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Friday, October 31, 2014

"Venture Socialist" Keith Beneath Is Running for Supervisor and Wants to Nuke Silicon Valley

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 3:33 PM


You may have seen the flyers around the Castro advertising the write-in candidacy of one Keith Beneath. He is running on an explicit program of class war, including detonating a small nuclear device in Silicon Valley.

Beneath, who describes himself as “Queer — queer sexuality, queer politics, disposition, gender. Incapable of functioning in a normal capitalist society," is a late-stage entry in the campaign for District 8 Supervisor, in which Scott Wiener is projected to coast to re-election over a fragmented opposition. A musician and performance artist, Beneath was personally troubled by his grandfather being gentrified out of SF at the age of 91. SO he put together a semi-anonymous, social media-based protest platform with the help of some friends.

We sat down at Philz Coffee in the Castro to discuss the tenets of his atypical candidacy, the irony of using tech in order to undermine it, and just what he might do if the people gave him that bomb. How real is Keith Beneath about combating the tech industry?

Well, he's still using a flip phone.

SFW: Tell us about your candidacy.

Beneath: Basically, my three main campaign points are housing rights, economic equality and thermonuclear class war. There isn’t a class war candidate running for Supervisor anywhere. I’m the only campaign that has a music video, and I’m the first candidate as far as I know to use OKCupid to recruit voters. I have this whole campaign asking voters to fall in love with me on the site.

SFW: You live in District 8. You’re not carpetbagging.

Beneath: [Laughs]. No, not carpetbagging.

SFW: When did you officially announce? Seems like you’re kind of a late entry.

Beneath: Our budget’s basically zero. So all the work for the videos was done with friends, and I spent a couple months editing them and released them in early August. It was later than I really wanted, but it was hard to finish them because it was so much work.

SFW: And you’re not a musician, as your day job?

Beneath: No, I wish. I work in non-profit arts. This is the first year of my life I will make more than $14,000. This wasn’t so crazy five years ago.

SFW: How old are you?

Beneath: 28. I went to UC Santa Cruz, dropped out and came here.

SFW: Where are you from originally?

Beneath: I’m from the Peninsula.

SFW: Let’s get one little irony out of the way. A lot of people are making the assertion of “Dude wants to run against Silicon Valley, but he’s all about tech.”

Beneath: When people talk about tech, they usually think about these few programmers, but really, all the hyper-wealthy people I’m railing against, the tech financiers, their whole structure would collapse if [ordinary] people stopped working. Tech is built on the backs of the Third World and working people. We live in this capitalist system, and you can’t pick and choose — you’re going to be complicit no matter what you do.

Did you read The Circle by Dave Eggers? He has this really salient point, which is what happens when the entire communications infrastructure is controlled by private companies. I would obviously rather there be some alternative promotional method, but there is none. I also love the idea of screwing with techies. You probably can’t use the master’s tools to unmake the master’s house, but I get a lot of pleasure from watching the sort of paroxysms and ironies that people note.

One of the whole artistic underpinnings of this is misusing tech. The Keith Beneath character uses technology, but in the wrong ways. So when he asks you to connect on Facebook, he says, “Connect with me and the NSA on Facebook.” Or he has a LinkedIn profile as a venture socialist. Or using OK Cupid. People see social media in such a stupid way. It’s like, “We have to have Pinterest. And a Tumblr.” It’s like, why? So I wanted to have him have an OK Cupid, because why not do that?

If anybody came up and said, “Fuck you, you use tech to promote your message,” I’d be like, “I didn’t have a choice, dude.” And I think Dave Eggers was right, that if there ever is some burbling dissent, I’m sure all the tech companies will quell it. I don’t think I’ll be able to do what I do in 10  years. I try to tag Mark Zuckerberg in all the posts, so that maybe he’ll see it, like I hope he does. It would be awesome if I got censored. It would be the first kind of example of the tech companies exposing their hypocrisy, because they obviously don’t give a shit about freedom of speech.

SFW: Give me an example of what you tag him on.

Beneath: I very unironically write that he’s in my videos, and tag him, “Check out this video with Keith Beneath and Mark Zuckerberg.”

SFW: And they leave you alone?

Beneath: I don’t know. I wonder sometimes if my posts are getting quenched a little bit or something. I think Twitter is too idiotic to manage. People are seeing it. One of my greatest victories is, do you know who Peter Thiel is? I think this guy is essentially a fascist in his politics, and he’s actually respected. He also owns a big part of Facebook but doesn’t have any social media presence. So three years ago, I made a Twitter account called @RealPeterThiel. I started tweeting as him and doing increasingly racist and misogynist and totalitarian posts. His PR people found out and issued a cease-and-desist.

SFW: Did you frame it?

Beneath: They banned the account for awhile, but I read through the rules really carefully. Apparently, all you have to do is make it obvious that you’re not the person you’re parodying. I still have the account, and it’s actually terrifying to use. I’ll go on and post like five things, I’ll retweet the Heritage Foundation, I’ll make some comment about how the minimum wage needs to be abolished and I’ll get like 20 followers more.

SFW: Do people get it? It sounds a little cerebral. Not that Peter Thiel is an unknown, but if you ask 100 San Franciscans who Peter Thiel is…

Beneath: A lot of people who follow him — the fake him, I should say — are sort of techie programmer people.

SFW: Tell me more about the history of Keith Beneath. Is it just music videos or is it activism?

Beneath: It’s been kind of a spring awakening for me. I had this character idea, sort of a musical character that I’d been performing on and off all these years. To me, it was kind of political drag. I’m very uncomfortable talking about how left I really am. I mean, I’ll tell people “I’m a socialist” or “I’m a Marxist,” but it freaks people out. Keith Beneath could be who I wanted to be, and I could dress up as this character and say all these outrageous things and be a real Jacobin-type leftist. The project has some ironic bits to it, but he’s very earnest.

I want to be part of an artistic movement of people who are like, “This isn’t cool. This is just the same corporate stuff that all industries are. This is not unique in any way.” And it’s hard, because tech has this reality distortion field around it, and they’re really channeled a lot of this hippie social change language.

SFW: Tell me about November 4. What are your expectations?

Beneath: I don’t know. Maybe I don’t have enough expectations. It’s probably political suicide to say this, but I don’t expect to win. But afterwards, I’m going to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to assemble and launch a nuclear strike on Silicon Valley.

SFW: Where are you going to procure the device?

Beneath: I’m going to let the other people worry about that. If it’s the democratic will of the people, you know…probably $60 million.

SFW: Would you detonate it in Menlo Park?

Beneath: I was thinking Atherton, Mountain View, the Google campus, Stanford probably, Wall Street. It’s all kind of fantastical. When I started this, I got some really interesting feedback, like “Oh my God, he’s making threats.” Which I thought was really fascinating because democratically elected people like to kill people all the time. John McCain ran a campaign where he was like, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” [sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”]. There’s actually a pretty established relationship between democracy and violence. You can vote for a candidate because you want them to bomb a country.

But when you talk about violence against wealthy people, you get this different reaction. Because they’re constantly put on a pedestal culturally, on all these magazine covers and stuff, they become sacrosanct in a sense. That was one thing I didn’t anticipate. I talked to a lawyer friend and she said it’s protected speech. You have to have a “credible threat.” People were talking about reporting the campaign to the FBI or something like that.

SFW: Who is your constituency? One tension I see is that pretty much anyone who’s going to be sympathetic to you is going to be older, while all the younger, more tech-savvy people might not be hard-line leftists so much.

Beneath: I think of my constituency as the Old Guard. There are people getting kicked out to the street who literally built this neighborhood, all these old queers. And you’re worried about butts? There’s something so bourgeois and disgusting about that, and I’ve found some of the people tweeting at me are kind of the Old Guard gay-borhood people.

I guess I saw my constituency as young people like me who’ve never really had many opportunities, massive student debts, never going to own a house here. Am I ever going to retire? I was sort of hoping I’d find a commune somewhere and live without money. I don’t have a trust fund, I’m constantly struggling for money. Why not nuke Silicon Valley? Fuck it. It’s a very punk aesthetic in some ways, but I think it’s really sad seeing the city get decimated over the last 10 years.

SFW: In the past four years, it feels like what passes for the left in San Francisco has atrophied further. Do you see any burgeoning reaction against centrism and tech? Everything you’re about has the trappings of a heroic last stand about it.

Beneath: I think tech is a bubble. I think the economy in a larger sense is in a bubble. I hope that bubble explodes, and the city can go back to re-embody some of those principles of acceptance and inclusivity, some of the old hippie social libertarianism that made it such a unique place.

But if tech were to implode overnight, it’s going to throw so many working class people out of work.

Pre-tech San Francisco had a lot of service employees, too. But their rents were lower, whereas real wages haven’t changed a lot.

SFW: So you don’t think the bubble bursting would create a lot of havoc and pain to reach that vision?

Beneath: It depends if it’s a housing bubble. That could be the best thing that could possibly happen. It’s a really big question. This city taught me that work isn’t really important. It’s peripheral to who you are here. I felt this was such a Type B city. You could get out of bed at noon, sit in a coffee shop all day. It was the least American city. But there’s multiple canaries dying because of the fumes. 

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
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About The Author

Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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