I am what is referred to colloquially as an Imgur “lurker.”
I don’t post. I just look.
If you’re not familiar with Imgur, welcome to 2016. It’s nice to have you. Let me fill you in on what you’ve missed. Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions, there’s a dance move called the “dab” with origins nobody can explain and Leonardo DiCaprio is an Academy Award winning actor. If you were unaware of any of these occurrences, it’s because you’ve been living under a rock. A rock where there’s no access to Imgur.
Imgur is a user-generated image sharing site where the socially awkward convene online to guffaw over pictures of cats. There’s other stuff too, but mostly cats. Imgur is like Reddit for graphic design students—graphic design students who are obsessed with cats.
Besides cats, there are other common subjects that find their way onto Imgur’s front page. There are the political posts, before-and-after weight loss selfies and, of course, image macros. But my absolute favorites are the cringe dumps.
Cringe dumps are collections of images that document the awkward and uncomfortable from around the internet. Botched tattoos, ribald Tinder profiles, skeezy Facebook photos and baffling Yahoo! Answers inquiries. When I’m lurking the front page and I see a cringe dump, it’s as though Christmas has come early for me. Whenever I’m feeling down, there’s nothing like a series of cringe-inducing memes to make me feel better about myself.
There’s one staple of the cringe dump that has become exceedingly more popular as time wears on: The neckbeard. I struggle to define what makes someone a neckbeard, so I’ll defer to Urban Dictionary to lend me a hand:
2. (n) Derogatory term for slovenly nerdy people who have no sense of hygene [sic] or grooming. Often related to hobbies such as card gaming, video gaming, anime, et. al.
Well, that’s a decent start, but this definition fails to fully encompass the essence of who this character is.
I’d add to this entry that the neckbeard is a socially inept, pretentious, uncultured, chauvinistic rube who sports a fedora, a trench coat and the eponymous facial hair.
Hm, maybe that wasn’t so hard to define.
The neckbeard is a deplorable aberration by most standards. He — and it’s always a he — can be relied on to remind us of how not to behave. He’s a living cautionary tale, a Wandering Jew of sorts, doomed to roam the internet as a sexless pariah. Forever.
Yet something troubles me. The more exposure I have to the fabled neckbeard, the more I fear I may in fact have more in common with him than I originally thought. You can chalk it up to paranoia, but there are some mornings I look in the mirror and a creeping horror sets in.
Let’s take a moment to investigate our ever-morphing definition of the neckbeard and see if we can spot the warning signs.
1. The Unkempt Beard
Alright, perhaps I haven’t been shaving or trimming the whiskers as diligently as I ought to be. We’ll just attribute this to a temporary lapse in hygiene.
But wait: wasn’t that a tenet of the original definition? That’s disconcerting. Let’s move on.
2. The Fedora
The clinching affectation. Nice try! Why on earth would I endeavor to cover up this dynamite head of hair? Although the last time I was in the stylist’s chair, she did tell me that I might be thinning on top.
Maybe I should think about a hat. And a fedora’s not a terrible accessory. Hell, Indiana Jones wore one. I could even — nope. Stop this talk. No fedora.
A favorite title of the neckbeard is Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion.” Consider it the atheist’s Bible. If you’ve read it, count yourself as either a religious scholar or a neckbeard.
And yeah, I’ve read it. So what? Doesn’t mean I’m a militant atheist, per se. Though I did just use the phrase “per se.” Kind of pretentious.
Oh, come on. It’s not like I’ve ever called people “sheeple” or lamented that no one reads anymore. Oh shit.
5. Obnoxious Video Game Habit
I have no defense for this. The neckbeard can dazzle you with his dense, unintelligible vocabulary pertaining to Japanese roleplaying games. I can relate to this; if I’m not playing Dark Souls, I’m usually wishing I was playing Dark Souls while I’m doing whatever I’m supposed to be doing (like writing this piece).
I typically employ strength or intelligence builds when I play, especially in pvp. Lately though I’ve been flirting with dex builds because, in addition to scaling with dex levels, the katana is hands down the best weapon in the ga—.
Walked right into that one, didn’t I?
The neckbeard is a self-identified “nice guy” who is always looking for a relationship only to find himself in the friendzone. When he can’t “escape the friendzone,” he blames his romantic failures on his being too nice to date, and that women are whores who only date douchebags.
Now this is definitely not me. That’s not to say I’m not a nice guy, but to be fair, wouldn’t any guy claim to be a nice guy? Maybe not all guys, but most of us at least. That doesn’t make me a neckbeard, does it?
Or at the very least, it might mean that I have neckbeardy tendencies.
That sounds like a more palatable conclusion. Because the truth might be that the neckbeard identity doesn’t truly exist. It might be a mythological fabrication born of the internet.
Let’s take a brief look at another cringe dump luminary, the feminazi. She’s a feminist turned up to eleven. She can be characterized by her horn-rimmed glasses, her Tumblr account, her trigger warnings, her exhausting diatribes on fat acceptance and her demand that you dare not assume her gender, you cis male homophobic rapist pig.
Does she really exist? The archetype does, but have you ever met this person in real life? Oh sure, you know people who remind you of her. They bear the tendencies. But the feminazi is a unicorn, a figure of legend. You may believe you’ve seen her somewhere, but your eyes deceived you. That was no unicorn; it was merely a horse. Also, don’t call her a horse.
So it goes for that swashbuckling phantom, the neckbeard. Last week I provided commentary on (read: lambasted) a video by Lucas the Magnificent, neckbeard extraordinaire. In the days since that article was posted, I’ve done a little more investigating into Lucas. His Twitter is solid gold. But it’s also bullshit.
The more tweets of his I read, the more it occurs to me that there isn’t a chance in hell this guy is serious. What he’s doing is a profoundly dedicated piece of satirical performance art. He’s taken the neckbeard mythology and turned it into a spectacle. He’s taken every page out of the handbook and is reading it back to us like we’re schoolchildren. Part of me wants to believe he’s the genuine article, but I have a little more faith in humanity than that.
And so I conclude that the neckbeard is both real and not real. Not real in that he doesn’t exist as an identity, but real in that we believe him to be real, much like another bearded titan of lore. He doesn’t exist, but concurrently, he exists in all of us. Good day, m’lady.