One of the most ominous sentences I’ve heard said by heroes or “morally correct” characters in general is “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.” Something reserved for cruel and unusual fates that sometimes are just so horrendous they never actually get used on anyone, just dangled over a character’s life like the sword of Damocles designed by only the most psychotic of fifteen-year-olds.
For me, “that” is being a teacher.
To clarify, I don’t mean exclusively the kind with classrooms. I mean someone who has to get an ignoramus to wrap their head around something new. Instilling a new idea to someone is even harder the more obvious it is to the instructor, as I’ve discovered with my last few interactions with my nephew.
See, the kid isn’t exactly what one would call neurotypical. In all honesty, some of the shit he pulls reminds me a bit too much of myself when I was just a lad.
Problem is, he’s in college.
One could blame the parents, but my brother and his wife raised him pretty much in the same way I would have: Just sweep any warning signs under the rug and hope he grows out of it. The problem is that, in hindsight, our parents did such a good job with us that we forget all the effort they put in to make us respectable members of society.
But this entry isn’t about them. This is about my nephew and the temptations that a lot of sad sacks like him give into.
Around his high school years, he wasn’t doing too well socially, so I gave him the idea to effectively work the ugliness of his soul out through writing stuff. Problem is that, when that tactic’s tried out on someone as bitter and isolated as him, their writing becomes so much of an escape, they start to hope so much that their creation is real that they actually start to believe it.
And once you start to figure that out, it’s already too late. Kids like this don’t exactly respond well to criticism, constructive or otherwise.
“Say, Benny…” I tried to broach the issue gently, through an angle of feigned ignorance. “I took a look at the last few pages and… what happened to that girl? The kind of edgy one.”
“Oh, don’t worry. She’ll get what’s coming to her one day soon.”
The reminder of how needlessly dramatic kids like him tend to be makes me cringe, but he doesn’t notice. He was too busy pretending to write with his back turned to me, trying to affect the image of a brilliant yet misunderstood recluse scholar.
“No, I mean what happened to her?” I tried to steer the conversation without rocking the boat. “I don’t remember her being this vindictive. It’s… almost like every time she talks, it’s just so someone can shut her up.”
Spoilers: It was totally so they can shut her up. He’d fallen to the siren song of ‘the punching bag’.
My nephew let out a sigh – or at least what he thought an actual sigh sounds like, too much breath both in and out – and spun in his chair to face me.
“Because she’s a bad person.” He says with a face that tries to be impartial, but just comes off as psychotic or condescending. “That’s what she is.”
Ah, so he’s not vindictive, according to him, just deluded.
I give him a neutral “Hmm…” to make sure he doesn’t go on a defensive rant, and even as he turns back to his work, I’m ready for one. I consider looking over his shoulder to get a peek at a work in progress, but that ranked up with one of my greatest fears back in the day. No way would Benny appreciate the curiosity any more.
“So what about the villains?”
“Hm?” Not too flowery. I must’ve caught him by surprise.
“You know, that death cult. I’m just curious if you’re changing them any since you’re making…” whatsername “… her turn heel.”
“I’m just doing what you taught me:”
Well, shit. I realized. This is gonna be one of those things where the original idea gets twisted into something horrible, isn’t it? Like where the old master’s star pupil misunderstands something and uses his power for evil. Not that I’d consider myself a master of anything. Or especially old, for that matter.
Oh, God. He’s still talking…
“… putting all the pieces where they work best. All the evil characters should go together to be a bigger threat.”
Just “evil”, huh?
It was at this point it was decided that any future disciples would get a LONG talk about grey morality and anti-heroes. Prince Zuko, Loghain Mac Tir, maybe even bring up Han Solo’s checkered past to make it clear he wasn’t just some dashing rogue.
There was, of course, the possibility that he just didn’t like the poor girl cause she wasn’t the…
… the ‘receptive’ type.
But even if that was true, I’d rather feed my ‘do stuff’ hand into a dry blender than come at him with that. I mean, it could certainly be worse. He could’ve been writing stories about dumping ethically dubious “cures” into the water supply. At least my brother got that right.
“So it’s like a chess game? Black versus white?”
“White versus black. White goes first.”
He catches my try at reverse psychology.
“I mean no! It’s nothing like that! This is a story of…” He paused, which could be excused. “… drama!”
But using a word like that, so carelessly, is the kiss of death.
“… and?” I figured that throwing the kid a bone might actually give him an idea, even if he pulled it out of his ass.
“… And tragedy!”
“What do you mean tragedy? Is the hero flawed? Too full of himself or something?”
Benny actually scoffed at that one.
“Of course not! That’s what bad guys are for! The tragedy is the hero can’t save them from their own evil.”
You gotta admire his conviction, but at the same time… he’s twenty. There’s always room for personal preference, but the way he was seeing it, you’d think he’d never seen anything more sophisticated than 80s cartoons.
I shrugged and mumbled half-heartedly “Sounds a bit simple to me.”
Benny’s eyes narrowed like he was trying to make my head explode with mind powers. His excuse for a ‘serious’ face. I should say that, from experience, guys like us only bother being serious when we’re trying to intimidate someone.
We usually fail anyway.
“Maybe you’re the simple one.”
I was more surprised than hurt. Whenever someone like this goes on the offensive, it’s usually pretty rare, and then it’s always after getting worn down by something else.
“Maybe…” I laughed it off. “Sorry. Other people giving you a hard time?”
And just like that, I was back to being his ally. It’s this weird thing where he wants to be put-upon, but also wants to get the hell out of any confrontations he stumbles into.
“It’s just haters” he grumbled.
There’s certainly some creators that get by with dismissing criticism as “haters”, but those people tend to be either obnoxious YouTubers with legions of brain-dead teenage fans or the people behind Christ-sploitation movies. Even now, I don’t know how many readers Benny has, but he hasn’t exactly bragged about it.
I leaned down just a bit to show my curiosity.
“Wanna show me some?”
Benny didn’t really answer, but neither do I when I’m sure I’ll have something to show in no time. Clicking through a handful of links on the screen to get to his destination, I had finally noticed that he’d taken my advice and inverted the colours on the site, making the normally blinding-white layout of the page a bold (but far easier on the eyes) black.
Benny stopped at a list of names. It was nothing out of the ordinary, in my experience. Some had strings of numbers at the end, others bordered by various numbers and signs of “X”. Not exactly the names you’d find in a Chapters (at least back when they were still around) but I’d guess a lot of these kids probably didn’t have this as their end goal.
“This one’s commented on every chapter.”
He clicked and I was greeted with a three-paragraph deluge.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I read aloud.
“The tiny grain of sick pleasure I’ve been able to find in reading this crap has finally been drowned out by this chapter. We get it. You don’t like Shura.”
THAT was her name! I must’ve erased that “You Shura ‘bout that?” meme from my mind…
“But when you have to shove your hateboner down our throats”
Striking image, kiddo.
“every scene she’s in, it gets old FAST. Remember my review last chapter? Fuck all that. It’s pretty clear you wouldn’t be okay with just having her not show up in every scene. You ENJOY all the (character) killing, Snake!”
To be clear, and I only figured this out myself after a few hours of reflection, the only reason he bothered inserting the character he hates so much into every scene was so he could hate on her strawman of an assassinated character in every scene.
I had created a monster.
“Think you can get anything out of this?” I turned back to Benny, not looking forward to reading more. He shook his head.
“They just don’t get it,” he whined, the thin veneer of decent speaking skills chipping off like flakes of paint. “Not having her there’s just ignoring the problem.”
We talked for a few more minutes and got nowhere. Ordinarily, I’d hope he’d eventually grow out of it, just like his parents did, but I found out months later he’d become an internet circus freak. He had no time for introspection cause he’s always on the defensive, even if it was one of the rare people giving him constructive criticism. I’d even managed to find some internet historian wannabes making videos about him.
The only reason I’ve written this up is that Benny up and quit last week. He’d told me he’d finally had enough of the criticism and wanted to try anything else. Maybe with some distance between him and the internet, he’ll have the chance for some self-reflection.
Depends on the hobby, I suppose.
I wonder how he’ll take to Bob Ross…