The Battle Over Adult Swim’s Alt-Right TV Show, Cont’d

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I had never heard of Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peacea comedy show that Adult Swim launched in August—before we wrote a piece about it yesterday (“The Battle Over Adult Swim’s Alt-Right TV Show”). But many readers have seen it, and they responded to the hello@ callout we placed on the piece after closing the comments section. The first writes:

I’d personally consider myself left-wing and I’m not fan of Trump, but I’ve been following [the sketch comedy group Million Dollar Extreme (MDE)] for the past few years and I truly don’t think the recent allegations toward them, or the alleged links to White Supremacy, are fair at all. [MDE member] Sam Hyde never even really mentioned his political views before this year, and MDE itself, especially World Peace, is really not that political. There were no comments on their politics before this election cycle, by any of the sources that have reviewed their online content. (For example, here’s a 2013 profile from The A.V. Club, “Take in the work of the comedy provocateurs in Million Dollar Extreme.”)

Yes, Sam is a right-leaning Trump supporter whose views I don’t necessarily agree with, and his politically incorrect humor may attract certain trolls, but he has never said any serious hateful things to people of marginalized groups. And on reddit, Sam has made it clear there were NO swastikas on set. And the MDE guys are not bigots and have never been on 4chan or /POL or anything spouting this stuff.

Yes, MDE does have some brutal satire that pokes fun at PC standards and tropes of the day, and the show may not be for everyone, but as a society we need to be able to laugh at all societal aspects, including our own progressive causes and philosophies, instead of holding sacred cows. Regardless of how you feel about Sam’s personal views, it should not affect how you feel about whether MDE succeeds in making you laugh or entertain you. Until there is sufficient proof they’re “neo-nazis,” I think Adult Swim should continue to allow their program.

Another reader:

I’m Jewish, and I can see why someone would look at Million Dollar Extreme and think that Sam Hyde is a total bigoted shill for the alt-right. I have my own personal qualms about some of their stuff, especially the fan-generated content. Even Sam has called the MDE subreddit a “total shithouse.”

However, I’m also a huge fan of MDE because I think that what they are doing can be very easily compared to the outlandishness of punk rock bands like Crass or the Sex Pistols. Both of these bands used swastikas and other fascist imagery in a rather successful albeit sort of ignorant way of spooking audiences and acting as flies in the ointment of popular culture. Yes, it’s in your face, and yes, it offends most of your sensibilities, but that’s the purpose of Million Dollar Extreme. MDE, like punk, is meant to shock you and poke you and make you question yourself and everything around you.

I’m glad Adult Swim is taking the serious economic risk of putting a show like this on the air, and I hope some news outlets will eventually publish a review of Million Dollar Extreme: World Peace as a TV show instead of examinations of its politics.

We actually just received a pitch from a freelance journalist along those lines—but your emails might be just as strong. Another:

I’ve been watching Sam Hyde and MDE for years, and the reason it has such a cult following is because of his ardent attitude of restoring the soul of humanity in a world of anti-human mechanisms. The heart of MDE is underneath all its visceral anger and misanthropy. If you want to see the essence of MDE, just watch Sam’s improvised derision of marketing futurist Michael Rogers [in a YouTube video uploaded on October 13 with just three views thus far]. There is a quote at the 10-minute mark that shows what Sam is all about:

When I was 17, I painted a swastika in my closet. I don’t like swastikas—they’re a symbol of hate—but I was just doing it for the shock value. I was 17 years old, making lots of mistakes. But I think that, what this guy has chosen to do with his life, is so much more, infinitely more poisonous, and damaging, and sucking the life out of everything than if I were to be painting swastikas in my closet all my life. And that’s the point I try to argue with my mom all the time and she never gets it.

People who say he’s racist or sexist miss the point. His enemy are these people who can’t understand it without seeing it as racist or sexist. The mission of MDE is for people to regain their critical thinking and to be more in touch with the human soul. It is against the fakeness and authoritarian thought parasites that suck everything good out of life. Those of us who are acolytes know that every now and then he breaks character and shows just how much he cares about people. And the videos reflect this—with an occasional poignant sadness that forces you to empathize with the person being so viciously mocked. People have said they can’t finish watching Sam’s “Kickstarter TV” series because it is depressing to watch untalented people with failed dreams being ruthlessly insulted.

MDE is constantly straddling this line of humanity and inhumanity—a stark contrast to the culture that needs puppies and safe spaces to avoid anything dissonant to their world view. It’s about facing the ugliness. And this is why it irritates us so much when we see comedians like Brett Gelman or Buzzfeed journalists seek to take Sam down because of a surface-level meaning and a complete ignorance of what MDE is about. Brett calls it an “instrument of hate,” when it could not be any further from the truth. If people actually go into it deep, they would see the beauty underneath the ugly satire.

Another reader zooms out from the show:

What we are seeing here in real time is the notions of “safe/unsafe” content changing. In a Bush-era administration, provocative networks did very well for themselves by skewering/lampooning the religious right and conservative values in general. Under eight years of a Democratic president, it is only natural for content like MDE to not only exist but gather wild support. Left-leaning ideology has often been in the minority, but it would be safe to say that it is no longer marginal.

In the simplest terms, MDE is the humor for those who don’t ascribe to liberal comedy. Conservatives received criticism and protest from many liberals voices and now the tables have simply turned. That’s how culture works.

Additionally, I would say many moments within the show are actually critical and satirical of male/alt-right culture. For example, the glass table sketch referenced in the Atlantic article is actually wildly misrepresented. Briefly put, the sketch is more a critique of the extreme “bro-love” between some men that actually belittles or mistreats women in the process (i.e. the brothers arguing and finally resolving their conflicts while a bloodied woman lays on the ground, unassisted).

Adult Swim has always been a provocative network. The results we see in response to MDE’s airing are merely the result of those who’ve gotten comfortable under Adult Swim’s typical content being truly provoked for the first time—the contradiction/hypocrisy here being those who work for a provocative network get offended when they themselves are provoked.

Another reader runs through more examples from Million Dollar Extreme:

Sam Hyde’s satiric targets have never been minority groups. In “The Wall Show” sketch that I’ve seen being called sexist, he’s targeting 30-year-old women who think they are princesses who deserve a successful man, even though the women themselves are shallow and not worth anything. It’s easy to call a sketch sexist when its target is exclusively women, except Sam doesn’t laugh at them for being women; he’s making fun of their stupidity and vapidness.

MDE don’t discriminate, as they’ve made fun of white males probably more often than any other group. On Adult Swim, they’ve made fun of male gym goers, neurotic CEOs, neurotic high school teachers, bros who don’t care about a woman bleeding to death, and many more. The existential and poetic “The Man Who Would Never Be... What They Made Him To Be” sketch tells the story of a guy who wasted his life because of his arrogance and individualism.

There is an excerpt from Hyde's great “Kickstarter TV” web series where he contemplates about how man travels though time and must plan his life ahead that may help one to understand the cryptic “World Peace” sketch. On “Kickstarter TV,” I really enjoy seeing Hyde making fun of the unproductive and lazy people making all those misguided and worthless Kickstarter projects hoping to get some money to travel the world as a single mom or release a home-recorded album of Minecraft-inspired songs. It is refreshing to see someone make fun of everyone’s stupidity without worrying about offending a minority.

As far as I can tell, Sam is an idealist and a humanist, who’s been very sensitive about the successes of idiotic and shallow people in the world. The classic and rage-filled “IMG 0612” video in which Sam reacts to video portraits of shallow corporate drones has basically spawned off the modern format of YouTube reaction videos popularized by the likes of h3h3’s Ethan Klein, who’s always been open about being a fan of Hyde.

Hyde’s current political views don’t define him, and they come second to his integrity as a artist. I am from Europe myself, and it is crazy for me to see that a great artist’s support of the centrist presidential candidate is seen by many as offence in itself.

This next reader diverges from the others:

You asked if readers would defend the airing of this show. I say crush it.

Generally, those who cry for the defense of “free speech” are usually excusing “irresponsible speech.” If the societal and political field was not heavily biased toward the powerful, I’d support anyone’s right to say/present whatever they’d choose. But we obviously don’t live in a world with a level playing field. We don’t need to normalize or support media that show a “fair and balanced” view of misogyny, racism or bigotry.

Another reader couldn’t disagree more with that view:

As a free speech purist and an artist, I am naturally at odds with the concept of questioning creative expression of any kind. Is it your belief, at The Atlantic, that people are so fragile and their minds so easily intruded upon that a TV show could do actual harm? To what exactly? THE narrative? The only way of thinking? The right way of thinking?

Good. I hope it is a threat. Subversion by its very nature is meant to be a threat to established ways of thinking. But I don’t believe it will be. Subversion through art usually causes some pearl clutching and fear of “toxic” infection, but reason wins the day in all cases because humans are cooperative by nature. We couldn’t have made it to 2016 otherwise.

What usually happens, and what should likely happen here, is a tempering of cultural norms. The gauntlet has been thrown down and now it’s up to the social justice crowd, the PC police, the globalists, and the multiculturalists to explain themselves and their place in the world. A common thread among the Leftist establishment has been to silence dissent. That strategy will no longer work. The case for political correctness has to be sold anew. The case for globalism has to be sold. Multiculturalism must be sold. There is no choice.

All pillars of progressive thought must hold the weight of scrutiny and ridicule on their own merits. If they cannot stand trial, then they will not endure. There is no choice here. Silencing opposition is how this so-called toxic TV show was born. It’s how Trump became the U.S. president. Polarization of culture is a primal, unstoppable force. Its momentum cannot be halted. It can only be slowed, carefully, to rest.

This is not a moment to panic. No idea that can be brought down with mere utterances and mockery is worth keeping. So now is the time to strengthen the legitimacy of progressive ideas. Words do not hurt; they inform. Be informed and then act reasonably. This is the opportunity to solidify and temper progressive ideas so that they can last generations.

A reader from the newest generation:

Hello, I am a 17 year old who is—although very liberal—a big fan of Million Dollar Extreme: World Peace. Not only do I find the show’s layers of irony very entertaining, but I am interested in the political affiliation of Sam Hyde and the Million Dollar Extreme group as a whole. Like I said, even though I am very liberal, I think it’s important to hear and understand the beliefs of the alt-right. Watching some of the more controversial sketches on the show, or the blatantly racist bits performed by Hyde or fellow MDE member Charls Carroll at standup comedy spots, have made me legitimately uncomfortable, seeing those hurtful mindsets being displayed so publicly.

Yet I would never call for the censorship of them. They give a wider perspective on what people think and, more importantly, why they think the way they do— even if I disagree with it on a fundamental level.

Following Hyde on Twitter has the same effect. He frequently engages with alt-right leaders, and through his tweets I’ve observed and better understood the mindsets of the alt-right. In a way, it has made me more passionate and dedicated to shaping my own beliefs intellectually. Studying their arguments and why I disagree with them forces me to deeply analyze my own beliefs. I’m forced to further develop my own arguments and the way I feel about my worldview.

In conclusion, MDE should not be taken off Adult Swim. Doing so would be a hypocrisy against my own anti-establishment beliefs (censorship), perpetuate the already seemingly unbridgeable gap between the left and the right, and block access to understand opposing and contradictory viewpoints.

Thanks for listening.

We still are, if you’d like to send us a substantive criticism of the show or Hyde: Update: A reader flags Sam Hyde’s response to recent coverage. If you’d like to counter it, please drop us a note. Another reader:

I just wanted to write you because I saw you published a number of responses to your article and it leaves out who this guy really is. Sam Hyde IS a racist. His IS an anti-Semite. He IS a sexist. His views are disgusting and there is zero irony when he says these things terrible things. His “humor” is pure hate and he really means the things he says. Here is something Sam Hyde wrote explaining his views. Scroll down to “just speaking for myself (Sam).” It’s horrifying. This guy and the hateful views of the alt-right do not deserve a platform on television. It does not deserve to be legitimized.

Another reader points to more examples:

I really liked David Sims’s article, “The Battle Over Adult Swim’s Alt-Right TV Show.” I’m sure you’ve already received a decent amount of criticism and harassment from Alt-Right trolls, just as [Buzzfeed’s Joseph] Bernstein did. [CB: Actually only a few emails.] I’ve been aware of Sam Hyde for a while now, since he was posting YouTube videos of his unabashedly racist standup performances (before the Adult Swim show). I think it’s very important to shed some light on Sam Hyde and who he really is.

This is a photo [we can’t post it because we don’t have copyright permission] of Sam Hyde giving the Nazi salute with outspoken white supremacist “Weev.” Weev, who has his own Wikipedia page, is an infamous neo-Nazi internet troll and writer for the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer (based off the white supremacist Storm Front website).

Sam will always deflect criticism of his work and political views from media with either straight-up denial or by hiding behind the facade of satire. But he has, in rare candid instances, revealed his actual motives for creating entertainment for the “Alt Right” (he will also deny that the alt right even exists, but this is undoubtedly his audience). About half-way through this hour-long interview with TheNeedleDrop podcast, Anthony Fantano gets Sam Hyde to answer a few serious questions (Anthony is a fan of MDE, though it’s an interesting interview because he questions and realizes about halfway through that Sam Hyde isn’t all fun and satire and actually holds the worldview that he conveys in his standup):

Anthony: “What are your ambitions?”

Sam: “I want to make something cool for people to have an umbrella... to do our small part to reverse the feminization [of society]”

Sam: “...Having a purpose and fulfilling it is important to me”

Anthony: “It seems like there are issues that you are seriously invested in and seriously passionate about...”

Sam: “Oh yeah, hell yeah”

It looks like Sam has already posted a YouTube video in reaction to your article [linked to by a reader above, but here it is again], decrying that it is ridiculous that he would ever put swastikas in his show. However, Sam seems to have had no issue in proudly displaying swastikas in his stand-up performances several years ago—for example, this stand-up presentation that Sam gave back in 2012 (at the 16:15 mark).

Several of his older stand-up performances resemble presentations, complete with presentation slides, that compare average IQ of races and political diatribes mocking multicultural diversity. This is because Sam’s goal isn’t just to tell jokes; it’s to present his worldview to people.

Anyway, thanks to David Sims for his article. I think it’s important to shed some light on who these guys really are.

For a back-and-forth reader discussion, my colleague Jim Hamblin just started a TAD thread on “the appropriate usage of ‘alt-right.’”

Here’s another reader tackling Hyde and his work:

This is mostly in response to Sam Hyde’s most recent defense of his show. There’s a false equivalency in saying “we’re just a comedy show, other comedians make controversial jokes, why can’t you take the joke?” This isn’t comedy fueled by shock. Eric Andre has a career of making people uncomfortable, but he doesn’t attack who you are as a person. He uses who he is a person to make you feel weird. Tim and Eric write characters that are weird, to make you feel strange around them too.

Sam attacks who you are. He takes your identity, whatever it may be, and throws it in your face saying it’s wrong, so that he and the people who think like him can get a good laugh.  

Watch the YouTube video where he gets on stage and makes “shocking” comments about Chinese, women, Jews, blacks, etc. as his joke. Watch as he notices a woman who isn’t laughing, so he ridicules her in front of the audience for a laugh. Watch as the comedian who followed him on stage was clearly shaken and upset by what she heard, to the point of rage. That’s right where Sam wants you. Now he’s able to calmly harangue you in front of the crowd and make you look like a wild raging femi-nazi. Again, it’s the kind of comedy that is fueled by making people feel bad about themselves.

If Sam has the right to make comedy that may offend people, then those offended people have the right to fight back. It’s hypocritical to turn the tables on criticism and say “This is unfair, they’re shutting down our speech.” The criticism of the show, the backlash you’re seeing, is OUR free speech.

Criticism of one’s views doesn’t make them a victim. Being a women at the receiving end of joke that includes a large, intimidating man pretending to suck on your nipple, does. (See the aforementioned YouTube video for context.)

People are getting offended not because they can’t take a joke, but because Sam and his writers cross a line that marginalizes and makes people feel threatened, perhaps in the same way the Alt-Right feels threatened that gay people can now get married, or having a black man in the White House, or that woman speak their minds freely to men.

Judging from the responses to MDE:WP, it seems to be a Rorschach. I understand there are many people watching the show and seeing everything from their Alt-Right views being empowered, to seeing a genius and nuanced critique of comedy, to people seeing the show as hateful and crossing the line. If there are more of us, a lot of us, who feel like it’s crossing line, I hope it’s something the network takes into consideration.

Here’s yet another reader highlighting a piece of Hyde’s work—which, like almost all of it I’ve seen, is painfully lame at best and bigoted at worst:

I read some of the user responses and found that they were almost all in support of Sam Hyde. Many claimed that he is pointing out bad behavior by acting it out. Others say he has never targeted minorities.

I’d like to point to the Million Dollar Extreme YouTube video titled “im hearing jewish voices and i like it.” Sam Hyde has found a free periodical, The Jewish Voice, and brought it back to his apartment. Someone films him as he scans the pages mocking its content. The only “joke” in this piece is that Jewish people are aloud to have their own culture. He mentions a Jewish Community Center derisively.

Sam seems suspicious of Jews, seems to think they have some secret exclusive community and that it’s funny to mock this about them. To think there is any deeper context or meaning to this is false.

His video response to The Atlantic article has no trace of irony. He does a funny voice, tries to be goofy or paint himself as a weirdo, but it’s a man desperate and grasping for laughs well he tries to make a genuine point. He is not a genius; he’s just a guy who isn’t very funny or smart being weird to throw people off his scent.