Over a decade ago, manliness remained largely absent from the Internet. In fact, being tech-savvy denoted timidity, bad eyesight, involuntary abstinence, and a prepubescent standard of hairlessness. There was nowhere to turn for the college ‘bro’, bitter workingman, grumpy know-it-all, shameless chauvinist, and the occasional aspiring ninja or pirate who needed to do important things like procrastinate and hate on Titanic singer Celine Dion.
Nowadays, you have a plethora of Web sites and whole television networks dedicated to cleavage and knuckle hair (hopefully not on the same person). But if you go back to where it started, you will find Maddox’s (George Ouzounian) hilarious, albeit colorful, satirical writings and politically incorrect MS Paint illustrations on The Best Page in the Universe at the foundation.
Not much has changed since its creation, and it’s a few tacky animated gifs away from being what a generic personal Web site would look like in the 90’s. Maddox has never been one to go with what’s popular just for the sake of being current and The Best Page in the Universe from ten years ago still serves its purpose in 2010. But that’s not to say he won’t update the arsenal where it makes sense. He uses social media tools like Facebook to update his readership (the guy using his name on Twitter is a fake) and earlier this year he made his first entry in the video blogging world, addressing issues like bad Youtube personalities, table-f*cking, and of course, the haters.
So when we heard he was working on a follow up to his New York Times Bestseller The Alphabet of Manliness, we caught up with him to discuss everything from Internet celebrity to the new project I’m Better Than Your Kids. Read this interview or go to hell.
The Internet was a very different place in the 90′s, can you school the youth on what it was like?
Maddox: Yeah, there were basically three places to go to on the Internet: Yahoo, porn, and my site. My site was huge back then, but people didn’t realize it until five years later. In 2002 I wrote the article titled “I am better than your kids,” and it went ape shit on the Internet to the point where people would remove the credits, change it up a bit and pass it around until it got back to me. I remember replying to someone who sent it to me, saying that I wrote it. They didn’t believe me. Now they have no spleen. We all learned something that day. Well, he did anyway.
I read on your FAQ that it was a site created to spite your close friends, care to elaborate?
Maddox: Yeah, one of my friends was dabbling in pretentious vegetarianism, and started acting all butt-hurt when I’d make horse jokes – I hate horses, so I make jokes at their expense. So my Web site was partly made in response to people like him, and other social injustices I saw in the world. Things that make the world a shittier place in tacit ways, like joggers running in place at red lights. Or maybe that’s my own neuroses coming through. The line between neuroses and genius is often blurred.
You were one of the first Internet personalities who truly understood the power of the Internet and word-of-mouth. It’s most evident in your Orbitz post. When did you realize you could wield this power?
Maddox: When this dumbass kid emailed me a long time ago, he kept goading me on and threatening me, so I told him I’d post his email address on my Web site. He said he didn’t care. I pointed out that it was his work address. Still, he mouthed off. So I posted it like he told me to, and within 45 minutes I got an email from his brother stating that his work server got attacked and he’s in deep trouble with his boss, and that he was only joking around. He asked me to remove the email address, and I did because I didn’t want anyone to get fired over some stupid email, even if the email was really really stupid. That’s when I realized how much power this medium had.
In posts like “There is no 9/11 Conspiracy you morons” and “I hope I get swine flu”, you take whatever people are talking about and just expose it for what it really is. Are people generally very gullible?
Did that anti-herd mentality ever get you in trouble as a youth?
Maddox: Yes. The first time in my life I can recall being censored was in second grade. My teacher asked us to write a letter to Santa so she could hang it up in the hallway for everyone to read. I titled mine “There is no such thing as Santa.” My teacher not only refused to hang it up with the rest of the letters, but she called a parent-teacher conference with my mom to discuss it. I wish I could take credit for figuring that one out on my own at such a young age, but I can thank my mom for telling me to “go outside and get your dad to take you to the store to get something” when I asked her what Santa was bringing me when I was 7.
Are you happy about the reception of The Alphabet of Manliness? Do people get it?
Maddox: Well, it hit #1 on Amazon and #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, which is virtually unheard of for a first-time author. So it can be objectively said that it was the tits. People generally got it, though some naggy shrews took offense to it. A few feminists trashed my book pretty hard, but they didn’t even bother to pick it up to see that two of the illustrators of my book were women.
How do you respond to people who feel like you abandoned what got you where you are? Do you feel like your ignoring an obligation to continue dropping truth bombs in written form?
Maddox: Books are different than Web sites. Writing an article about the movie Signs or Lord of the Rings, or Swine Flu is only funny and relevant for a while, but if you write a book, it has to be something you can pick up a year from now and still make sense. It takes about a year to write a book, and another year for it to get published, so anything you wrote about a current event is going to seem dated when the book finally comes out two years later. That said, you can still see the threads of subversion throughout the book, in the “Irate” section where I talked about loud-mouthed women in bars, and the absurdity of asking kids to design the new World Trade Center. In fact, there’s a picture of what the new WTC buildings would look like in my book, if the buildings were designed by a dipshit.
Do you feel like you laid the blueprint for sites like Tucker Max and Icanhascheezburger.com getting book deals?
Maddox: I think Tucker Max had book offers before I did, which he turned down and opted to self-publish. It wasn’t until the success of my book, though, that a lot of Internet writers got a second look. The book that laid the blueprint for authors like me, Tucker Max, and Icanhascheezburger is Robert Hamburger’s Real Ultimate Power. It was one of the first Internet properties turned into a book, and it did relatively well, so more followed. Robert and I had the same editor, in fact.
Have you quit your day job or are you still programming?
Maddox: I quit my day job in 2004, but I still program because I’m awesome. I mostly code for my own projects, such as automating international printing labels for my online store. It kicks ass to be able to bring out the big guns on every day computer tasks like rename 10,000 files on your computer with one command.
You recently forayed into the world of video blogging, how is your approach different from writing an essay?
Maddox: It’s no different, only more work. Though I did experiment with unscripted pieces, I generally write articles for video just the same. It’s a lot of fun, but around 27 times the work that goes into an article. Now instead of creating Photoshopped stills, I have to use video resources. That said, some articles are best written, and some are best in video form. My very first episode had the audio of a kid singing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle song (poorly) dubbed over the actual intro, and that’s a gag that couldn’t be done in any other medium than video. That’s why these videos exist.
One of the best parts about your site and vlogs are the hate mail and you obviously love it. Is there any critique you’ve actually taken from hate mail?
You have a new book coming out based on the post (with the same name) that put you on the map, how long have you wanted to put a book like this together?
Maddox: Ever since I wrote that article. In fact, it’s the first idea I pitched to the publisher, but their budget was $dick, so they wanted something that’d be easier to do. I gave them The Alphabet of Manliness, which ironically ended up being so much work that it almost killed me. I had to coordinate eight illustrators, which required me to write a chat program where they could all upload their artwork and discuss styles, and I had to take care of the page layout, formatting, cover design, proofing, marketing, etc. I did just about everything for that book. When I signed to do a book deal, I thought I’d have help with all that stuff. All I had was hindrance. I remember having to explain to the publisher the difference between a .JPG and a .BMP file. They thought the difference ended in the extension. Wrong. I don’t know how these people have jobs.
Do you realize that some grown ups might show it to their kids and scar them for life?
Maddox: Realize or hope? In all seriousness, I don’t think telling a kid his work sucks will scar him or her for life. My dad told me everything I did sucked, all the time. And you know what? He was right. That made me strive to get better. I wouldn’t be who I am today if my dad patted me on the back and said “good job” when I brought home a crooked piece of shit from school.
I’m sure you can run faster and do better math than this kid. So how do you rate his art?
Maddox: Cool, when he stops talking like he has a mouth full of marbles, I might give a shit about what he has to say. Also, since when does making generic landscape paintings make you Picasso? Picasso was a guy who suffered his entire life for his art, and pioneered the cubism movement. This kid is drawing empty fields and buildings. So what? I made a painting of an empty field as a child, and it’s currently sitting in another type of field: a landfill, where it belongs.
Do you have a projected release date for it?
Maddox: No release date yet, but probably winter or spring next year. I’ll announce updates and details, along with any book tour information on my site. I may also consider doing live episodes of The Best Show in the Universe in the future.
We do a lot of lists here. So, I thought maybe you could help us out with one. For each item on this list, is this manly?
Old Spice man
Maddox: No. Jumping on the manliness bandwagon isn’t manly. Where were these commercials in the 90s, and why did they suddenly become popular as soon as my book came out and was a big hit?
Maddox: Yes, but only because I appeared in an episode.
Dos Equis’ The Most Interesting Man in the World
Maddox: I liked these ads better when they were called Chuck Norris facts.
Guys who wear AXE
Maddox: Yes. Winning the Tour de France with one testicle makes you manly.
Kim Jong Ill
Maddox: Short idiot.