One of my favorite shows growing up was the early 90s sketch comedy series The State. It was like a proto–weird Twitter, and the actors that comprised the troupe went on to create a lot of my other favorite shows and films, including Wet Hot American Summer, Stella, and Reno 911. A standout of the pack, for me at least, was Michael Ian Black—a boyish and bubbly oddball who appeared in all these things, as well as being a regular guest on I Love the 90s. (He also contributed to VICE back in 2012.)
Unfortunately for me, this particular hero of mine happens to have a Twitter account, and uses it—a lot. Although he has always been known for his vaguely liberal opinions online, on this occasion Mike used the passage of the insanely ghoulish GOP tax bill to uh, defend conservative commentator Meghan McCain? Given her politics and the fact that her family (she’s the daughter of Arizona Senator John McCain and businesswoman Cindy McCain) likely stood to gain millions from this tax bill it was unsurprising that she was full-throatedly supporting it, and attacking those who dared defy her on this. But what was surprising (even though I guess it shouldn’t be), was a member of the so-called #resistance refusing to call out a Republican friend.
Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain actually co-authored a book about getting along despite having different politics or some dumb bullshit back in 2012. When I poked fun at this, mostly out of annoyance with one of my comedic idols, Ian Black snapped: He accused me of being a coward for using a cartoon avatar, of being too judgemental, and eventually capped it all by (bafflingly) trying to use to the ongoing genocide of Rohingya Muslims as uh, an attempt to dunk on purity politics? I honestly couldn’t figure that one out.
The whole interaction, which admittedly saw many of my followers piling onto Mike (who has millions more followers and is much more rich and powerful than I am), saw Mike having a bit of a meltdown. It was genuinely a large bummer for me, but it also caused some of my friends and followers to share some stories of interacting with their own heroes online, almost all of which went uh, poorly.
The most amazing of which was now-defunct user @nasboat and his years-long feud with Blues Traveller frontman John Popper. Everything started when in 2014, Buzzfeed published a story that brought up an old Behind the Music nugget about how at one point Popper was supposedly too fat to masturbate.
Popper responded by hurling invectives at the Buzzfeed writer from the official Blues Traveler account, which unsurprisingly brought on a storm of people making fun of this rich famous person and their hilariously thin-ass skin, including the guy behind the account @nasboat.
Here's where things get more complicated: In 2015, one of his friends created a Twitter bot, @assbott, a little piece of code that sent tweets complied of phrases it pulled from @nasboat’s tweets. This account apparently tweeted a gibberish version of the “John Popper can’t honk off” rumor, and Popper came across it (presumably while obsessively searching his own name online). At this moment, something in his brain broke, and the lead singer of Blues Traveller spent the next two years obsessively seething against @nasboat eventually getting to the point where he posted @nasboat’s address, name, employer, and aerial photos of his house.
While this is definitely an uh, intense example of this trend online, it's far from an anomaly. In 2011, James Franco (like Ian Black, another onetime VICE contributor) responded to a poor review of his Oscar hosting duty with a picture that said “FUCK THE YALE DAILY NEWS”, setting off a mini-online storm. That same year, then Arizona Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson got in an insomniac late-night fight with a fan over pass coverages. More recently, last year the (white) reality star Kendra Wilkinson photographed herself picking cotton on a road trip, and when people (correctly) called her out on this she melted down, yelling that her father-in-law is black or some shit. This stuff happens pretty much every day now—as you read this, a moderately famous person is getting into a pointless spat that’s insulting for everyone involved.
Before the internet, we could reasonably believe all of our heroes—or our beloved celebs, same difference really—to be dignified and generally better people, capable of staying above the fray. Their politics didn’t matter; and nobody was demanding to know what the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls thought about immigration reform. If they were a big enough celebrity, they could hire a team of PR people and handlers who would prevent the world from knowing about their suckier qualities—think about how many people made a living in the 90s simply by keeping the world from knowing how shitty a person Michael Jordan was.
But that’s over now. We are free to interact with our idols, who are all too often brought down by the weight of their own shitass opinions and rants. The thing is, I still love Michael Ian Black’s work. I will never stop loving The State or Wet Hot American Summer. They both rule and nobody can convince me otherwise. I’m sure Michael Ian Black is a cool guy to hang out with. Hell, I still like that one Blues Traveller song from 1995 that slaps. But I’m not quite sure yet how to square these things with the fact that Twitter has given us an endless feed of reasons to stop liking these people all together.
K.T. Nelson tweets as Krang.