Oh My

Irony Shows Signs of Life as Viral Behemoths Buzzfeed and the Oatmeal Duke it Out

The Internet can't take the strain of all these pageviews.
screen shot 2012 12 10 at 5 20 17 pm Irony Shows Signs of Life as Viral Behemoths Buzzfeed and the Oatmeal Duke it Out

U mad?

It seems just yesterday that Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman was one of the most beloved men on the Internet, having converted a generation of readers into fans of the turn-of-the-century scientist Nikola Tesla and spearheaded an Indiegogo campaign to get the man an American museum.

Nowadays, between the rape joke and the angry screeds, he’s starting to look like a guy who just can’t quite learn when to keep his mouth shut.

The trouble started last week, when Mr. Inman made a tasteless, offensive rape joke–revolving around how his F5 key is a perpetually violated rape victim–in a comic. His response to the backlash landed him in even deeper manure: He replaced the offending panel with a pissy note claiming “anytime a comedian says the word rape everyone jumps out of their seat in protest” and alleging censorship. He finally took that down, too.

Buzzfeed contributor Jack Stuef followed up on the controversy with a lengthy profile of Mr. Inman, exposing his history of work as an SEO spammer and suggesting that Mr. Inman is more hit-generating viral machine than artist. It seemed pretty sure to knock the man down a peg:

Inman’s work was not originally a labor of love, a slow process of honing one’s voice, developing an original perspective and take on the art form, and eventually building an audience. It was always business, always a play to known sources of Web traffic, whether for clients or for himself.

(Let us pause, however, to appreciate the irony of Buzzfeed lecturing anyone on content propelled by built-in virality.)

Mr. Inman responded in a fashion that’s become typical: by reproducing the offending article and annotating it with his own responses. On the matter of the rape joke, he basically pleads a bad day and says that, “at the time I genuinely felt like I’d done more good in the world than bad, and I acted like an asshole when I saw myself being vilified for making one bad joke on the internet.”

He also goes into a long digression about how the money from his comics has allowed him to buy a house for his sister and her six kids. “You didn’t find this in your ‘investigation’ of my finances because I never talk about it.” (Except this once, of course.)

It all builds to a grand finale:

Yeah, u mad.

Yeah, u mad.

He proceeds to republish a tasteless comic that Mr. Stuef drew while employed at Wonkette, poking fun at Trig Palin. (Yes, the one with Down’s Syndrome.)

Uh, when do we get our 32 pictures that will renew our faith in humanity?

However, amid the angry red writing Mr. Inman also pointed out a pretty glaring problem in the profile, which is that Buzzfeed’s article took a fake profile on something called “SodaHead” at face value, suggesting that Mr. Inman was, in fact, a Republican. (OH NO THEY DIDN’T.)  The piece has been edited to remove the portions of the article based on the misattributed SodaHead profile, with a note at the bottom admitting the error.

In the final accounting, the successful creator of The Oatmeal comes off, frankly, as overly defensive and even as a bit of a whiner. Nobody likes being called a Republican, but the merits of Mr. Inman’s work are certainly fair game for criticism. From his response, though, we can’t help but conclude that he’s used to hate mail from Internet trolls he can dismiss as dummies. But he struggles with how to self-edit (hint: when you start to make a rape joke, don’t) and handling legitimate criticism (like maybe you shouldn’t make rape jokes).

All we know is, somewhere Thomas Edison is chortling to himself.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com