My Own Dimes Square Fascist Humiliation Ritual
A nightmarish psychedelic journey through a literal theater of cruelty self-destruction psychosis
This past Friday I attended the filming of Peter Vack’s new movie, www.RachelOrmont.com, and I found myself in a literal theater of cruelty self-destruction psychosis. What I thought was going to be a “filmed party” where I would be interviewed for 60 seconds and then float around observing people turned out to be an hours-long public humiliation ritual in which I was put on trial as revenge for a negative Substack review of a movie made by Peter and his sister, Betsey Brown. The shaming centered around collective ridicule of the way I write about a “fascist tendency” in New York’s downtown wannabe art scene, but what it ultimately did was expose this tendency in all its naked, pathetic sadism. Allowing myself to be humiliated without breaking was intensely empowering and harrowing of the self, giving me a new understanding of my own art—as both a mirror and a bomb for “this strange downtown world of mystic cranks, proto-fascists, and abortive avant-gardes.”
This past April I was invited by the Ion Pack, the hosts of the Ion Podcast, to watch Betsey Brown’s deep fringe underground movie Actors at the Roxy Cinema, under the impression that I would write a review of the movie. I hadn’t had any previous association with Betsey Brown, Peter Vack, or the Ion Pack, but the Ion Pack guys had read my review of Matt Gasda’s play Dimes Square, which they then skewered on their podcast. The Dimes Square play review was the first in an ongoing arc of cultural-criticism blogging that explores today’s downtown scene. And although I didn’t mention the Ion Pack specifically in that initial piece, I made fun of a bunch of targets that resembled them. It was after I tweeted a link to their podcast delighted at what they were saying about my writing—“the absolute worst kind of guy”… “he doesn’t even mention us... it just got me angry, got me thinking” … “it’s like a Godard thing” … “the most insane thing I've ever read, low key”—that I guess they figured I had some self-awareness and a sense of humor about it all. So then they reached out and invited me to review this movie that they were promoting—Betsey Brown’s Actors—assuring me that this is the “real downtown scene.” Eager to capitalize on what I had already written and probe deeper into this world ripe for critical engagement, I agreed to review the movie, which was basically Tootsie—if Tootsie was about how the most mentally ill and shameful thing for a cis person to do is to think it’s better to be a trans person. (This was the source of minstrel humor, too, the simultaneous devaluation of black people and the mockery of the potential for white people to “act” black, to become black even.)
This was the first review I had written in New York with an invitation, rather than as an infiltrator, and I was thrown off by the pressure of being “welcomed” for the first time. As I was trying to make a clean, anonymous break from the theater after the movie, Curtis from the Ion Pack caught me and introduced himself. I ended up having a conversation with Curtis, his cohost, KJ, which was soon joined by Betsey and Peter Vack, who had both answered questions in a Q&A period after the screening. They were all friendly, which I found suspicious since I had already positioned myself as a “communist” critic who was skeptical, if not outright hostile, toward most of their ideas about art. But Curtis seemed to relate to a certain “trolling” aspect in my writing, sharing a view of art and internet content creation that embraced irreverence and shit-stirring. He asked me what I thought of Actors, and I said that I was still thinking about it, but that I enjoyed the experience of coming to the theater to see something that invited critical interrogation in the same way that I had enjoyed Dimes Square. Curtis said he felt the accusations of transphobia toward the film were overblown, and that as long as one looked past their preoccupations with identity politics they could just appreciate the movie for the art that it is. He asked if I agreed. I tried to signal my ambivalence because I knew that transness was central to the movie, whether or not the creators could understand that. But I wasn’t prepared for a debate. I told him that I couldn’t promise not to roast the movie, that’s my style after all, and I had to walk a tightrope between being polite in person while setting the boundaries that would maintain my critical freedom. When Betsey and Peter joined the conversation, this tension was even greater. Even though I was just a random guy with a marginal Substack who had only just moved to New York, it was clear that I had something they needed. And even though I had said I needed to think about what I had just seen before I could give them my “overall take,” they kept asking what I liked about the movie. I mentioned there was something interesting about Betsey’s prolonged outbursts of pure infantile jouissance, these convulsions of baby voice glossolalia, in both Actors and The Scary of Sixty-First (which I thought was bad and said so in my Dimes Square review). I also said that I had noticed how the audience reacted with a palpable sense of delight and relief to specific moments of tension in the movie where Peter’s character would finally embrace his barely-concealed ugliness. This was not a compliment, just an observation—I saw the audience squealing with delight whenever Peter’s hideously non-passing trans character would reveal their true contempt for women and finally just call them “bitch” or whatever. But I tried to say it as nicely as possible. I implied that this audience reaction was misunderstanding the true distancing intention of these scenes, but I also suspected that the audience wasn’t misunderstanding the film at all. Betsey and the others nodded along. She looked very lost.
The review I wrote was scathing, but in a muted, almost defeated way that was the product of a writing process that went on much longer than I had intended. I had left the Roxy Cinema impressed with the importance I seemed to have as a writer, but I didn’t realize how much the encounter with Betsey and Peter and the Ion Pack would throw me off in the writing process itself. I spent a lot of time going in circles trying to engage the film on their terms, avoiding the shockingly callous depiction of trans experience and trying to see it as a commentary on “acting and sibling rivalry,” explaining away the initial shock and revulsion I felt before I had to swallow it for the encounter with the filmmakers. I realized that they were trying to guilt the New York media class into making this a thing—and since I was even more of a nobody than they were at the time, I almost fell for it by getting wrapped up myopically in trying to prove some point about careerist striving among the bougie art world set. They can say the film is mocking the cis man's quest for relevance, but then that always raises the question: why is that disgrace, that loss of dignity, becoming socially ridiculous, socially dead even, put into the lurid costume of being a trans woman? Is that an arbitrary choice, or the very center of the satire? I had a long phone interview with Betsey, which started off with confirming all sorts of background details and other niceties, but ended with pressing her on this question, the most important question of the movie. I learned that she wasn’t familiar with my writing or my antagonistic approach toward downtown scene art, so I told her a bit about who I was and what I was trying to do. I felt bad for her obvious discomfort and total inability to address “the transphobia question,” and even gave her an “out” in a contorted rationalization of the film that owns up to its own transphobic premise as a sort of self-critique—which it obviously wasn’t, but it would’ve been smarter if it was. Fortunately, she didn’t take the “out” anyway, and I felt ashamed for even suggesting it. But I had what I needed to finally finish the piece. It would deconstruct their self-pitying game by interrogating my own complicit position as a writer whose role is both to critique these artworks and to promote them.
I was hesitant to publish the Substack, but it was a success. I knew that Betsey and Peter and the Ion Pack guys wouldn’t be happy with it, but there was no way I could surrender my critical edge so early on in my time in New York just to please them. Art is serious shit, and New York is a tough place. And several trans friends of mine who were disgusted by the movie appreciated my gesture of solidarity, which no one else had yet put into writing about the movie. Most of the other writers were just crawling up the Brown siblings’ collective assholes as if they actually mean something in the movie industry. I was proud of how I pulled this off, and I realized a new sense of confidence in my own thinking and ability to stay true to myself, even in such an unfamiliar social context. Betsey texted me almost immediately after I published the piece, “;) / Just read ur article / Thanks for writing and thinking about it / This is the exciting thing about art. We can wildly disagree, and it can offend some and heal others :)” and she then posted a tweet with a screenshot of her texts to me, wondering if I would ever respond. A few hours later I responded “Thanks Betsey, I appreciate it,” and she responded the same minute, “Ahahahaha / You responded ! / But yes, happy you’ve engaged w the work however you might feel about it etc.” I got some hateful messages from their fans, but that’s nothing remarkable.
And so I moved on, into a summer probing the depths of the downtown world and writing about it. I made new friends and concluded feuds with former rivals. Matt Gasda was the first beef closed. He figured it wasn’t worth it to keep trading jabs on Twitter, and I agreed—at the very least it would be fruitful for my writing to get a more detailed picture of his character, his place in this world, from the proximity afforded by friendliness. He said he was willing to make peace after he got a sense for how my writing is part of a broader creative arc. Although he was initially offended because he felt my review unjustly flattened him onto the subjects he was trying to ambivalently represent, he was coming to understand what I was doing as my work organically unfolded, which I suppose is really all I can ask of anyone. Our ideas of art contrast, and although I reserve the right to make fun of him from time to time, New York is big enough for both of us. So when I accepted his invitation and returned to his little theater-space—the space where he is the master, surrounded by his collaborators and supporters—it went exactly as I was led to expect. Drinks in DUMBO, seeing his latest play in a nearby loft, smoking weed afterwards with the various actors who populate his circle, and grasping with increasing clarity their intricate interrelations, their complex feelings about their roles—both on Gasda’s stage and the real-life stage of the “downtown scene” more generally.
It was in part because of the success of the Gasda meeting that I considered the offer to be in the next Peter Vack movie. Apparently the Ion Pack guys had Betsey on their podcast and they defended my review somehow, maybe simply because they felt bad for inviting me in the first place and causing trouble and they needed to justify it, or maybe because they really did see the artistry of the piece. And if Betsey and Peter were coming around to it, then great. I ran into Curtis a couple times out and about in Manhattan during this period, the time when Dagsen was in town, and he told me they were serious about the offer to be in the movie they were producing, that they weren’t fucking with me or anything. I knew that I would be playing myself, and that I would be some kind of antagonist. But I’m no stranger to that, and I was curious to see how they imagined my character fitting into their creative vision. Still, I was wary of the offer. Actors was straight up vile, and I would never have agreed to be part of that film had they asked me. My biggest concern was that I would be assimilated into their new film in such a way that would make me too close of a friend, neutralizing my criticism entirely by presenting it as a joke that they were in on all along. Most of my friends seemed to encourage me accepting the offer (What do I have to lose? It would let me go deeper into this world, enhance my credibility as its chronicler…), but the skeptical ones worried that it would come across too chummy, that Peter and the rest of them would lovebomb me into being co-opted. I tried to avoid giving a definitive answer until I got more details of my role.
As the late July date of filming came closer, I finally got some details. On July 22 I got the prompt from Curtis: “explain what you mean when you call things, particularly art, fascist in 60 seconds or less—in a way that would make sense to a person who doesn’t have an MFA.” Fair enough, they could cut it up however unflatteringly they like, but I’d still be talking in my own words in a way that would inevitably maintain my real antagonistic position. Sure, there was a trick in it—no doubt anything I would say would be perceived as “too intellectual” or whatever, but that’s not my problem. And then there were the advertisements on Instagram. “THE ION PACK PRESENTS PETER VACK’S CINEMATIC UNIVERSIONIZED: A TWO-DAY FILMED PARTY.” And in the top right corner: “STARRING THE ION PACK, BETSEY BROWN, CHLOE CHERRY, DASHA NEKRASOVA, YOU.” So, it was going to be a big party somewhere and they were going to invite all their fans, I’d show up and they’d probably film me for a couple minutes talking about downtown scene fascism, and the rest of the time I’d just float around observing the filmmaking process from the inside. In editing they’d probably splice my part in between a bunch of rubes with really wack opinions, but who cares, the movie will probably be pretty bad anyway, and it’s access to an event that could be valuable for my writing. Curtis was insistent they needed me for the movie, addressing me with the endearing “king” term of affection. On the Tuesday the week of filming I finally agreed, and Curtis gave me my call time later that evening—3PM, Friday, July 29, Daryl Roth Theatre, Union Square, Manhattan.
I showed up a half hour before my call time and saw a long line snaking around the front of the Daryl Roth Theatre. These were the people responding to the Instagram call for extras. I passed by a “Black Lives Matter” mural in my walk to the front of the line, where I met Curtis. He brought me inside, where I signed a talent consent form that gave the filmmakers the rights to use my likeness in their film, just as I had used their likeness in my writing. He then brought me downstairs to the theater’s basement, where he showed me Dasha Nekrasova in her makeup room in the midst of a transformation into an anime girl. Then he told me what exactly they were supposed to be filming: the crowd of extras was to populate the house of the Daryl Roth Theatre and become an improvised IRL YouTube comments section/4chan message board. The special guests they had invited, which included myself, were to be dispersed through the crowd and contribute to the discussion as “Elite Trolls.” Curtis said he didn’t know how exactly I was supposed to fit in to the discussion—that was all in Peter’s head apparently—but whatever I had to say about fascism in art was going to be part of some collage of internet chatter manifested in real life. I met Nick Rochefort of Million Dollar Extreme, who told us about how his collaborators Sam Hyde and Charles Carroll were having another feud at the moment, but that they would inevitably reconcile as always. Nick was supposed to be one of the “Elite Trolls,” as were the artist Alex Bienstock, Wobble Palace filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko, actress Ivy Wolk, neoreactionary blogger Curtis Yarvin, Cum Town podcaster Nick Mullen, writer and Wet Brain podcaster Honor Levy, and Ion Pack podcasters Curtis and KJ themselves. Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz had been invited and was included as an Elite Troll in the call sheet for the day, but she had a scheduling conflict and would not be there. Curtis told me that this would be the last time the Ion Pack would don the black masks that signified their former anonymity, and how it was ironic that once the movie comes out it will have been two years since they last wore them. Soon after, the production team brought the Elite Trolls up to the theater house, where they were seated, dispersed through the crowd of regular troll background extras, who were either committed fans of the “Peter Vack Cinematic Universe” that found out about this through Instagram, or completely random people who were looking for work as film extras on the website Backstage. When I was waiting to be seated, Peter approached me and asked if I was ready, if I had prepared some response to the prompt. I said I was and asked if he’d rather I respond in a sincere way, which would try to be more clear and reasoned, or a trolling way, which would be easier to present in “dumbed-down” language but answer the prompt more obliquely. He said he’d prefer I be more sincere, that I just be myself. He also said that they’d be starting off with me. Weird, but whatever.
Peter had me seated right in the center of the audience, right between two people who had no idea about any of these people or what was going on. The audience was facing a stage that was full of lights, cameras, and other pieces of large film equipment. Right in the center of the stage was Peter, the great director. Betsey and their parents, who are producers of the film, were also on the stage several feet behind him, keenly observing the whole scene. Then the cameras started rolling, and Peter addressed me directly. “Crumps,” he said, “tell us, what is fascism?” I had prepared a statement that I had mentally rehearsed, but I was still slightly caught off guard by just how contextless it was set up to be. I started talking about what the “fascist avant-garde” means in my writing. I talked about how it promises some exhilarating mayhem that ostensibly transgresses the ideas of the ruling order but ultimately takes the side of hierarchy and authority, about how it therefore cannot ever be truly transformative and dialectical, about how it feigns self-awareness but such a self-awareness is necessarily impossible because it would mean social consciousness, about how it may seem to “have its finger on the pulse” of the current moment but only ever in an opportunistic way, about how it tries to make a “universal art that isn’t single-mindedly focused on identity politics” but ends up being just a very generic and provincial representation of NYC bourgeois class consciousness, and about how it often just comes down to delusional mediocrities with their neurotic attachments to saying slurs and whining about cancel culture. I didn’t hit every single one of these points right from the start, but this was the general idea of what I said and what I elaborated once people started questioning what I meant. Once I finished talking, Curtis Yarvin spoke from a few rows ahead of me. He made some predictable point about how fascist art is actually quite good, citing Arno Breker and Gabriele D’Annunzio and people like that. And then the conversation dropped about two standard deviations of IQ as the cameras and boom mics shifted throughout all the nobody background extras who were there to stand in for the intellectual peasantry of anonymous message boards. These people were encouraged to say whatever random edgelord vulgarities popped into their heads, which meant a lot of slurs, proclamations about how circumcision is worse than abortion, Holocaust jokes, and so on. It was clearly very cringe and embarrassing, and it seemed to immediately confirm my initial commentary about the utter emptiness of this “transgression” as an aesthetic pose. Most of these attempts at provocation were non sequiturs, but the one thread that ran throughout the discussion was an attempt to counter my initial challenge to the fascist avant-gardists. So the conversation kept coming back to Crumps this and Crumps that, but none of the points were memorable or worth answering. The woman next to me asked what the word everyone was talking about was, and I asked her if she meant “fascism,” and she said yes. I said that it was like finding beauty in the cops brutalizing people. The younger guy on my other side was texting his friends a mile a minute and looked absolutely disgusted. I think he was hesitant to talk to me because he thought I was complicit in orchestrating this whole thing.
Peter looked annoyed by how the conversation was going. “Crumps started us off too heavy,” he said, insisting that I explain myself in simpler language. I said that I just wanted people to make art that was self-aware and class-conscious, which was the simplest formulation of my thinking that came to me at the time. He alluded to the apparent hypocrisy of my exploration of the downtown world, that I was presenting myself as a critic of this scene, when in fact I was becoming the center of it all, hanging out with Honor Levy and being invited to all the parties, and that it just seemed to him that I wanted to be accepted by the cool kids. I reiterated my point about being drawn to the mayhem of this “transgressive” art that’s supposedly happening in downtown New York City, ostensibly right here in this very theater at this very moment, and that I’m drawn to it because I think its promises are seductive, but that what I’ve found has been disappointing. People in the audience were asking about my Northern Virginia military officer deep state family class background, which I have no problem discussing. Even though these sorts insinuate that my family background proves my dishonesty and hypocrisy, they usually admit thinking such a conservative background is cool and Chad, and that they would’ve preferred to have my authoritarian upbringing rather than their soy liberal parents. I never hear that family background criticism coming from the left. Besides, I was alone in a hostile setting hundreds of miles away from my parents, who were hardly ever supportive of my writing anyway, and Peter had his parents standing behind him on stage nodding along in approval as he brought his dead-on-arrival fascist vanity project into the world, which seemed more like a thin pretext for bullying his critics than any kind of serious art. One person directly in front of me challenged my use of the term “seductive” in my description of the fascist avant-garde’s promises, and he went on a long tangent about the meaning of the term seduction and how it has to have a specific target or something, and as he finished talking he turned to me as if he caught me in some great “gotcha.” It was incredibly pedantic and probably wrong even on its own terms, and I said that I had no idea what he was talking about. Peter told me to get up and walk out in a huff of outrage, but I was indifferent. Nick Mullen and Nick Rochefort were sitting together far in the back of the audience, and when the cameras came to them they didn’t have much to say at all.
When the filming mercifully ended, I went outside for a cigarette. The Elite Trolls were no longer needed, as they weren’t helping the discussion as had been hoped. Supposedly the previous day went better. As I watched the Nicks from Cum Town and Million Dollar Extreme make their clean getaways, I thought of the absurdity of Peter Vack’s grand cinematic vision that his more successful friends would come here to make fun of this Crumps guy for him. I wondered what he imagined Taylor Lorenz’s involvement would look like. I met a woman named Mia who told me she knew my Lacanian mentor from DC, Daniel Tutt. She said that I should’ve defended my ideas more in order to win over people in the audience. I told her I thought that it was pointless, the whole thing was set up for ridicule, and I was there to observe more than anything. A few extras approached me and apologized for the vitriol they directed toward me inside, telling me that I was brave to sit through all this criticism, and I shrugged it off. I don’t even know where to begin with these people. It’s like they realize how perverse and shameful the whole thing is and wholeheartedly embrace it anyway. I also encountered Honor Levy outside, and she said that when I started talking she thought I was just going off on the usual Crumps bullshit, but then she started to think that I had a point once she heard everyone else. Honor and her friend Vita, who I remembered as part of Dagsen’s crew at the 432 Park Avenue Dean Kissick gallery opening afterparty and had subsequently mistaken for someone else in my Substack writeup of it, were staying around for the next part, and I stayed with them because I was curious to see this scene with Dasha dressed up as an anime girl.
In the scene, Dasha’s and Betsey’s characters are seated next to each other in the middle of the theater audience. They are talking and one of them says something about how they’re “based,” or their show is based (it’s a sci-fi dystopia where people watch themselves on TV or something). A few rows back, Ivy Wolk’s character overhears the conversation and says something like “Based? You’re not based, you’re fucking cringe!” and Dasha’s character turns around and deploys her trademark slur with a “Shut the fuck up, retard!” and then Ivy’s character lets off an inspired stream of expletives that changed with each take but usually included slurs of the antisemitic and homophobic varieties, as well as some more creative phrases targeted at specific body features. (I didn’t know who Ivy Wolk was, but Honor kept saying that she was the youngest actress ever to be cancelled.) A few rows ahead of Dasha and Betsey, Curtis Yarvin and Alex Bienstock discuss the meanings of the terms “nu-based” and “omnicringe” throughout all this. Then Dasha points ahead of her, indicating that the show they are about to watch is beginning. Since this is a film set the scene was obviously repeated over and over again, modulating the relative noise of the simultaneous conversations, the timings of the various beats, the emphases on various words, and so on. I was observing the meticulous work of real serious professionals, the art of acting, and it was very boring.
Eventually they wrapped up the scene and it seemed like I’d have an opportunity to finally get out of there and eat dinner and spend the rest of my Friday evening with the non-fascist sorts of people I usually prefer to hang out with. But before the audience could have any chance to disperse, Peter suddenly started addressing me directly, as if he had just realized that my lingering vibe presence was the thing causing the production to turn out so cringe and embarrassing. Peter demanded that I explain to the whole crowd the review I wrote of Actors. He asked why I wrote such a negative review after saying that I “liked” the movie when they first cornered me at the Roxy, and why I described his part as a “Sam Hydean minstrel show caricature.” I was amused by the idea of that line echoing in his head for months. He asked why I said that the movie is transphobic when it really wasn’t. His tone took on a condescension that was far more personal than before. “Don’t worry, this isn’t for the movie,” he assured me, “so tell me, why did you write the review?” I could sense the glares of the rest of the audience and the cameras zooming in on me and the boom mics hovering above. I was dumbfounded by the whole situation. First, I had thought that my part in the movie was done. Second, I was amazed that Peter would reveal to me just how fragile and navel-gazing he is, how my Substack piece with only 14 likes at this moment cut him so deeply that he felt shaming me in front of his entire film production was a good idea, how he felt comfortable doing this in front of so many people, how wildly unprofessional it was for someone who has so much to say about the art of acting and filmmaking. I felt a visceral sense of horror that I hadn’t felt in the first session, a weird uncomfortable gut feeling that was more a response to the sudden bodily sense of dislocation than any emotional distress. Intellectually I knew he was shooting himself in the foot and giving me a better story than I possibly could’ve imagined. I had nothing to say, just a wordless expression of wide-eyed bewilderment. “You don’t have anything to say? Come on, just say something.” And then the audience joined in chorus repeating Peter, demanding I explain myself.
Peter then turned to Betsey, who was still seated in the middle of the audience, right next to Dasha, who was still in anime girl makeup. He told her to tell me how she really felt about all this, and there was a pause, and then he insisted again. So Betsey turned to face me directly, straight down the row we were both sitting in. This was the peak of the psychedelic horror. Betsey started talking in her creepy baby voice, asking why I had written such mean things about her, saying that she thought we were such good friends after we had talked on the phone, asking why I betrayed her, why I said that her movie was transphobic when it really wasn’t transphobic. It was the same uncanny affect that I had said was “interesting” when I was first pressed for my initial take on her movie back in April, and now I could tell that it was hardly “acting” at all. She said that it was because of my review that the Roxy Cinema had cancelled the screenings of her movie. The audience gasped in shock. Not only was I an ideological enemy but I was the actual person responsible for undermining their enjoyment of this strange “art,” the real human embodiment of cancel culture. Curtis Yarvin joined in again, saying that he knew of this Crumps guy, that I had emailed him recently when he came to New York and that some people had told him to be wary of me, that I have an “M.O.,” and that what I had done with Betsey’s film was perhaps all part of my “M.O.” as a journalist. (Never mind that my email to Yarvin was a response to an open invitation he posted on Substack, which then turned into the Battery Park meetup I wrote about, or that afterwards his associates in the Edward de Vere Truther Society had personally invited me to this “De Vere Ball,” raising awareness for the Shakespeare authorship question that’s become a pet issue for Yarvin, saying that they’d add me to the VIP list, or that I had only ever interacted with the Brown siblings because I had been invited by the Ion Pack to do so...) The audience was now in a frenzy and demanded an answer, and I saw that some of the people who had apologized to me in the intermission were now taking on the same role all over again, with greater intensity. Someone behind me derisively said, “it’s so easy to be a ‘keyboard warrior,’” as if I hadn’t shown up willingly to this public shaming.
So I began explaining myself, answering the various accusations of betrayal, telling the story of what brought me to writing that piece I’ve written about here, the story about how they had invited me and then expected nothing but flattery, that I had tried to see the film on their terms but it was impossible, that they were manipulative creeps and that my obligation to solidarity with my true friends and my dedication to my principles was greater than their movie. And the room was silent for a moment, as if they were taken aback by what I had said, and it seemed that the spell Peter and Betsey had over these people was about to break, that reason was about to prevail. But the spell held firm, and the crowd demanded that I explain what right I had to criticize Betsey’s movie, the movie that she spent so much time working on. Why I was trying to destroy art. I said that my writing was also an art, and that in my writing I’ve been reaching higher levels of creative expression with every new piece I publish. I said all art necessarily exists in dialogue with other works of art, that this dialogue is often contentious, and that the art of writing is equal to that of cinema. This was met with pure mocking incredulity. Dasha joined in here too, saying that the effort I put into my Substack is nothing compared to what Betsey put into her movie. As if that means anything other than the relative ease with which I can express the multi-layered truths of this world and navigate the vertiginous terrain of reality and fiction, creating something that proves far more powerful and resilient than the abomination she invests years in the making, the “abortive avant-garde” artwork that has no good reason to exist beyond privilege and vanity. If it was true that my review was what cancelled the Actors run at the Roxy, then good, because that film had no business ever being shown there in the first place. If this is the power that my writing has, then I’m proud of it. Peter demanded that I apologize to Betsey for my review. “You should apologize to her. Just apologize.” This was the most outrageous demand of all. “I’m not going to fucking apologize,” I said in disbelief. The crowd repeated his demands for an apology.
The scene was reaching new heights of insanity. Someone asked if I was a “tranny chaser,” and then others joined in, a taunting chorus asking if I was a tranny chaser from all directions, and even Yarvin’s ponderous voice, “Tranny chaser? Tranny chaser?” I had imagined he would’ve assumed some distance from all this vulgarity, with his pose of intellectual authority among these people, but I guess all fascists are really the same at the end of the day. Hobbits that think they’re dark elves, to use his metaphor. There were others telling me to kill myself. It was an orgy of vitriol. “Can’t you see how ridiculous you people look to literally anyone outside this place?” I asked the crowd. But who cares what other people think, they responded, caring about what this all looks like just reveals my philistine small-mindedness—I only care about what other people think, not about true art “that comes from the heart.” Yarvin said that I was on the side of the hegemonic order, the side of “Mastercard,” and that when the choice is whether to take the side of Mastercard, the correct choice is always the opposite. The denunciations continued.
Eventually there came a point where I said that I was perfectly happy with my writing and proud of what I’m doing, that all this stupidity would never change my mind, that I’m having fun exploring this world and writing about it and that I feel like I’m inspiring other likeminded writers, that I’m opening a space for a kind of literature, and that I have a new lust for life and an excitement to see where all this will take me. Nearby, tears began welling up in Honor’s eyes, and the cameras then zoomed in on her. She was pressed to tell the crowd how she was feeling. She said that what I had just said had moved her, that when I had said I was so happy and proud of my work she realized she didn’t feel the same about her own. I appreciated that she didn’t join in the denunciations like the others. This began a transition in the mood of the theater, as if some of the people were starting to realize the true ugliness of what was going on. One of the Ion Pack guys (they were both masked) contributed to the de-escalation, saying that, just as I had been attacking an effigy in my review of Betsey’s movie, perhaps the crowd was now attacking an effigy in me. I really don’t think I was attacking an effigy in my review, but I appreciated the gesture. I suspected they were genuinely ashamed of what was going on, since they were the guys that personally got me to walk into this trap.
Then the scene took a bizarre new turn. The tone of conversation suddenly became about positivity, healing, and “speaking our true feelings.” None of this was framed in the language of apology, but rather as a justification for the primal hate ritual that had just happened. They were now “speaking from the heart.” It was a big kumbaya circlejerk, but it kept coming back to how I was ruining their enjoyment—“we’re all trying to be positive and healing now, but I see that Crumps over there, smirking and shaking his head…” This was coming from the people who, just moments before, had been telling me some of the ugliest things anyone has ever told me to my face. They said that they were speaking from the heart, whereas I’m just speaking from the head, that I’m not a true artist because I’m so consumed by my preoccupation with intellectualism. It was impossible to contain my disgust at the way these people were debasing themselves. I just wanted the whole thing to end. It went on for a very long time. It seemed like they needed to get everyone in the entire audience to speak about this before they could call it a night. Everyone had to be included. Even Mrs. Brown joined in, saying that even though she didn’t know what I had written before, she thought it was wonderful that we could all come together in the end. I had to sit through the whole thing because I refused to give them the satisfaction of my departure. It dragged on, and then it ended.
The crowd started to leave their seats. Peter came up to me and said I did a good job, as if everything that had happened was perfectly normal. “That really was something,” I said, containing the many feelings rushing through my head at the time. I tried to get a moment alone with Curtis to ask him what the fuck had just happened, and if he had any idea about this beforehand. He and KJ were talking with Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown cheerfully told me that my public shaming and the subsequent group therapy session could be the bonus material for the DVD. The Ion Pack guys kept on talking with the Browns, and I decided to leave. One of the production guys came up to me as I was leaving, commending me for my impressive resilience in sitting through all the humiliation without breaking. I said that it was nothing. He asked if I was “going to write a slanderous piece about this.” I was amazed. “Slanderous? Didn’t you just see what happened? You got it all on camera!” Unlike Peter and Betsey and their parents, he looked scared.
Outside I spoke with Dasha in person for the first time. She was with Honor, Vita, and their friend Patrick. I asked them if we all just experienced the same thing. I said that I couldn’t believe Peter would be so gratuitously self-destructive and give me so much power. How could I do anything other than write about this? How is that possibly in his interest? They all seemed to passively agree—yep, that was crazy, that was unexpected, and so on. Dasha told me that this is just what acting is all about, and that Peter had already made her cry many times on set. I said that I couldn’t believe that Peter and Betsey’s parents would stand by watching them orchestrate this whole psycho fascist mob struggle session just to get revenge on one of their critics under the pretext of making art, and that if my parents saw me doing this they’d have me shot. Vita told me that it was impolite to refer to women as “psycho” and that not everyone has the same parents as I do, so I can’t expect everyone else to have the same militaristic sense of discipline. When I said I was going to write about all this, Dasha told me that no one would believe me, which she later repeated in a reply to a tweet I posted alluding to the wild story I had to tell. There was an incredible ambiguity in her statement. She seemed to agree that what I had experienced was shocking and inexcusable, but she was hedging her bets. Whenever the movie is inevitably panned, she’d be right that my experience is so incredible that it defies belief—but in the meantime, don’t bother writing, she didn’t hear or see anything, everything that happened was fictional. I said that Peter and Betsey underestimated who they were messing with, and that since my writing has been blowing up, since it’s proceeding from expressing an adequate idea of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things, the piece I’d write about this would be bigger than the movie itself. Dasha rolled her eyes. She doubted that anyone was concerned about whatever I’d write. Honor told me that I had a family tradition of blowing things up.
Afterwards I started getting messages from people who were in the audience, and here are a few that don’t include any personal information about them:
“yesterday had me questioning my sense of reality, all these people going on about love and community and the heart as soon as they have a mic in their face. like that little tingle of excitement from proximity to people you admire or groupthink shouting slurs and kill yourself to a guy you admit to not knowing doesn't feel like a community to me. and it's just so insane to me that we seemed to come to a consensus that art "coming from the heart" makes it exempt from criticism. idk why I feel like I have to share with you it was just crazy making [sic]”
“I would like to apologize for being a part of a background audience that was involved in, what seemed to be, public humiliation and bombardment. I personally needed to excuse myself from discomfort and I don’t know how I would have handled that surprise confrontation but I know I wouldn’t be feeling very well. I am sorry that happened to you; no one should feel attacked or humiliated (non-consensually) despite their beliefs/opinions/criticisms”
“Hey was just at that Peter Vack shoot. Thanks for helping me avoid joining that cult … Praying you didn’t get literally physically burned at the stake at the dance party … I had to leave because my brain leaked out of my ears. Wishing u well and praying u don’t get doxxed by a red scare Stan”
Filming this movie was genuinely the most bizarre and evil thing I have ever experienced. But I’m not hurt by it. If anything, it vindicated what I had written about Actors in the first place. After this ritual humiliation, I feel more hardened and lucid. I feel confident in the power of my writing to expose these brownshirt mediocrities and reveal their true ugliness in ways that other leftist writers have struggled to do. Peter and Betsey aren’t ever going anywhere in the movie industry—all they have is a small, nasty Instagram following for them to manipulate through their proximity to a few other niche internet celebrities who won’t make it big either. Just a network of fragile New York City rich kid internet brands bringing their pitiful followers down with them. Whenever this movie comes out, it’ll be a joke. But that’s also their defense, which I can already see from the way they’ve started trying to flatter me with their Instagram memes, as if I was always in on the joke all along. It’s all a fiction, it’s all their art, it’s all acting. They know nothing about the real power of art to express truth in all its infinite complexity. To them, the power of art is nothing but a zero-sum game of vanity and manipulation, a desperate clawing for relevance. The true face of the fascist avant-garde.