A practical application of close reading skills: Nazi-spotting

Whenever I teach a literature class, I put a lot of energy into helping students understand the difference between the plot summary and personal engagement (“The character I could most relate to in this story was…”) they got praised for doing in high school, and the more advanced literary close reading skills I ask them to do in my literature class.

I’ve had some success drawing on the pre-existing skills of art students who are used to analyzing paintings, theatre students who can analyze a monologue, and even science majors who understand the difference between dissecting a frog (to sketch the contents your teacher expects you to find there) and performing an experiment (where you might dissect frogs in order to gather data, but the point of the experiment is not just to prove you can sketch the insides of a frog).

This example, from the world of journalism and heavy metal music, describes one reporter’s skill at close-reading the messages that white supremacists send each other. Worth a read.

It takes time and dedication to flush out a Nazi who does not wish to be recognized, and you’re likely to miss the signs if you’re not conversant in the language. Music and culture writers are used to reading between lines that way, whether they’re unpacking the symbolism behind Taylor Swift’s latest album, decoding a cryptic Instagram post from a mysterious DJ, or digging into the enigmatic poetry of the late, great MF DOOM. The same principle applies to black metal and white supremacy.


Sometimes a werewolf is just a werewolf, but often it’s a sign of something more malignant. — What covering heavy metal taught me about spotting Nazis (Kim Kelly, Columbia Journalism Review)