I Know A Straw Man

I went to high school with this kid who had undiagnosed Aspergers named Matt. He was one grade below me and was ruthlessly teased by kids. Everyone called him gay because there were no out gay kids at our school. I fault our administration for not making our small, sub-zero town a safe place for this to happen (no queer alliances, no school seminars, just don’t ask don’t tell for teens). They called him gay because he was different, and the kids would say, “What are you gay or something?” and I remember him recoiling at the thought and screaming that he’s not gay. He had no response other than the truth and everyone laughed at him spitting and stomping and mugging his anger. I’m recoiling just typing about this.

Our theater teacher gave him great bit parts in some of the plays and he always crushed it on stage. Matt and I also took karate when we were way younger, so when he got to high school, I tried to look out for him when I could (but being the vastly uncool music/band/theater geek I didn’t exactly have the goodwill of the kids who teased him. I also just didn't do a great job at that). Matt had the kindest, most innocent heart and was taken advantage of by anyone who knew how to implement lazy sarcasm because Matt didn’t pick up on any social cues. I’m talking rudimentary sarcasm, purposefully bad jokes, which of course is the lingua franca of idiot teens. He was not included in much of the theater games and didn't get things deeper than text. He knew that he should memorize his lines and follow the blocking. He was great at it.

Anyway after he graduated high school he stayed in my hometown and got a job at the factory where you often work if you stay in my hometown. I reconnected with him on Facebook many years after high school. I haven’t seen him since and only interact with him on Facebook. There he shares many deeply conservative memes all day long, as if the “Marine Todd” meme laid eggs and out bursted hundreds of likeminded Drudgey memes: "Immigrants should go back to Syria, share if you agree!!!” "If we had one of these guys [beefy soldier in camo holding an assault rifle] in every school, we wouldn’t have school shootings.” “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Then he posts stuff like this almost every day:

He is the person who sits at the end of every internet joke. He is your straw man. Matt. Matt is your guy who posts those unbelievable memes and cannot tell if you don’t realize that that’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson sitting on the train or not.  Matt is the guy you manually retweet so your friends can own him. Matt is the voice that irony has adopted. “Can it, loser” or “Guns are good” are things he would say because that is apparently what he believes now.

I can’t imagine the trauma he’s had in his life, his domestic and economic disparity,  and all of the selfish people who have made it infinitely more difficult for him to communicate truthfully with someone else. Whatever happened to Matt in the intervening years when I left high school since he started working at this factory, whatever caused him to became someone lost in the Breitbart comments, whatever anger that he has that is fueled by people on his end of the spectrum and those off the spectrum, I know it must be difficult. I know he’s working on getting a tech degree. I know that he’s posted several very sad posts about getting his heart broken. 

So when some schmuck doesn’t get that that this dumb thing is a joke


I feel very bad. We define these online people by their inability to pick up on social cues and then mock them in our circle of progressive friends who can definitely pick up on irony. I’ve done this many times, we all have, not that it matters because life isn't measured in two hefty sacks of good deeds and bad ones. But when someone clearly doesn't get it, or someone takes a poor tack in a reply or misreads someone’s politics or irony, I think about Matt.