Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke: Is your meme account, @themasterofcum, anonymous?
@themasterofcum: Not really. If you go back into my feed, I didn't always make and post memes. I think I started [posting memes] in August 2018. I was always more of a shit-poster, even though I wasn't even cognizant of that term (shitposting) when I began. I would say that there's somewhere between 50, 60% anonymity. Enough people who look at it know that it's me. It doesn't take that much sleuthing to figure it out.
LAV: It kind of sounds like your meme page started off as a finsta.
MOC: It’s like I've only ever had a finsta. I was a big Facebook user, until like 2015. So I was posting cursed images and shitposts, and I remember just thinking that's what Instagram was. I didn't know that people were promoting themselves as “influencers” there. Luckily, I got into Instagram through the more subcultural pages instead of the mainstream pages. That led to me falling in love with niche memes. Some included deep political convictions or radical ideas that were very interesting to me at the time. Some niche memes still play with that format of a very simple text on a white background with some sort of image that makes the text into a joke.
LAV: Are your memes autobiographical?
MOC: Some absolutely are, and others less. There is a compelling theory that anything you create has a touch of autobiography to it. I agree with it sometimes. Some [memes] are totally ripped from the headlines, things that I'd overheard. Sometimes they’re just wordplay. I occasionally entertain my fantasy of what's going on between Timothy Chalamet and Lily Rose Depp, for example.
LAV: Yeah, I see that you love to use your meme format to psychoanalyze. Does this have to do with your mom being a psychoanalyst? How does that affect the work you do?
MOC: Yeah, my mom is a psychoanalyst, and initially I thought I was only going to be making psychoanalytic memes. I thought that was something that I might be able to do that I haven't seen yet. I'm glad I branched away from solely doing psychoanalytic memes.
LAV: Were you psychoanalyzed a lot as a kid?
MOC: Absolutely. One of the misconceptions about having a parent that does psychoanalysis is that they treat you as if you were a patient, and that's not 100% true. I would say that our family dynamic had a psychoanalytic tone to it, but it wasn't like my sister and I were literally on the couch with our mother in the analyst chair. I think that is somewhat perverse and should not happen. We were put into psychoanalysis as young children, which is something I'm very grateful for even though it can be a handicap at times.
LAV: I imagine that with that insight comes a sense of self-awareness and empathy.
MOC: Yes, that is lovely, but you can get into some trouble if you grow up expecting others to have that sensitivity towards you as well.
LAV: Have you always been interested in comedy?
MOC: Yes. I sometimes forget that the main point with a meme is to make a joke. Sometimes memes that aren’t funny, people experience them as funny because they're so frank, or honest, or willing to say something that maybe others feel is un-sayable. There are moments when you're writing a meme where you don't feel that you're making a joke, and after you’ve engineered it to fit into the meme format, it becomes one.
LAV: Do you feel pressure to be political, or to address political themes since you’re working in a social media format?
MOC: Yeah, but part of what's fun about memes is that you can make a statement about what's happening in the world, and it doesn't need to speak to any other moment except the one that it exists in. The most recent political meme I posted was a jab at the white people who post virtue signals about Black Lives Matter just to save face. It fits really well into the joke about the white man calling the officer, because here I am; a white guy calling other white people out for fake activism.
LAV: It seems like the format of memes makes it easier to make meaningful political commentary as opposed to just, like, reposting a black square.
MOC: Definitely. I think that what people like about memes is that they’re able to say more and be more direct than an individual can. Memes come from this author that is no-one.My favorite memes are the ones that I feel reveal me to myself, or everyone else to themselves.
LAV: I agree, you can’t have a meme without the relatability. Do you ever struggle to tap into that relatability? Do you ever delete memes because they're not get enough attention? Do your posts ever make you feel like you’ve alienated yourself with your opinion or your joke?
MOC: Oh my god, yes. I've definitely deleted memes that don't do well, which is perhaps a dirty secret that I shouldn't reveal. It’s easy to find examples on my page of people really criticizing certain posts - either they find them distasteful or they were misunderstood, or maybe I made them unhappy. We're having an interesting moment in culture where we're trying to understand the role of media and art, and what it means for someone to be upset by a work of art. Does that invalidate the work of art? Does that invalidate the creator? Or is that just what art always is and has done; give people an opportunity to feel deeply and sometimes feel negatively. If you stand behind what you’re doing and you understand it, then you have to just let the negativity roll off of your back.
LAV: What movies have you been watching recently?
MOC: I just saw a movie that I loved so much called The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover by Peter Greenland. I think it’s a timely movie because it addresses the concept of evil in human form which I feel like society is dealing with a lot lately.
LAV: It seems like you're interested in transgressive themes.
MOC: I have always been interested in transgressive art, and I think that might have something to do with the fact that I was always a rule follower as a kid. That, along with the role psychoanalysis has played in my life. So much of psychoanalysis is about dealing with your own personal taboo material, whatever seems unspeakable for yourself. It just feels like what I go to art for; to experience things that are taboo and transgressive, because in life [the taboo] becomes more difficult and more dangerous. I do worry right now, with so much of the hypersensitivity online, that we will lose transgressive art. I actually think that loss would be bad for the collective emotional health. It seems like that's a bargain we don't want to enter into.
LAV: I agree. Art is a space where transgression can exist without necessarily having to be validated or acted upon. I feel like if we got rid of all of the transgressive online outlets, incel forums for example, we’d have way more tragic violence.
MOC: I completely agree. Right now, we’re in a literalists moment or something where people take everything they see or read so seriously, even though there’s probably some degree of fiction going on in a lot of those more transgressive posts. How are we to know that the content we sometimes run into isn’t just someone doing creative writing on 4Chan so that they don't act on aggression, or evil or bigotry? I believe we have to create some space for [transgressive content] or else it might literally consume people.
LAV: Yeah, sometimes it feels like you have to be so over the top, representational, or obvious, in order to be allowed to have a difference in opinion. Sacha Baron Cohen, for example, gets away with his offensive roleplay because he’s playing such an exaggerated character. I don’t think that comedic or critical intent should have to be so obvious, because with anything you post, you’re just creating a representation of an idea. That idea doesn’t have to be validated to such an extent that it can be weaponized.
MOC: I like that you bring up Sacha Baron Cohen, he’s such a good example. When I witness people get very upset about a work of art, I wonder why I feel like the artist is operating in good faith when others don't. I think Sasha Baron Cohen is allowed to be controversial because his comedy is usually exposing something interesting that needs to be exposed. Borat is a good example because people may say like, ‘Oh, isn't this a slightly xenophobic reductionist take on a foreigner?’ By going so far in his portrayal of the foreigner in western society, he's definitely stereotyping, but in doing so, he's exposing all of the narrow-mindedness, bigotry and classism, in how others perceive the character. As an audience, we actually see what he's doing as a ‘positive’ thing, and even though he's using tropes and stereotypes which we may disapprove of in other contexts, he shows that those tropes can be used in the service of good. If someone were to get mad or offended at Sacha Baron Cohen, they would be cherry-picking the parts that make them uncomfortable. At that point, you're missing the whole of the work, and the whole of what the work is doing.
LAV: Even with things that make me uncomfortable, I’d rather be uncomfortable with or offended by reality than be comforted or assuaged by an illusion. And a lot of the time, because social media is all about this curated presentation you put forward, it can feel like we kind of live in this fairytale world of “oh, everyone agrees with me, everyone has the same political views as me.” In reality everything is not so digestible, and it doesn’t need to be.
MOC: I couldn't agree with you more. If you only eat a diet of fully digestible ideas you will never grow. It's important to be challenged. Even if it’s just to better understand what you don’t believe.