Of all the things that happened at October 9's town hall presidential debate, the one that really seemed to stick with Americans was their introduction to Ken Bone. It wasn’t Trump turning his back and refusing to look at the Muslim woman who asked him about his Islamophobia as he bashed her religion. It wasn’t the Supreme Court question, nor those about Donald Trump's taxes or Hillary Clinton’s emails. It was a balding dude with a funny name in a red sweater.
I noticed Ken, gave a bemused smirk about his name, and then forgot all about him. When I got up the next morning, it’s nothing but this guy plastered all over my Twitter feed with his picture covered in big block letters, gifs, and think pieces from all these media outlets I follow. All I could do was groan. What the hell, America? Two candidates fight it out onstage in probably the most important election of my lifetime, and your takeaway was a guy in a dad sweater. The only thing I could think was, This is why the internet is awful, and it’s just gonna get worse. Next thing you know he’s getting interviewed by major news outlets, a “Sexy Ken Bone” Halloween costume appears (yes, really, and it’s sold out already), and he goes and does a Reddit Q&A session. There were headlines crowing, “The Hero America Needs!” I instantly knew the internet was going to turn on this guy and drag him until he’s a bloody stump on the end of a rope.
I thought this the Wednesday after the debate. I was right by Friday morning.
Ken Bone’s Reddit Q&A was his big downfall. He used his default Reddit screen name, and of course, in the highest virtues we’ve come to know from the internet, users scoured through his entire Reddit history and dredged up every odd, freaky, controversial thing. Yep, they couldn’t be happy until they took a total nobody, turned into a meme because he was funny-looking and had a funny name, and turned him into a complete social pariah. Why? Because the mob is fickle. Next thing you know Gizmodo, The Daily Beast, The Daily Dot. and even The New York Times, have plastered his Reddit posting history for all the world to see. Why? Because fuck that guy for being famous, that’s why. And what did they find?
He likes freaky porn, has an unpopular opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting, looked at the stolen pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, and admitted to a crime.
And for that he must wear the scarlet letter, be banished from the village, and have a dedicated five-minute mockery by every late-night comedy show.
Yet, it turns out that his opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting is the exact same one the U.S. Department of Justice came to, that the shooting was justified under Florida law; he even said, when someone decided to actually ask him about it, “Just because it was justified doesn’t make it right.” What a monster. His crime he committed? He said he forged car insurance so he could work a delivery job to pay for car insurance. Someone call the Hague — we have a crime against humanity here. The pictures stolen from Jennifer Lawrence’s phone were wrongfully obtained, he said, adding that she should have been more careful with her stuff and that he thought she was sexy. OK, kinda lousy. Seriously, if this is the stuff that gets you put into the stocks in the town square, we’re all screwed.
The point of his post about Jennifer Lawrence is that she shouldn’t have had those pictures just sitting on her phone and should be more careful, but at the same time the people who stole them are scum. He says that he didn’t actually look at the pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and liked them, but made a joke about it, and that he’s sorry about making a joke at her expense. That’s a bunch of crap, if you ask me — no one ever gets on the internet and just lies. That’s sarcasm. Additionally, he says he's sorry he ever even made that comment because he knows what it’s like to have his privacy invaded. As for the big crime of felony insurance fraud? He says he made that story up too. Again, no one has ever lied on an anonymous internet forum, have they? Even if he did, so what? You know how many people out there have skirted rules and laws and never admitted to it? hrow a rock. Every last one of you who has ever drank and drove, drank underage, done illegal drugs, stolen something from work, shoplifted a candy bar, cheated on a test, or whatever can just shut up. That’ll leave about five people to have an opinion on this, and they all are part of the clergy.
His comment of Trayvon Martin? Uncomfortable, for sure, but he’s right. According to the laws of Florida, there was no crime committed by shooter George Zimmerman. And that’s terrible. Ken Bone goes on to call Trayvon’s (in my opinion) murderer a bad guy and a "shit bird."
As far as the porn part? Oh, no! He likes porn. What a crime. Oh, by the way, nice Tom of Finland poster, jackass. This is probably the thing that makes me the angriest. People have pointed out that it was porn of pregnant women. Again, oh, no. What a terrible, terrible thing. So what? Honestly, preggo porn is pretty damn tame when you get down to it. Unless your idea of kinky is making eye contact while having sex in the missionary position with the lights on, you have something someone else is going to find odd. Everyone has their thing. Here, I’ll spare you the effort of stalking me: I like "office porn"' I love outfits and role-playing — seriously, a nice French maid or nun outfit and I’m into it. I’ll even get freakier on you. I love cartoon porn. I do. Not like Daffy Duck having sex, but well-made drawn porn. I even have a favorite artist. Their name is InCase, and they draw not only really sexy transgender porn, but they’re a great artist too. Hats off to InCase!
Let all of this be a lesson to all of us. We latched onto an overweight, nerdy-looking guy who we could make a little fun of, even though most of us have being overweight, nerdy, bald heads, silly facial hair, or mediocre fashion taste in one combination or another. He became famous because he was some weirdo on TV we could lightly mock and make a meme out of without thinking about the fact that he was actually a human being. Before Gizmodo attempted to earn itself a Pulitzer for its brilliant exposé on him, it turned him into a straw man for a self-righteous rant about global warming. Yeah, Gizmodo criticized him for not asking about global warming and asking about the economic aspect of the energy industry, like he was some drooling moron. Ken Bone works in a coal plant, and that’s an issue that’s relevant to him, so get off your soapbox because it’s a legitimate question. After the site's straw-man attack on him, the minds there decided to take his internet comments and single out the ones that could paint him as a villain, choosing those that would come across the most sexually creepy or racially charged, selectively ignoring his sympathetic and conciliatory words to a woman in mourning or offering advice to a trans man seeking help. Did they do this to drive web traffic? To slander a relative nobody because they could? Because he wasn't as perfect as we wanted him to be? You'll have to ask them.
Ken Bone committed the unforgiveable sin of being a person who was complex in public. This is the digital world we have built. No, we can’t blame it on just things like the mainstream media or websites like 4chan or Reddit. We made this. Our constant striving for retweets, oversharing banal garbage like photos of your dinner, the beer you’re drinking at that trendy bar, tagging in from the crappy nosebleed seats at the concert only you are excited to be at made this. The belief that all those people in those bad high school yearbook photos, those "it’s not racist" memes of minorities acting in comfortably stereotypical ways, those poor unfashionable people we sneak photos of at Walmart or county fairs (even though you’re there too) aren’t really human beings. How we take someone’s short comment on the internet and twist them into someone that’s the moral equivalent of a Holocaust executioner because they didn’t like that Feministing or Federalist article you shared. Our constant need for gossip, shade, drama. Our fascination with "reality tv" that’s more scripted and edited than a Martin Scorsese movie. Our desire to be famous to the point it’s getting turned on us. We built this. This is the media world we built. It’s nice to feel better than that poor sap who’s now been embarrassed in front of the whole world because they aren’t us.
Here’s the thing, though. You might be next. All it takes is someone stealing a photo from you, finding an unpopular or complex opinion you shared on the net and twisting it. Someone catching you in an embarrassing situation or taking one particularly odd thing about you and mocking you for it. Just slap some bold font on the picture, selectively edit it out of context, or auto-tune it and now you’re a public joke. Looks like you better get to deleting stuff. Or you know, try not being a terrible person and keep giving this stuff life.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian living in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.com.