From Shrek to Dilbert, Cboyardee is the grandfather of ironic Internet counterculture.
You've probably never heard of Cboyardee – the Internet's most important YouTuber and the most influential artist of the digital age.
But perhaps that's by design. In 2012, he made most of his videos private. His entire channel was deleted in 2014, with many of his videos permanently lost. Since 2016, his Twitter has gone silent. Currently, not a single up-to-date trace of Cboyardee exists anywhere online.
And yet in the late 2010s, Cboyardee, otherwise known as Eric Schumaker, almost single-handedly sowed the seeds for Internet culture as it exists today. But to understand his influence, first, it's important to grasp the Internet culture that preceded him.
In the early-mid 2000s, the Internet was a very different place. Ironic memes – the shared images and ideas that form the lifeblood of alternative Internet culture – did not exist as they exist now. Before YouTube gained prominence in video-sharing communities and 4chan became the go-to forum for memes, anti-mainstream content largely revolved around animation websites like newgrounds.com and comedy sites like eBaum's World and the Something Awful forums. In this online sphere an edgy teen male mindset, revolving around sex, violence, and shock value reigned supreme. Newgrounds, for instance, consistently featured browser games and Flash animations involving murdering childhood characters like Steve from Blue's Clues.
This was the Internet landscape during which the British animation group Famicon released an experimental short called "Bart the General." Its narrative, which is frankly hard to follow, features a character named Toadfish from the 1985 Australian soap opera Neighbours, invading Homer Simpson's home and seducing Marge. At one point, Bart throws a brick through Homer's mouth. The piece ends with Homer watching Toadfish have intercourse with Marge, moaning, "Marge, you're breaking my heart." The animation and voice acting is horrendously, intentionally poor.
Bart the General www.youtube.com
Like the content on Newgrounds before it, "Bart the General" was violent, sexual, and shocking. But unlike most previous underground animation, "Bart the General" couldn't be taken at face value. It wasn't intended to titillate edgy teenage minds. Otherwise, why would it be so intentionally poorly animated? Why would it include a random character from an Australian soap opera? What was the point? In this capacity, "Bart the General" was the first true "fan mutation," an online animation trend revolving around strange twists and blends of licensed shows and characters.
But "Bart the General" was very underground, barely watchable and only influential within very niche groups of online animators. Luckily (or perhaps not), one such budding animator would soon change the online culture in ways that "Bart the General" couldn't.
Despite his most influential body of work being in the realm of animation, Cboyardee's first video, uploaded at some point in the mid-2000s, is mainly a video compilation. Titled "gorge bush is a Great ape from the Zoo," the video features photo morphs of then-president George W. Bush turning into various monkeys, interspersed with purposely misspelled text like "gornge bush want to destruct america. We Have To Stop Him (president)" set to bizarrely upbeat background music.
gorge bush is a Great ape from the Zoo www.youtube.com
Even in his earliest video, Cboyardee's unique ability to elevate memetic humor into something closer to art comes through clearly. While it's hard to gauge where Cboyardee fell politically, the video plays more like meta-commentary on the lowbrow nature of anti-Bush humor than as any outright statement of ideology. The mismatched blend of bad photo morphs and rampant typos with unfitting music gives the video a surreal quality. This surrealism is present throughout Cboyardee's canon, imbuing all his work with a sense of intentionality and self-awareness that many of his future copycats lacked.
Soon after "gorge bush," Cboyardee started to play around with animation using Microsoft Paint, which allowed him to create crude, ironically "bad" cartoons. Clearly inspired by Famicon's "Bart the General," Cboyardee's first few MS Paint outputs paid homage with Simpsons-inspired riffs of his own. One such video, "return of the weedlord 2," featured grotesquely detailed facial close-ups and dissonant voicework, both of which became signatures of Cboyardee's work.
Ghostly Return www.youtube.com
Unlike other underground Internet animation of the era, exemplified by newgrounds.com's gore-centric cartoon parodies and even Famicon's "Bart the General," Cboyardee's content didn't revolve around shock value or edginess. Rather, it bastardized the mundane, viewing normalcy through a distorted lens.
For example, in "pep talk part 1 of the big game trilogy," a football coach gives his team a pep talk before the big game, exactly as the title suggests. The joke here doesn't seem to be about anything specific to football so much as it's a joke about human interaction. By expressing relatively normal sentiments about a relatively normal event using grotesque animations and atypical language, Cboyardee casts banality in a bizarre light.
pep talk part 1 of the big game trilogy www.youtube.com
In 2011, all of these trends – warped MS paint animations, surrealism, dissonant voices, mismatched music, bizarre dialogue – came together in what could be considered Cboyardee's magnum opus: the Dilbert trilogy.
Cboyardee's Dilbert trilogy is a hyper-artsy, darkly comedic portrayal of an existentially depressed Dilbert. The initial entry, "Dilbert 1" seems mostly like an animation test, blending an ever-warping MS Paint rendition of Dilbert with real footage of Cboyardee. Narratively, Cboyardee exposes Dilbert to the Internet, and after taking a click, Dilbert compresses into a blob and disappears.
"Dilbert 2" picks up sometime later with Dilbert's disillusionment in full swing. Set to a homemade synth track the video features absurd imagery such as Dilbert's head morphing into a football during a watercooler chat.
Finally, in "Dilbert 3," Dilbert and his co-worker Wally shoot up their office together. The scenes are bizarre, with Dilbert telling his co-worker Alice that he'll spare her life if she can answer his question: "Which came first? Ranch or cool ranch?" Ultimately, Wally kills himself and Dilbert declares his love for Wally before killing himself too.
Dilbert 1 www.youtube.com
Dilbert 2 (Highest Quality) www.youtube.com
Dilbert 3 www.youtube.com
While incredibly disturbing in its violent content, the Dilbert trilogy also feels weirdly poignant and hilarious. Although it may be impossible to know exactly what Cboyardee intended, there's a certain universality to Dilbert's experiences with existential dread – viewing familiar imagery as alien, coping with nonsensical office policies, questioning one's humanity and value as a cog in the American workplace. Moreover, while the videos (especially "Dilbert 3") read as nihilistic at first glance, Dilbert's final declaration of love, while still absurd, elevates the piece beyond mere hopelessness. The Dilbert videos might not have an immediately clear message, but they clearly have something to say.
Cboyardee's content was dizzying and anxiety-provoking, but it also resonated with people – especially those who frequented counterculture forums like 4chan.
Perhaps people in these communities saw some element of themselves in Cboyardee's Dilbert interpretation – more connected than ever through the Internet, yet increasingly detached from the real world. Directly or indirectly, Cboyardee's videos seemed to inform the overall sense of humor on main 4chan boards like /b/ (random) and /r9k/ (ROBOT9001, a forum for personal stories and hanging out). Their use of detached, ironic humor and bizarre interpretations of basic human interaction seemed to spread into all sorts of cultural facets, from memes to green text stories to the type of language used online. For instance, while the term "normie," a pejorative for normal, boring people, had been used before, it wasn't until 2012 that the term became popular on 4chan. In many ways, "normie" could be seen as a distillation of everything Cboyardee's content parodied. And while outlooks like these have already spread amongst disenfranchised people online, Cboyardee's videos offered unifying humor and a litmus test for whether or not someone had the fundamental outlook to enjoy 4chan's unforgiving environment.
To be clear, Cboyardee is not responsible for the current state of 4chan. In recent years, 4chan has largely become synonymous with /pol/, its political forum which skews ultra-right wing. And while much of the humor on /pol/ can be traced to similar sources, Cboyardee's work never infused genuine hatred or clear political ideology. If anything, it existed as a denouncement of politics as a whole.
In the 2010s and early 2011s, Internet counterculture was shaped by another major force – bronies. Especially prominent on 4chan, brony subculture largely consisted of teen or adult men who obsessed over and shaped their identities around My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Unlike other fandoms revolving around comics or video games, brony fandom seemed especially weird because it existed outside of the show's presumed target demographic. In many ways, the bronies' struggle for acceptance paved the way for other subcultures.
Around this time, likely in response to the sudden proliferation of bronies, Cboyardee started adhering to a fandom of his own – Shrek. While Tim & Eric had previously done a Shrek bit on their show around the release of Shrek 3, Cboyardee was the first person to use Shrek as an ironic meta-joke in the context of online fandoms. To this end, Cboyardee released what might have been his most influential video on larger Internet culture, "Re: Shrek is Dreck." Here, Cboyardee rehashes a fictional argument with a user on a made up forum called "shrekfaqs.net" over the user commenting "Shrek is dreck." An outraged CBoyardee insists that "there's some people who Shrek matters a whole goddamn lot to" and calls the user a "subhuman piece of shit."
Re(colon) Shrek is Dreck www.youtube.com
"Re: Shrek is Dreck" was followed by multiple "Shrek Jokes of the Day" in which Cboyardee dubbed himself the "Shrek Comedian."
Shrek Joke of the Daycolon Joke #1 www.youtube.com
Cboyardee's Shrek videos parody the notion of fandom as an identity. By pretending to be fanatical about an innocuous character who, presumably, no legitimate fandom would ever exist for, Cboyardee was again highlighting the absurdity of the mundane. It was as if he was saying, "it would be insane for anyone to be this invested in Shrek, so how is that different from fanaticism about anything else?"
Unfortunately for Cboyardee, many of his fans didn't see it that way. Rather, they were inspired by the idea of an ironic fandom parodying real fandom. So they started making Shrek jokes and Shrek memes, posting them everywhere online. They started an actual Shrek fan forum called shrekchan.net, and they spread "Shrek is love, Shrek is life." And they started calling themselves "brogres," the ironic brethren of "bronies." In doing so, "Shrek culture" had become the exact thing Cboyardee was parodying in his videos – a fandom tied to identity.
Ironic Shrek fandom acted as the prototype for the many ironic online memes and cultures that came later, from Minions to Bee Movie to Cory in the House.
Cory in the House Anime OP www.youtube.com
For many artists and online personalities, inspiring a movement would constitute a major accomplishment. But not Cboyardee. He hated the out-of-context quotes and memes generated by fans of his content. So, in 2012, he set all his video to private. Then, in 2014, his entire account was permanently deleted. While many of his videos have since been uploaded, the rest were lost in the purge.
So where is Cboyardee now? Nobody really knows.
At one point during the height of his Internet popularity, he helped to develop an online Basketball/Action game called Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden.
A planned RPG sequel, Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden 2, received a fully-funded Kickstarter campaign but never manifested.
Cboyardee remained somewhat active on Twitter through 2016, but his account has since gone silent. He has no LinkedIn and no other social media, at least not under his real name. Cboyardee – Eric Schumaker – became a phantom.
Yet his art and influence have lived on far beyond his small bubble of notoriety. Cboyardee's unique sense of humor could be seen as a major influence on the trend of surreal, ironic, and post-ironic memes that took hold on 4chan after the "Dilbert" videos and Shrek culture began to increase in the early 2010s. These comedic stylings continue to shape Internet culture to this day, with the caveat that many of the people who spread similar content now do so devoid of any context or deeper meaning. In this light, Cboyardee's alleged fear became a reality, his art inspiring a culture he hated. Ironic anti-political humor inspired political humor. Deep commentaries on depression, detachment, and romantic tragedy spawned straight nihilism. "Brogres" became the exact thing they were parodying – fanboys mindlessly consuming and arguing over media, albeit under an ironic guise that no longer seemed to matter. Some people have even internalized "memeing" to the extent that it's become a core part of their personality, with "memelord" functioning as a badge of identity. Counterculture has been normalized. Perhaps it's a good thing Cboyardee disappeared.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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