ProJared, Internet Culture, and Masculinity: When Nerds Get Toxic

I generally avoid Internet drama, and like to give myself days, or even weeks, for the story to unfold before even thinking about writing about it. This goes doubly true for lame YouTuber stuff like the whole ProJared fiasco. But I find this one oddly fascinating because it says so much about where young men are today and how the Internet invades every corner of our lives.

This is a long one, so strap in.

The Strange, Sick, and Sad Saga of Jared Knabenbauer

For those of you who mercifully know nothing about this saga, I hate to rain on your parade, but this is important to understand my broader point. Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer is a YouTuber who makes videos about video games, Dungeons & Dragons, and other bits of nerd culture, but mostly video games. I’m watched a few myself because I like old video games, and his videos as well as by others in his circle have kept me occupied on long, boring treadmill runs or sessions on the exercise bike. But generally, while I’m aware of ProJared, I didn’t think of him much. 

Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer

On May 8 of this year, Knabenbauer rocked the Internet. He posted a statement to his Twitter page, explaining how he and his wife, well-known cosplayer and clothing maker Heidi O’Ferrall, are divorcing. The way Knabenbaur told the story, it sounded like a mutual decision . . . except O’Ferrall tweeted that she could’t read the announcement because her husband had blocked her and, oh by the way, Knabenbauer had been cheating on her with another YouTuber named Holly Conrad–aka Commander Holly–behind her back.

L-R: Heidi O’Ferrall, Knabenbauer, Holly Conrad

Drama ensued. And it moved from merely prurient to downright evil and illegal. You can read more here, here, here, and here if you’re so inclined.

You see, in addition to adultery, which is bad enough, Knabenbauer had been running alternate sites where he solicited nudes from fans . . . and got them. Knabenbauer also provided nudes, claiming that (a) his wife knew about this, (b) his wife was okay with this, (c) he and his wife were in some kind of open relationship, and (d) the whole thing was part of a body-positivity self-esteem thing.

Except it wasn’t. And some of the people Knabenbauer exchanged nude and lewd photos with were under age. And Knabenbauer knew it. And he kept asking for and sending nude and lewd photos anyway.

You can look into it on your own, as I’m not providing links to any of this. If you feel like you need a shower, you’re not alone.

I promise you, there’s a point to this. Stick with me here.

But First, An Important Announcement

None of this has to do with Knabenbauer being a gamer, games, or gaming culture in general. It has to do with a certain type of culture that sprouts up within cultures when a certain type of individual, usually male, achieves a measure of power, influence and success. But we’ll get there.

I’m So Old I Remember When The Internet Wasn’t A Thing

I was born in 1981. Technically I’m a Millennial by the new standard (1981 to 2000-something), but by the old standard I’m also a Gen Xer (1965-1983 or so). Whatever the case, I’m on the cusp of those two generations and share traits with both . . . but I mainly identify with X. For all you binary thinkers, this does not mean I hate Millennials. What I do hate is intergenerational warfare.

Where I differ from both is that I’m the last generation to have come of age pre-Internet, but the first to have entered adulthood post-Internet.

Ancient History

As far as I’m concerned, this sweet spot of, let’s say 1977 to 1983, is a different generation from both X and Millennials. We share common traits with others in our birth cohort and not those right before or right after. Maybe every generation is this short, or maybe the ludicrous speed at which technology progressed created this little niche. Either way, you learn a few things about how to behave in real life and on-line when you didn’t get Internet–or at least fast, reliable Internet in your own home–until you were 18 or so.

And when you didn’t get smartphones until you were well into your 20s. 

This stuff matters, since we didn’t have to deal with things like cyberbullying, social media, text messaging, and constant entertainment. We’d play video games . . . seated on the couch next to each other. We knew scant little of new movies or TV shows save blurry photos we’d see in magazines (remember those?), and going to the theater was a special occasion because for the longest time there were only 13 channels or so. And when we got THIRTY channels . . . woo! How much better could life get?

Comic books were purchased monthly at the newsstand in a pharmacy or supermarket–Thursday was new comics day, I think. You found out your favorite band had a new album either when you heard it on the radio, saw it on MTV (which used to play videos), or stumbled across it in a Strawberries or Circuit City or Sam Goody, or your local record shop (In Your Ear in Plymouth, NH!). 

Needless to say, we weren’t “connected.” The world felt bigger then. 

Bear with me, there’s more to this than just an old guy reminiscing about the supposed good old days. Everyone thinks their era was the best. But my era did teach us how behave when the Internet invaded every corner of our lives in a way that I don’t think subsequent generations are capable of learning now unless they live in a community that eschews technology entirely.

For example, and here’s a bit of foreshadowing, no one had to warn us that sending pictures of one’s genitals over email was a bad idea. We just knew. 

Knabenbauer was born in 1985, so he’s clearly a Millennial. A slightly older Millennial than many, but firmly of that cohort. So apparently, if anyone told him snapping pics of his schlong and tossing them over the Interwebs was a bad idea, he didn’t listen.

Let’s Talk About Men

Knabenbauer also exhibits some behavioral patterns common among  certain type of guy. You know, the one that probably wasn’t all that “cool” or “popular” in the conventional sense in high school. Being born in 1985, he’s my sister’s age, and my sister was a freshman in high school when I was a senior. And let me tell you, at this time nerd culture was still uncool. Getting caught with a D&D book or a comic character on your t-shirt or being a known anime fan still made you prime target for bullies, or at least mocking. 

Here’s a personal example to illustrate what I mean: I was 6’2″ at this point, had lost a bunch of weight, started finally seeing results from weightlifting, gotten a good haircut, advanced high in martial arts, was one of the best musicians and artists in my school, played in a band, one of the top students, and was at last acquiring some sort of swagger . . . and even I was subject to ridicule because of my love of comics, video games, RPGs, fantasy, and sci-fi.

So there was still a stigma around these things. It was waning, but it was still there. And if you were a hardcore nerd, you were constantly subject to wedgies and girls tended to flee you like the plague.

I know, I know, not ALL girls. There were geek girls back then. Many were cool, and many dated geek guys. But for the most part, we were in Revenge of the Nerds territory and not Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

Knabenbauer reminds me of that uber-dork type when I ran into them in college later on. They’ve grown up a bit, gotten a little less socially awkward and achieved a little more success with women. But they exhibit a nasty streak of revenge, especially when talking about women who wouldn’t reciprocate their advances. They’re sneaky. They like drinking with girls. They fixate on one or two. They enjoy being the emotional shoulder to cry on when said girl’s boyfriend has upset her. These are your stereotypical White Knights, your “I’d never treat you like that” who get friend-zoned, which turns them resentful.

Exhibit A

Don’t be that guy. Improve yourself by not hating yourself and not blaming others for your problems. Lift. Dress better. Start saying hi to random people and making eye contact while you do it. Shower. If a girl isn’t interested in you, move on. Talk about things other than nerd culture. Learn about things other than nerd culture so you can talk about them. And remember that women are neither your enemy nor objects that exist to provide you physical and emotional pleasure.

Again, Knabenbauer, by his behavior, strikes me as the kind of guy who never got that message.

A lot of guys fall into this camp. And the scary thing is, a lot of them resort to good old-fashioned sexual assault to try and get what they want.

It gets worse when this kind of guy acquires any type of fame, power, and prestige. Suddenly, they have access to women who vie to get their attention instead of the other way around. These guys don’t know how to handle it, so they resort to acting the way they think confident, successful men do to attract and to keep women. They don’t realize that the behaviors they considered “jerk” or “asshole” were really just “confidence.”

But when they get the proverbial girl, they’re still unsatisfied for one reason or another. They got one girl. Why not more?

This is where bad things happen. They sure did for Knabenbauer.

There But For the Grace of God Go I

Given the so-called “crisis of men,” coupled with the permanent nature of the Internet, sometimes you need an old crank who has had a foot in both worlds–pre-Internet and post-Internet, pre-super nerd and post-super nerd–to put things into perspective.

That’s right! Until the middle of high school, I was a guy kind of like Knabenbauer. I was on that path! I, too, could have become a resentful, sex-crazed, bitter, woman-hating little weenie who may actually also be a sexual predator.

But I avoided that, in large part because I recommitted myself to Christ at the age of 17, and in large part because of my parents–particularly my dad, who encouraged me to stop lashing out at the world and take responsibility for my own well-being. So I did. And it worked. Once again, dad was right. My dad is always right. 

Where was Knabenbauer’s dad?

Maybe he was there the whole time. Maybe he’s a great guy! At the end of the day, Knabenbauer is an adult who is responsible for his actions and must deal with the consequences himself. But whenever I see grown men act like this, I have to ask, “Didn’t his father teach him any better?”  

All of this personal background serves to provide a foundation, and hopefully some credibility, for the lessons I’ve gleaned from the entire stupid ProJared saga that touch on culture, masculinity, relationships, and human behavior. I’m like an amateur anthropologist, Jane Goodall but a guy and interested in a different kind of primate.

Here goes nothing.

What You Can Actually Learn From This Whole Fiasco

  • O’Ferrell is a very attractive woman. Conrad, while conventionally pretty, is not as attractive. Looks don’t matter when determining the quality of a woman’s character, but generally, when a guy who looks like Knabenbauer ditches someone very attractive for someone less attractive, it’s highly likely that the problem wasn’t just on his end, because we all know how important looks are to men . . .
  • . . . but there’s a caveat to this based on this specific instance. Please understand I’m not saying it’s O’Ferrell’s fault–Knabenbuaer was a liar and a sex-fiend who cheated on her, emotionally abused her (if we’re to believe her story, which I have no reason not to), and solicited nudes from underage girls–but it seems like she enabled it, something she admitted to.
  • If you’re in a relationship with anyone, dating or married, and they suggest you should have an open relationship, end the relationship. Run, don’t walk to the exit. Because if they bring it up once and you dismiss it, it will just fester. Normal people don’t want to be swingers. It’s a fact.
  • Men: Women aren’t your natural enemy, they aren’t conspiring against you, and they aren’t mere recepticles for your DNA. Stop hating them and being afraid of them. If you can’t get a girlfriend, the problem is probably you.
  • Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER send pictures, texts, or anything else you wouldn’t want seeing the light of day and being broadcast to millions of strangers over the Internet. Of course I’m talking about dick-pics, but the same goes for other types of non-disgusting communications.
  • Dick-pics have never been, nor will they ever be, a good idea.
  • Text-message, public, and on-line breakups are for losers. This was common knowledge among people my age. A real man conducts important business in private and face-to-face.
  • If you’re an adult male and find yourself having inappropriate thoughts or urges towards people under the age of 18, seek help. I mean this sincerely and seriously. DO NOT ACT ON THOSE URGES. You will ruin your life, and most likely the life of the kid as well.
  • What you say and do on-line has real-world consequences. The two spheres are no longer separate, no matter how many walls you try to build between them.
  • Adultery should not be forgiven. Good on O’Ferrell for sticking to her guns and refusing to defend her creepy ex.
  • People like Knabenbauer aren’t isolated instances in the world of YouTubers, or pop culture in general. These are the people in charge of influencing what you watch, read, listen to, and play, and the system as currently constructed attracts people like this and rewards them. Keep this in mind.
  • The easiest way to avoid a situation like Knabenbauer’s is to NOT LIE. The more deceptions you weave, the harder you have to work to maintain the various illusions you’ve created, and you WILL forget and slip up. Don’t like to others, don’t like to yourself, tell the truth, and your life will be much, much easier. As O’Ferrell tweeted out on May 12, and I’ll give her the last word: “If the truth about someone’s conduct can ruin their career, the problem is their conduct, not the truth.”

22 comments

  1. Which do you believe would be the better approach: restricting the Internet to financially independent adults, or teaching children from an early age how to not become Internet creeps or feed the egos of Internet creeps?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander,

      I”m older than you. So I remember when phones were either black of biege rotary phones that you had to rent from Bell Canada.
      When computers used to use the cassette tape to store the programs. I was on the ground floor when the home computer revolution started but didn’t get my first real computer until my 20s (it was a 286/12 Hz with a 1 MB drive with the 5,25″ diskettes, the green colour CRT monitor) So I had to both write by hand and later on typed my assignments.

      My son just can’t grasp how his mom and me lived without the connectivity 🙂 Just like I didn’t understand how my parents lived with out a TV. But the change from my generation to my nieces and son’s is utterly radical. It’s just amazing to have lived the before and after. The past really is a foreign country.

      xavier

      Liked by 1 person

      • The past is a foreign country indeed. I don’t remember tapes, but I remember when DOS had to be run from a 5 1/4-inch floppy in a monochrome computer’s A: drive, and any program had to be run on its B: drive—as well as separate save disks—because hard drives weren’t a thing yet. I also remember being very good with DOS until the age of 25 or so when the need to know it became utterly superfluous.

        Like

  2. Huh, this was a very interesting, pretty concise and fascinating read!! I like how you engaged with the material to be reported on and that you shared some of your own experiences and further thoughts and ended it all nicely with that quote from the (ex) wife. Very, very good work! I had seen some of this going around and honestly I thought it was Jared from Subway at first but apparently I wasn’t all that far off 😛

    Thanks for the read! I look forward to reading what other things you typically write about. 🙂
    Stay safe!

    Also, as a discussion piece: I think it’s really pretty important to approach these celebrities with a more fully educated rounded perspective–it’s frightening how people can be so cruel and evil almost (if not fully) online (as well as off but for the purposes of this example…) and STILL have a substantial following where younger individuals think of them as “goals” and idols to be modeling “appropriate” behavior from. Personally, I could use a lot more education on gaslighting, different forms of abuse and how to handle such situations, as I don’t have much lived experience (thankfully thus far) in those realms. It’s important to remember why having firm boundaries online is a good thing and to be careful what is placed out on there and everything to that effect. I usually just blindly shove it all out there and then actively avoid it later by pretending it wasn’t there at all. That, as it were, may not be the BEST approach. XD

    Rant over, ahaha.
    Hope you have a good week! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the insightful comment and the kind words! Comments like this are why I love blogging so much. You might not always agree with my takes, but I love the discussions.

      You’re absolutely right about online boundaries. I’m a fan of them myself (fake name, no pics of wife/kids/family, etc.), but the easiest thing to do is be yourself online. A metric I use is: Would I say this to someone in person? If not, I don’t put it online. It seems to help.

      Sadly, I think younger people get suckered by older predatory e-celebs because it’s attention from adults. Yet another reason I don’t plan on giving my kids phone and any other unsupervised Internet access until they’re adults.

      Thanks again for commenting, and I look forward to more!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, we have so much in common. I was born in ’74, and was ridiculed by almost everyone because I was a nerd. Didn’t matter that I was smart and a talented musician: even *handicapped* kids made fun of me. And if I hadn’t been born again when I was 21, I shudder to think what I would have become. Thankfully, I had more than enough common sense.

    But this whole incident is an indicator of the increasingly broken moral code. It’s happening more and more, and the internet (I believe) is accelerating it greatly. You see guys who formerly wouldn’t have had a chance at even kissing a girl, suddenly becoming overnight sensations and turning into self-righteous assholes (re: Wil Wheaton).

    Having ridden the wave of the internet for 25 years, I’m getting to the point where I just don’t care about it any more. I removed all web apps from my smartphone. I use text browsers to search for things. I check social media about once a day. I go outside and do things. I write on a typewriter, or with pen and paper.

    And the whole time I’m here, living the good life, society whizzes right by, hell-bent on running itself into the ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “But this whole incident is an indicator of the increasingly broken moral code.”

      Yes! More and more we’re seeing the real-world consequences of our drift away from God. All our material wealth and physical security, all our freedom from want, and we’re far unhappier than tribesmen living in the desert and poor indigenous folk in South America and relatively remote nations in the Himalayas and even than persecuted Christians in places like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Pakistan.

      Something’s missing, and that is God.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have to confirm, from my own experience, that Alexandru’s experience meshes with my own.

      There have always been a creepy subset to the Gamer/Nerd culture. It’s not always a majority, but it’s damned easy to find. I’ve left more than a few gaming groups because this crap rears it’s head. And some of those instances were pre-Internet/Social Media.

      I wish it weren’t so.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Gross. I’m dismayed to hear that. Having never been a part of hardcore gaming groups myself, I don’t have any experiences to share. But I have no reason to doubt you.

        It does seem to be a pattern.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. —Never heard of any of these people nor this sordid situation before and I’m glad. Nothing new other than the temptations of sex remain the same regardless of where one is on the social spectrum, from jock to nerd.

    —This is veering a bit askew of your topic but I think a lot of shows/books make being the outsider fashionable; I suppose it’s been that way for years. They are also keen on “found families” which work in fiction but in my experience not good for real life.

    — think I’m nearing the end of even my minimal consumption of pop culture. I wanted to see how the Marvel movies would wrap up and was happy; same with Game of Thrones and was disappointed. There’s a few things here and there I’m curious about but a lot of it leaves me uninterested.

    —-Some of this is from rumors of corruption behind the scenes and the rest from a general burn out from nerd/geek culture where it seems a lot of it on the mainstream level with movies and tv. Books, mainstream or indy are fortunately still enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great points. I’ll add one more: Maybe nerd culture attracts broken people to begin with. See Alexandru’s earlier comment about his experiences with gamers.

      The sci-fi/fantasy community is replete with disgusting and evil perverts too. Read The Last Closet by Moira Greyland if you haven’t already for more evidence of this than you’ll ever care to know.

      Normal, healthy people don’t act in these ways, and certain subcultures seem to attract those who are most decidedly not normal or healthy.

      I don’t know exactly why, because plenty of normal, healthy people are into these pop culture groups as well, but the proportion of freaks is way higher than outside of them.

      And these people are in control of our cultural narratives. Remember: American high culture is long dead, so this pop culture is really all we’ve got.

      Like

  5. —The very little I’ve read about things behind the scenes has turned my stomach. The major reason why I’ve moved away from a lot of movies/tv besides the constant reboots and adaptations. I’d heard of Bradley but never read her books and never will.

    Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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