March 3, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

What’s the rightwing freakout over a dance video really about?

The viral Tik Tok reflects a war inside the Republican Party over how many rights to take away from women, writes Matthew Sheffield.

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Editor’s note: The following essay, delivered today to Editorial Board subscribers only, first appeared in Flux, Matthew’s newsletter.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but other times, a piece of cultural flotsam can have much more significance than it may seem. That’s certainly the case with a short video of some young women dancing at a gas station in Louisiana that, as of this writing, has racked up over 40 million views on Twitter and other social media platforms.

To most people, a clip of young white women in silly costumes doing a line dance is completely anodyne, one of thousands that was posted during Louisiana’s Mardi Gras festival, where locals and tourists from around the world take to the streets and enjoy the region’s famous food and multiracial culture of “laissez les bons temps roulez.”

But letting the good times roll is the exact opposite of what America’s radical rightwing wants, and unlike in decades past, reactionaries are no longer afraid to express their regressive viewpoints, especially their ideas about controlling women. Sensing an opportunity, a self-styled dating guru whom I won’t name stripped the clip of its context and posted an excerpt to Twitter captioned: “Why don’t men want western women?”

The responses poured in from religious fundamentalists and dateless secular “incels” raging against the apparent sorority girls for daring to publicly have fun in a way that was very tame by Mardi Gras standards.

“My dad would have been soooooo disappointed in me if I’d ever done this,” one female Christian Twitter user wrote. “And he would have been right.”

“A whoredown might be normalized to pagans,” another person wrote. “Christian women, however, should not give into desires of the flesh.”

More than a few had explicit and implicit racist reactions, particularly against the tune playing in the background, “Mr. Weatherall,” a rap song from a Louisiana duo that honors John Weatherall III, a Black videographer for a Lafayette CBS affiliate who’s become a local legend with his chronicling of the Pelican State’s social scene.

“The results of the Africanization of America that started in the 1960s and really ramped up by the late-‘80s and throughout the ‘90s,” one commenter asserted. A prominent white nationalist podcaster chimed in with her own racist take, carefully layering in a veiled antisemitic reference to guide the raging Christians to her side. “A subversive forced [sic] convinced them that feminism and black ghetto culture is cool,” she wrote.

The rightwing rage over a Mardi Gras clip may seem like so much nonsense.

But it’s more than that.

Ever since then, Christofascist Republicans have been trying to mark their territory at women’s expense through no-exception abortion bans, blocking women from seeking obstetric care in other states, and the Alabama Supreme Court’s declaration that zygotes must be given full human rights.

The current dance video obsession is actually a recapitulation of a controversy that broke out at the end of last year that has come to be known as “Calendargate,” in which incels and Christian fundamentalists ranted against a rightwing beer company for releasing an absurd calendar of female Republican politicians and commentators in skimpy clothing and sexy poses.

These two reactionary online freakouts are actually part of a larger struggle happening within the American right over how much religious extremism is enough.

Some within the party — the Christian nationalists — seem like they would be satisfied with banning same-sex marriage, abortion and forcing media companies to run their religious propaganda. But the most extreme set — who can properly be called Christofascists — will not be satisfied until LGBTQ people are locked up, Muslims are deported and banned, and women are prohibited from having any social or sexual autonomy.

Christofascist Republicans were always a significant component of the party base, but they were mostly placated with symbolic gestures and prevented from having any real power by Republican elites who were both embarrassed and terrified at having to share a party with these people. Donald Trump completely upended this arrangement, however, as he allowed the craziest DC Republicans into the highest reaches of power, particularly by plucking then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) out of the extremist “House Freedom Caucus” to be his chief of staff.

The internal power struggle exploded into public view after the rightwing supermajority on the US Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson ruling overturning a federal right to abortion access. Ever since then, Christofascist Republicans have been trying to mark their territory at women’s expense through no-exception abortion bans, blocking women from seeking obstetric care in other states, and the Alabama Supreme Court’s declaration that zygotes must be given full human rights.

The Christofascists’ shockingly rapid attacks on reproductive care have proven embarrassing to national Republican elites, even as they completely refuse to oppose the extremist agenda behind them.

Similarly, the online reactionary freakouts against women’s bodily autonomy have been too revealing for some Christian nationalist pundits, especially the reactionary influencers who specialize in sanitizing and repackaging religious misogyny in Instagram collages and kitschy merchandise.

“Of course, you’re not obligated to be attracted to any of these women,” BlazeTV podcaster Allie Beth Stuckey tweeted in response to the Mardi Gras whining. “You can even find this silly or repulsive. But this is how sorority girls act together 🤷‍♀️ And — I’m going to shock you — but most sorority girls don’t have a problem with finding a guy who’s interested in them.”

Despite the efforts of deceptive Republicans like Stuckey and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, however, it seems that the Christofascist right’s attacks on reproductive rights have gone too far, too fast. Ballot measures protecting abortion access have won every time they’ve been put up for a vote, and a new Economist/YouGov poll finds that only 8 percent of Americans find in vitro fertilization to be morally wrong.

People want the freedom to choose how to live their lives — regardless of how angry that makes the extremists who control rightwing media and most of the Republican Party.

Matthew Sheffield is a podcaster, writer and media entrepreneur. He hosts three podcasts: Theory of Change, Doomscroll, and So This Just Happened.

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