CULTURE

Cboyardee: The Man Who Shaped 4chan

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.

Early Works

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.

Dilbert

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.

Shrek

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.

Cultural Influence

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.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com


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Culture Feature

Down the Rabbit Hole: Exploring Weird YouTube

From terrible dating advice to Shrek culture, Weird YouTube has it all.

With nearly two billion active users and over 300 hours of content uploaded every minute, it's no surprise that YouTube houses a lot of weirdness.

Beneath its colorful surface – one full of music videos, Fortnite gameplay, and attractive people reacting to mundane things – YouTube brims with bizarre content. From obscure subcultures to strange ideologies, YouTube is rife with proverbial rabbit holes. These tunnels of interrelated videos offer perspective outside of anything close to day-to-day reality.

Embark on a journey along YouTube's "Up next" sidebar, jumping from video to video, ever deeper into algorithmic oblivion. Experience media oddities the likes of which you've never seen before, from the funny to the strange to the dangerous. Welcome to Weird Youtube.

The Funny

While it's easy to find great sketches and comedy bits on YouTube, a lot of the funniest content has been published entirely in earnest. Hidden gems lay waiting to be found amongst endless expanses of workplace introductions, local commercials, and how-to videos. Luckily, hilariously bad videos rarely exist in a bubble, so finding one usually leads to a whole lot more.

A prime example of this misguided hilarity is the how-to channel, expertvillage. Claiming to be "powered by eHow," expertvillage had been posting "user-generated instructional videos" since 2005, with their most recent video released in 2015.

Bafflingly, most of expertvillage's "experts" seem to have no idea what they're doing. They also don't seem to cut or reshoot footage after making mistakes, and the videos themselves are barely coherent, let alone instructive. For example, here's a man teaching you how to draw a cartoon whale "to add to your portfolio of cartoon sea creatures," whatever that means.

Easy Cartoon Drawing : How to Draw a Cartoon Whale www.youtube.com

Sure, art may be subjective, but it's hard to imagine anybody in the world could think this man is a qualified art teacher.

Expertvillage's videos are so terrible that entire "fail compilations" sprung up highlighting their most cringe-worthy offerings. But despite all the wonky home improvement, failed science experiments, and sad piano playing, nothing comes close to their instructional flirting videos for men. Meet Alan, co-founder of the long-deceased AskRomeo.com, who's here to teach you "How to Pick Up Female Employees at Grocery Store."

How to Meet Women in the Grocery Store : How to Pick Up Female Employees at Grocery Store www.youtube.com

At first glance, Alan doesn't seem like the kind of person who should be doling out dating advice––he's slovenly, resembling a guy who woke up hungover after a night at the club and didn't bother to change, and his stilted reading of cue cards doesn't exactly inspire confidence. At second glance, he doesn't get much better, advising that "employees are great people to talk to because they have to be nice to you, they're paid to be nice to you." It would all be incredibly problematic if it weren't so absurd. Still, it gets worse. Here's "Conversation Tips for Meeting Women at Grocery Store."

How to Meet Women in the Grocery Store : Conversation Tips for Meeting Women at Grocery Store www.youtube.com

In this informative segment, Alan walks viewers through a mock conversation about assorted donuts ("because it gave a great opinion piece") with an uncomfortable-looking woman. To be fair to Alan, he does genuinely seem very passionate about donuts, suggesting that potential flirts stay honest while talking about the food items near their target. "You shouldn't be lying about the donuts you like."

Alan's not exactly Romeo, but at least he's not "social dynamics instructor" Alex MacRae (kindly recommended by YouTube after watching Alan's offerings), who suggests going up to a girl with blue eyes and saying, "Wow, your eyes are like blueberries. I'm kind of hungry. Can I have?" as he pinches his fingers closer and closer to the camera.

How to Pick Up a Girl in a Bar : How to Flirt With a Girl www.youtube.com

That, in essence, is a rabbit hole––the experience of watching one video that leads to another and another, leading you deeper and deeper into a channel or sometimes an entire online subculture you never imagined existing.

The Strange

If you spend enough time in any forum online, you'll eventually come across some memetic reference to Shrek, the most well-known being: "Shrek is love, Shrek is life."

On the surface, this may seem like a jokey reference to Dreamwork's 2001 hit movie, and while that's partially true, the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper into an entire subculture based on bizarre, ironic (or possibly post-ironic) odes to the big green ogre.

Should you search the phrase on YouTube, you'll come across this 2014 video, jankily animated in Garry's Mod, depicting a young boy having an intense sexual encounter with a deity-like version of Shrek.

You can look this one up yourself.

The video directly translates a 2013 green text story posted on 4chan, which originated the phrase "Shrek is love, Shrek is life."

Digging deeper reveals an entire community of self-proclaimed "brogres," people modeling themselves after "bronies" in testament to their Shrek fandom. Except unlike bronies who genuinely love My Little Pony, brogres don't actually love the Shrek films. Rather, they love Shrek as a meme, propagating distortions of his image as a sort of anti-fandom.

As such, Shrek-related content on YouTube tends to blend other nostalgic properties incorporated in similarly nonsensical ways, like this animation of Shrek walking through a haunted house, set to the opening theme from the Goosebumps TV show.

Shrek captured on Film www.youtube.com

But why Shrek? The answer lies with a YouTuber named "CBoyardee."

Active from 2006 through 2013, CBoyardee was an amateur animator and game developer who gained recognition for his grotesque animations created using Microsoft Paint. While much of his post history has since been lost (he set his videos to private in 2013 and deleted his entire account in 2014), dedicated fans have reuploaded his most popular content.

One such video, titled "Let's Play Shrek" and originally uploaded sometime in the late 2000s, is the earliest known example of Shrek being used as a form of weird humor outside of a Tim and Eric sketch from 2007. Parodying YouTube "Let's Play" videos, CBoyardee uses an emulator to run Shrek 2 for Gameboy Advance, purposely playing poorly while pretending to get sexual gratification from the game.

Let's Play Shrek (cboyardee reupload) www.youtube.com

CBoyardee mentions Shrek again in his most famous video, Dilbert 2, the original upload of which garnered over a million views in 2011. In it, an existentially broken version of the comic strip character Dilbert tweets, "wwhy shrek is piss. why shrek is piss #italiano [sic]."

Dilbert 2 (Highest Quality) www.youtube.com

But all this was just a primer for CBoyardee's true Shrek masterpiece: "Re: Shrek is Dreck," a video in which 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."

Shrek is NOT Drek! www.youtube.com

"Shrek is NOT Drek" instantly transformed Shrek fandom into a popular meme on weird corners of the Internet, soon resulting in a real Shrek-based forum called "shrekchan.net" which launched in 2012 but has since been taken down.

In many ways, "Shrek culture" can be viewed as the prototype for other ironic fandoms like Bee Movie and Cory in the House, the latter of which is considered by many to be the best anime of all time.

Cory in the House Anime OP www.youtube.com

But while many of YouTube's rabbit holes, even the weirder ones, are ultimately harmless, some run especially dark and deep.

The Dangerous

In February 2017, The Verge published an article titled "Adults dressed as superheroes is YouTube's new, strange, and massively popular genre." The article details a prolific trend of videos featuring adults dressed up as fictional characters, usually Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen, who engage in violent and sexual acts often involving peeing, pooping, pregnancy, physical abuse, simulated intercourse, and needles. While this would be disturbing enough on its own, the kicker is that these videos are being strategically tagged and marketed towards children, frequently appearing as recommended videos on Kids' YouTube and generating millions of views. Moreover, the videos were all monetized, meaning the creators were making tons of profit.

The issue ballooned from there, as people uncovered more and more YouTube channels gearing themselves for children while depicting bizarre, violent, and sexual content. BBC profiled a slew of videos depicting Peppa Pig getting all her teeth pulled out by the dentist. Another child-oriented channel called "Toy Freaks" had somehow become the 68th most popular channel on YouTube with videos of a 46-year-old man seemingly forcing his two young daughters into disturbing toddler roleplay and peeing videos. There were gory claymation and trypophobia-triggering content (fear of small holes), all featuring popular characters from Disney, Marvel, Paw Patrol, etc., with nonsensical keyword-ridden titles explicitly intended to game algorithms to show up in children's video feeds on YouTube Kids.

The controversy came to be known as Elsagate, spawning an entire subreddit dedicated to preventing these bizarre channels from reaching young audiences.

Influential YouTubers like Phillip DeFranco provided breakdowns.

Why We Need To Talk About The Insane YouTube Kids Problem… #Elsagate www.youtube.com

Ethan Klein from H3H3 brought Post Malone on his show to discuss the phenomenon.

Post Malone and H3H3 Try to Make Sense of "Elsagate" www.youtube.com

Other channels, like "Investigating Youtube" sprung up solely to provide in-depth coverage and calls to action on the topic.

Elsagate - A Call to Action (Top Ten Worst #Elsagate Channels) www.youtube.com

YouTube ultimately responded by hardening its guidelines on content involving family-friendly characters, purging or demonetizing over 50,000 channels and over two million videos.

Still, conspiracies persist, with many believing these videos were much more sinister than an exercise in gaming YouTube algorithms for profit, but rather an attempt to normalize children to sexual abuse and pedophilia. The scariest part is that these conspiracies might not be so far removed from the truth.

Many videos of children on YouTube garner incredibly disturbing comments and some parents seem even to welcome it, allowing (or potentially even compelling) their underage children to upload sexualized content to the platform. One such instance was recently documented by "PaymoneyWubby," who discovered an ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) channel featuring a little girl, often dressed in skimpy outfits, blatantly alluding to sexual acts in her content.

Kids doing ASMR is a problem www.youtube.com

All of this is to say that YouTube houses vast expanses of content, much of it largely unexplored. For every popular channel with millions of views, there are hundreds of thousands more with only a few. The diversity on YouTube is as expansive as the diversity of people––there are vibrant communities dedicated to niche hobbies and interests, unwitting hilarity, sad outposts, lonely bastions, and in some cases, grave danger.

In many respects, YouTube functions as a wonderful hub for irrelevant content. Without YouTube, the Internet would be missing a lot of its weird memes and alternative humor. Comedic anomalies like CBoyardee might never have found an outlet, let alone an audience. On the other hand, YouTube amplifies larger social concerns that didn't exist before the Internet Age.

Our laws aren't yet properly equipped to handle issues like Elsagate. Outside of YouTube's own policies, there are no explicit legal means of stopping people who want to publish dangerous content geared towards children, or possibly even worse. There are no real laws against parents encouraging their kids to publish pedophile bait. Even well-meaning parents aren't always equipped to comprehend the dangers their children face on a seemingly innocuous app like YouTube Kids.

Journey down the rabbit hole, but do so with caution. There's plenty of treasure to be found, but also a whole lot of dirt.


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com



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