Jordan Peterson Fandom and the Growing Influence of the “Dark Intellectual Web”

Curator's Note

During an age when more and more people are becoming disillusioned with academia, the teachings of reactionary personalities like Jordan Peterson are increasingly seen as an alternative to higher education. Does academia have its issues? Certainly. Tuition is too high, faculty and student diversity is still a significant issue, and many universities (both unaccredited and accredited) exploit students rather than educate them. However, many (typically young white men) see the psychologist, author, and YouTube guru's hostility towards multiculturalism, condemnation of feminism, and attacks on progressive politics as a legitimate critique of conformist liberalism and the university system. While Peterson and the rest of the "intellectual dark web" (Finlayson, 2020) are saying nothing new, rather a repackaging of reactionary political discourse with an intellectual or "highbrow" appearance, the affordances of digital media profoundly affect his popularity.

Given that digital media have eroded the authority and effectiveness of traditional gatekeepers, reactionary personalities like Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, Candace Owens, and Jordan Peterson have thrived in these digital environments. Many of them have expanded their personas into media empires. The Daily Wire, the "conservative" (although I would call it alt-right) news website, is the most obvious example of the mainstreaming of the dark intellectual web. The Daily Wire may frame its consortium of personalities as a conservative alternative to traditional journalism. However, it is just an assortment of political nationalist propaganda blended with a bit of Christian dogma.

While the dark intellectual web has interested political communication scholars (Parks, 2020; Kelsey, 2020), fan scholars should examine how the practices we typically frame as fannish played a crucial role in Jordan Peterson's rise to prominence. Peterson's opinions of gender equity, LGBTQ+ rights, and the supposed "struggles" of being a man are undoubtedly distributed online by himself and other large audience producers such as Joe Rogan. However, Peterson has also developed a devoted fan base, who are most likely responsible for the countless short clips and compilations of Peterson "owning" feminists and liberals. Those who follow Peterson's teachings tend to have a strong affective attention towards him, often describing him as a father figure.

Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and other social media may provide the perfect space to erase all context to frame Peterson as a rational and unbiased skeptic of progressive politics. However, future research should examine how fan practices contribute to the spread of reactionary political discourse. I do not wish to minimize the consequences of Jordan Peterson's rhetoric by framing him as an object of fandom. Instead, it is important to stress that fandom can sometimes be very toxic, which has received much attention in recent years (Stanfill, 2020).



Parks, G. (2020). Considering the purpose of "an alternative sense-making collective": A rhetorical analysis of the Intellectual Dark Web. Southern Communication Journal, 85(3), 178-190.

Kelsey, D. (2020). Archetypal Populism: The "Intellectual Dark Web" and the "Peterson Paradox". Discursive approaches to populism across disciplines: The return of populists and the people, 171-198.

Mannella, F. (2020). General Insights From:" The Intellectual Dark-Web": A Case Study of Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. Intersect: The Stanford Journal of Science, Technology, and Society, 14(3).

Stanfill, M. (2020). Introduction: The Reactionary in the Fan and the Fan in the Reactionary. Television & new media, 21(2), 123-134.

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