on the other end of the political spectrum, John Oliver, whose writing and delivery style is meticulously designed to separate the joke from the information. Take this clip from Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, discussing the effects of automation on labor.

 

Oliver makes two arguments in the clip: that automation is often the safer option on dangerous worksites, and that the best way to murder a lumberjack is to “wait for them to die in an accident.” Notice how the art on the left switches as the tone shifts towards the joke — from a documentary still to an uncanny stock photo of a lumberjack. (Much like its predecessor, The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight tends to use stock imagery and photo-collage as a signifier of satire. Collages are never made to look entirely convincing, but rather cartoonish, detached from reality) Notice how Oliver reassures the audience that what he is saying is no longer being said in earnest. When we get to the punchline, we understand it as such — not as a statement of fact — because it has been presented in the form of a joke.

If Alex Jones is kidding, then he is not making it easy to tell. Take this clip from the early days of The Alex Jones show.

 

Jones presents the world as a swirling discordance of lies and deceit, one where only he has the answers. He provides no corroboration for his statements, but hints that he may or may not possess damning evidence too sensitive to publicize. When he does fess up to being wrong, he generally does so under legal duress, as with his divorce hearing, or his admission that Pizzagate had no basis in reality.

If Jones is a performance artist, then what are to we to make of the InfoWars store? Are the nutraceuticals Jones makes millions selling actual dietary supplements? If so, then they aren’t very good. Are they to be viewed instead as an extension of his artistic career? Is each capsule in a bottle of DNA Force Plus a tiny, swallowable sculpture representing, say, America’s collective paranoia, or perhaps the commercialization of health and wellness? Does it matter if the people who spend $149 dollars on a bottle of art do not understand they are being fed a placebo?

What too are we to make of Paul Joseph Watson, the English commentator who is part of the InfoWars network? Watson has produced at least three separate scathing segments chastising modern art and art criticism as “completely meaningless.”

Conceptual art is shit. It doesn’t enrich our culture. It degrades and cheapens society by exalting the vulgar, the crass, and the scatological. And the people promoting it are preventing us from enjoying modern art, produced by artists with actual talent. 

 

The only available hint of satire in Watson’s delivery is the sarcasm he uses to thinly mask his utter disdain. Are we, the viewer, to understand that Watson is weaving a complex, satirical meta-narrative on the evolution of art? How are we to interpret the way he repurposes the concept of the “degenerate art show” for the internet age? (Watson goes so far as to wink to the Entartete Kunst, an show organized by the Nazi artist, Alfred Ziegler, meant to mock the supposed vacuous nature of modern art.)

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What are we to make of Watson’s dog whistles to protecting “heritage” and “ancestors?” His implication that the single marker of art’s greatness is the European Renaissance? If InfoWars is to be understood as lampoonery, then to what end does it serve, other than society’s own cannibalization?

There is one bright spot in all of this. Since Jone’s declaration that his work be considered “performance art” two years ago, he has received little endorsement from the art world itself. As of March, 2019, Jones has no known gallery shows, no known grants or fellowships, and none of his “work” has shown up at any known auctions. Most importantly, he has been de-platformed from Twitter and YouTube, his two largest soapboxes, and arguably the most comprehensive archive of his art. Perhaps this is why Jones dispenses with his English errand boy to savage the art establishment. Maybe Jones feels that if he can’t attain artistic credibility, then no one should be able to.

I guess I’ll leave you with this…

 

 

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