John Roderick came under fire for a story that sounded like child abuse, but maybe his worst crime is being awful at Twitter.
The saga of Bean Dad is a tale as old as time.
First, a random psychopath goes viral for bragging about making his daughter go hungry. Then people uncover his homophobic, ableist, and horrifying white supremacist tweets of yore.
Then the random psychopath turns out to actually be the founder and lead singer/guitarist of indie-rock band The Long Winters. Then he apologizes and clarifies the whole situation, and Twitter is revealed to be maybe not the best medium for assessing nuance and communicating irony. Classic stuff.
But that summary really doesn't do the whole mess justice. For a proper post mortem, it's worth returning to the thread that got the whole thing rolling and earned John Roderick the nickname that he will carry with him for the rest of his life — or at least until it stops being funny — Bean Dad.
The story took nearly two dozen tweets to unfold, with Roderick's nine-year-old daughter being forced to take a crash course in mechanical engineering in order to solve the problem of wanting some lunch. When she came to her distracted father saying that she was hungry, he suggested that she heat up some baked beans, and she revealed that she didn't know how to use a can opener.
Leaving aside the strangeness of treating baked beans as an entrée —
outside of a screening of Cars 2 — this revelation opened up a branching pathway of possibilities. For some parents, only two options would have come to mind: Either open the can for her and move on, or take the time to demonstrate how to use a can opener, and guide her through it in a process lasting upwards of two minutes. But John Roderick is evidently not like other parents...
Rather — as he related in a thread seasoned with an air of faux wisdom and some dashes of failed humor — John Roderick and his daughter embarked on a six-hour quest to unlock the mysteries, not only of a can of beans, but of the can opener, and even the can-opener inventor.
Dubbing himself "Apocalypse Dad" (nice try, Bean Dad), Roderick lays out how he sought to teach his daughter skills of problem solving, perseverance, and theory of mind. Rather than guiding her to arrange the opener in the correct orientation to puncture the lid and trace the inner edge, he pushed her to examine the device's various parts, figuring out the intent behind the can opener's design, and how someone else had solved the bean-can problem before.
These are undoubtedly good skills to have — especially if you take the prospect that global civilization is due for a collapse seriously. But people took issue with some of the finer details of Bean Dad's methods. In particular, they were not big fans of Roderick telling his hungry, frustrated daughter, "Sweetheart, neither of us will eat another bite today until we get into this can of beans."
To many, this sounded more than a little like a cold, didactic form of child abuse. And that impression was bolstered when he reported that his daughter — exhibiting signs of exhaustion low blood sugar near the finish line of this arduous, involuntary marathon — complained "my brain is fuzzy!"
Oof. That alone would obviously be upsetting. But what elevated the awfulness to the point that it took over Twitter was the recurring tone of pride and condescension masquerading as sage observation:
"A more mechanically inclined kid might have figured it out in minutes." "'The tool is made to be pleasing but it doesn't have any superfluous qualities.'" "'You understand everything except how the tool addresses the can.'" "I should say that spatial orientation process visualization and order of operations are not things she...intuits."
Should you, though? Roderick comes across as a sort of monomaniacal authoritarian, treating his child less like her own person and more like a project to be perfected. Unless it was intended as a joke? Would anyone be that stupid?
The Long Winters perform "Stupid" www.youtube.com
For a huge number of people with no prior knowledge of his life as an indie-rock/podcast nerd, John Roderick became solidified as Bean Dad — the pompous administrator of petty evils with possibly a hint of prepper madness. And for those people it was only mildly surprising when a bevy of old tweets was unearthed featuring commentary about "Jew lawyers" and "mud-people," among other forms of bigotry.
It seemed that Twitter had tracked down one of the handful of true, irredeemable villains in the world, and the only bad part of the collective Bean-Dad hatred spreading across the Internet was the fact that we were all being exposed to this random, awful snapshot of humanity.
Who could even defend someone so patently grotesque? The answer turned out to be Jeopardy! champion and fellow bad tweeter Ken Jennings.
As it turns out, Jennings — who made history in 2004 as the winningest contestant in Jeopardy! in the show's run — co-hosts a podcast with Roderick. The show, called Omnibus, covers weird true stories that often have nothing to do with either bigotry or bean cans.
If this reassures anyone, I personally know John to be (a) a loving and attentive dad who (b) tells heightened-for-… https://t.co/yAJMCWeL5S— Ken Jennings (@Ken Jennings)1609706310.0
Jennings had his own recent Twitter scandal involving insensitive tweets like, "Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair." Amid plans to insert the most famous contestant as
Jeopardy!'s interim host — this week marks the final set of episodes recorded by the late Alex Trebek — Jennings' recently apologized for and deleted a number of his old tweets.
In fact, it was just last Wednesday that Jennings referred to those old tweets as "failed jokes" that he had only left up "so they could be dunked on." But now, as his friend was being called out for far worse, Jennings' response was, "This site is so dumb."
As the hate-storm raged, Jennings assured his followers that Roderick was "a loving and attentive father" who "tells heightened-for-effect stories," and his co-host's anti-Semitic tweets were not representative of "any actual opinion I've ever heard from him." Needless to say, many people found these defenses of an obvious monster less than convincing.
There was immediately talk of Jennings being disqualified for Jeopardy! hosting duties — good news for IBM's Watson. Meanwhile, John Roderick — who had already deactivated his Twitter account — posted an apology and some clarification to his personal website.
If Roderick is to be believed, then certain details of the original thread were exaggerated to make the narrative more dramatic and compelling. The claims that the cupboards were bare and that he and his daughter weren't going to "eat another bite" until the can opener was figured out were erased by the existence of a bowl of pistachios consumed between the two of them as the struggle wore on.
He also amended the story to include bouts of laughter between the frustration and his wife on the outskirts of the ordeal — laughing at them and appealing for silence. Roderick says that he framed the story deliberately to make himself look like an assh**e, "because that's my comedic persona and my fans and friends know it's 'a bit,'" but also acknowledges that the result was a narrative of abuse that brought up a lot of awful feelings among people who have been on the receiving end of such treatment.
Couched in these terms, the story sounds more like a slightly obnoxious game that a father roped his daughter into playing — but that his daughter didn't entirely resent. And as for the tweets using various slurs and alluding to offensive stereotypes, Roderick relied on a variation of the "failed joke" defense to explain those:
I thought then that being an ally meant taking the slurs of the oppressors and flipping them to mock racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry. I am humiliated by my incredibly insensitive use of the language of sexual assault in casual banter. It was a lazy and damaging ideology, that I continued to believe long past the point I should've known better that because I was a hipster intellectual from a diverse community it was ok for me to joke and deploy slurs in that context.
Ultimately, whether you choose to believe that John Roderick's apology is sincere, or just a cover for the awful reality revealed in the original tweet thread is up to you. The only thing I would add to his defense is that Gen X weirdos who use "edgy" and offensive humor as a crutch — and should probably just stay off social media — are likely a great deal more common than actual sadistic psychopaths...
Okay I’ve just been sent some of the greatest hits of Bean Dad and I’m thinking, parenting aside - maybe he’s not t… https://t.co/XSTnvA40ib— Heath Miller (@Heath Miller)1609712381.0
It may be that John Roderick's greatest crime was just being bad at Twitter — telling a hyperbolic, abridged version of a story to get more attention and getting more and harsher attention than he ever could have guessed. It's either a lesson we should all take on board, or it's a fiendish ploy by history's greatest monster.
Roderick closed his original tweet thread noting that the can opener had taken on new layers of meaning and would exist in their household as a potent allegory from then on.
If only he had known how right he was. Because whether you choose to believe him or not, "Bean Dad" will live on.