Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Liberal Moral Panic and the ‘Dirtbag Left’

It looks like a backlash against Alexander Reid-Ross is emerging on the Left.

By Kenzo Shibata

Geography professor Alexander Reid Ross published a piece in the Daily Beast called “These ‘Dirtbag Left’ Stars Are Flirting with the Far-Right.” I reluctantly read the piece and it read to me like a red scare-era diatribe against the threat of communism, throwing in everything and the kitchen sink to scare good white Christians from the Commies. Even more, it reminded me of the era of moral panic against popular music in the 1980s and 1990s.

Moral panics are a social phenomenon that cloud people’s judgement, creating a fog of war and a false binary between moral or amoral. The moral panickers of the 1980s created that binary between evil rock musicians and moral people, which held weight in the Reagan era. Ross in his piece is creating a binary between the “Left” and his concept of “Dirtbag Left” which he smears as a pipeline to the far-right.

Ross, much like the moral panic profiteers of the past, lumps in podcasters and video broadcasters that have little to no connection with each other. He lists YouTuber Jimmy Dore, Matt Christman from Chapo Trap House, activist Norman Finklestein, and random internet trolls as belonging to a group called the “Dirtbag Left.” Dirtbag Left being the media construct invented after the 2016 primary to describe young leftist podcasters who don’t put on airs to be accepted into the liberal media mainstream.

I’m getting flashbacks to 1990. Ice-T, currently America’s favorite TV police officer, was joined on stage by then wife of then Senator Al Gore Tipper Gore, Fox News’ Juan Williams, Jello Biafra, ex singer from the political punk pioneers the Dead Kennedys, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper for a raucous episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. This motley crew came together to discuss the lyrics of bands like Guns N’ Roses and N.W.A. Gore headed the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a pro-music censorship group, at the time.


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