November 3, 2012
Violentacrez: Quite the Character
Mon semblable,—mon frère?
You know how, like, on Fringe, when they show the doppelgangers of characters in the parallel universe,
some of them are more or less the same as their “real world” counterparts
while others, owing to the Cruel Hand of Fate or perhaps poor personal
choices, are pathetic and doomed shadows of their cousins in our universe?
Or, er, um, mayhap you don’t watch Fringe? Well, I never.
What I’m trying to convey here are the sensations that skittered through me, rodent-like, while watching the recent hotel-room sit-down conducted by CNN’s Drew Griffin with one Michael Brutsch, aka “violentacrez,” former moderator on Reddit
and notorious internet troll who had been “outed,” as the young folks say,
by Gawker a week earlier. It was, in many ways that I find hard to admit
to myself, rather like stepping through that inter-dimensional bridge on
Fringe and eyeballing another version of myself whose life did not turn out quite
An uglier version of myself, I hasten to add. Much, much uglier. If you were to conjure up a mental picture of a “troll” in its
original fairytale connotation, you might very well envision Michael Brutsch
lurking beneath bridges and threatening to gobble up passersby and what-not.
But that is neither here nor there. Let me show you what I mean by breaking down for you the horrifying sense of identification I feel with violentacrez.
Unhealthy Obsession with Younger Females
Violentacrez’s defenders, such as they are, will tell you that he was not,
in fact, a “troll”—defined as someone who sprays offensive comments on
the sites of others—but rather a moderator, i.e., a creator of subforums
designed to inspire and then house his offensive comments. In other words,
it’s not as if he’s breaking into other people’s homes at night and shitting
on their carpets. He thoughtfully builds his own new homes, invites people
to move in, bring their stuff, make themselves right at home, and then shits all over their carpets.
These subforums included "Rapebait," "Incest," "Pics of Dead Kids," "Choke a Bitch," "Rape Jokes," and, most famously, "Jailbait." Reportedly, all have been deleted so I have never seen any of them. (I didn’t look very hard.) “Jailbait” reportedly served as a drop box for bikini shots and the like culled from the Facebook pages of naïve tweens.
In an early chapter of How To Pick Up Japanese Chicks And Doom Your Immortal Soul, I introduce a minor character named Jailbait, a high school girl whose
parents unaccountably allowed her to reside in the same adults-only international
boarding house in western Japan where I spent my first two years in the
country just after college. My relationship with Jailbait remained chaste
and cordial, though, as I shall remember to note in my Thanksgiving prayer
later this month.
My obsessive little mind did latch onto Japanese university students from the get-go and never let go as I passed through my twenties, thirties, and forties, leading me into more and more unfortunate misadventures as documented in the work cited above.
Others Made Us Do It
Violentacrez in the CNN interview:
You know, Reddit encouraged and enabled this sort of behavior. And I shouldn’t
have been a part of it. Nobody on Reddit really had anything to say about
it at all.
Later on, he shows the reporter a gold-plated bobblehead that Reddit sent
him as an award for attracting legions of users. "My name is leeeeegion" they no doubt seethed, Exorcist style.
In HTPUJCADYIS, I blame the book’s existence on a kindly lesbian therapist who felt that
I might be able to write my way out of the suicidal abyss into which I
had plunged myself. And somewhere on this very site are two or three blog
posts where I reiterate the blaming of said lesbian therapist for the existence
of said book. Yes, yes. It’s all your fault, nameless lesbian therapist.
God damn you! God Damn you all to hell!!
Hiding behind a Character
Drew Griffin: Did you ever think… I mean “Jailbait,” “Rape-Bait,” “Incest,”
“Pics of Dead Kids,” “Choke a Bitch”... I mean did you ever think, these
aren’t normal buttons I’m pushing here?
Violentacrez: Well, because—and this goes back to how the "violentacrez
character" first started. My first thought was—or, violentacrez’s first thought was: “You know, I see those pictures on my incoming image
stream all the time. I could easily create a Reddit for that and fill it
up with some pictures.” So I did—to outrage people. No idea where the pictures
In a post-mortem dripping with quotation marks, Griffin addresses Anderson Cooper’s question as to why violentacrez agreed to this interview.
I think he wanted to come on the air and truly apologize and try to explain—maybe
to his extended family and even his followers—why he did this, why he created
this character, and somehow wiggle out of this, to blame it on “violentacrez,”
this “character” who he says made up all this stuff, trying to distance
himself from this “character."
When HTPUJCADYIS went on sale in early 2005, sales were sparse, which made me sad. Later
in the year, sales suddenly skyrocketed, which made me panic. I normally
vacillate between those two modes anyway, but this was an extreme case.
Around the same time, a college newspaper editor published the first review,
which was, let us say, not very uplifting.
At my wit’s end, I turned to Gary, who wisely said, “You have to treat
Josh Muggins as a character. Distance yourself from him. When people say
bad things, they’re saying them about him, not about you.”
Sage advice, I thought. Even before I started churning out books and settled
on the Josh Muggins pen name, I sometimes speculated on why people like
Robert Zimmerman chose to become “Bob Dylan” or what have you—apart from
the obvious coolness factor. It seemed to me that “Bob Dylan” afforded
the artist a buffer that allowed him to make all those artistic choices
that were initially so off-putting to critics and the public. After getting
booed off yet another stage on his tour of Britain, he might have muttered,
“Aw, man, another crappy night for that Bob Dylan chappie! But Robert Zimmerman?
The schlub from Hibbing with a new fiancée? He’s still doing okay.”
And, although it’s a fictional instance, how could we leave the Don Draper character on Mad Men out of the discussion? In a climactic moment of Season One, a weasely
coworker reveals to the head of the ad agency that “Don” is actually an
identity thief named Dick Whitman, to which the boss famously sniffs, “Who cares?”and seamlessly segues into a lecture on how this great country was built.
Yep, identity reinvention is as American as early-onset diabetes and Super-PACs.
So there you have it. And thus, it was “Josh Muggins” who wrote all the
stuff you don’t like, including this needlessly wordy post, not “me.” And
if you think that’s a cop-out, well, it’s all Gary’s fault. And Dylan’s.
And the guy who created Man Men. Did I mention that I like blaming others for my mistakes?
Here is where the Fringe analogy kicks in, for as in Fringe, minute circumstances can conspire to derail the life of a character in
one universe, while his extra-dimensional counterpart skips merrily on
Drew Griffin: What happens now? You’ve lost your job.
Violentacrez: I’ve lost my job, I’m gonna lose my home. My health insurance is gone, my wife is disabled. I really don’t know. At this point, I suspect I’m going to probably move back up to Arkansas with her family. And, you know, I really don’t see myself being able to get a job.
And considering that one of his most famous posts was an apparently jesting
boast about raping his step-daughter, a.k.a. the grandchild of his future
landlords, that Arkansas sojourn looms as one Thanksgiving dinner I'd just
as soon skip.
I had planned to be gone from N University, a.k.a. the setting of the lurid
final chapters of HTPUJCADYIS, prior to the book’s publication, but events conspired to keep me working
there for two solid years after the book went on sale.
One of the drawbacks of a creative mind is that the thing doesn’t come with an off switch. You’d be surprised how many different scenarios a subconscious can concoct for exposure, instant dismissal, ruination, and nationwide shaming, especially when the owner of that subconscious suspects deep down that he deserves all that. I don’t know how many times I had to turn to Gary to administer robust bitch-slappings to keep me sane. These were, let me note here, the most welcome bitch-slappings I have received in a long bitch-slap-receiving career. Whether by phone or email, he was always there to deliver, God bless his soul, until I could flee the crime scene once and for all.
Panicky Over-Reaction and Embarrassing Interview
Here’s Drew Griffin again, at greater length:
His life is ruined, Anderson. And I think personally, his life is ruined
more than we even know. We know he’s lost his job, he’s lost his little
violentacrez identity. But his personal life is really falling apart. I
think he wanted to come on the air and truly apologize and try to explain—maybe
to his extended family and even his followers—why he did this.
I can certainly understand why he sought out a one-on-one interview. In
my most vivid and paranoid fantasies of exposure, I was besieged by packs
of Japanese newshounds lying in wait outside my apartment every morning.
Arranging a private sit-down with one of the less ferocious members of
the pack looked like a sweet deal, in this context.
Violentacrez's problem is summed up in the words “maybe to his extended
family, and even his followers.” There was not a single thing that he could
say that both family and followers wanted to hear. To the extent that he
appeared contrite or otherwise played to his family, he would alienate
his followers; and vice versa. The result was an interview that left both
groups shaking their heads.
Me, I cringed with the rest of America while watching the thing unfold. Going back to it on YouTube, however, I have to admit: violentacrez, for all his lip-licking and spooked
staring, probably pulled this off with more poise than I could have mustered.
Nor could I have dually pleased my family and followers any better than
The whole violentacrez flap has shone an unwelcome light on the entire concept of writing anything at all—from one-word blog comments to whole books—under an assumed name.
I often tell myself that my pen name serves an egalitarian purpose, in
that the real-life people who are--with altered names and details--dragged
into my stories without consent, would lose a layer of anonymity if I gave
up mine. But no matter how many times I hear myself say that, it always
sounds a little too noble and self-serving to be true.
I could further point out that some of the greatest works of world literature
were put forth under fake names—those of Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, George
Eliot, and Ebony Clarke* to name but a few—and that many of these might never have come into existence
at all had the world always been governed by identity absolutists like Mark Zuckenberg, who insist that everyone always be who they say they are. Hip-hop as
an art form would have died in the womb, for heaven’s sake. (When someone
calling himself “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” speaks, people tend to listen. If it's
“Russell Jones” delivering the same message, not so much.) But this, too,
would come off as self-serving.
There are differences between violentacrez and me, I’m certain of that, and I would like to expound on those differences, but, in the end, that is not my office. People would see that, too, as self-serving, and they would be right.
Won’t someone please tell me and my readers that he and I are different?
And how? Anyone? Please? Anyone? Beuller?