For the uninitiated, Wafflepwn is the YouTube handle of a newly-minted 16 year old internet celebrity. Over the course of a year, Wafflepwn has amassed tens of millions of video views and over 200,000 subscribers by broadcasting the flaily tantrums of his emotionally disturbed big brother.
The piece that initially put Wafflepwn on the map was an Internet Perfect Storm. Combining World of Warcraft-with self-flagellation, the video appealed to the gamer and voyeur alike. Created in the vein of other peer-humiliation videos (see Star Wars Kid), the “Greatest Freakout Ever,” represented much of the worst the internet has to offer.
After garnering over sixteen million views in seven months, the YouTube video has completely changed the lives of Wafflepwn and his Texas family. What was once a son’s privately embarrassing antics is now a revenue stream for the entire clan. As the sequels to “Greatest Freakout Ever” began to come down the pike, other family members began to participate in instigating the big money tantrums from their disturbed son. They filmed him cowering up in a tree, sent the family’s grandmother to paddle him, and gave him an obviously disappointing birthday party in the hopes of eliciting another breakdown. Wafflepwn’s new YouTube channel has even spawned a fledgling production company — “Freak Out Productions.”
While freak shows and carnivals have existed since the beginnings of human civilization, internet freak shows have emerged as their more viral, more accessible, and more lucrative counterparts. Any family with a camera and a computer now has a serious financial decision to make regarding the potentials of exploiting their children for instant fame and fortune. When compared to the huge cost and effort associated with family therapy or counseling, the financial incentives become clear. Why attempt to treat or help a problem child when they can be far more profitable to their parents as an internet celebrity monstrosity?
For Steven, the subject of these pieces, it is very hard to see a route to normalcy. A confused kid who exhibited anger management problems now is being simultaneously ridiculed and rewarded for his anti-social behavior. His value as a money-maker and an attention grabber come solely from his inability to cope with everyday situations. His tantrums have elicited far more attention than anything else he is likely to do for the rest of his life. Wafflepwn’s decision to post and promote these videos will have irrevocable effects on his brother’s path in life.
In his latest video, Wafflepwn himself is interviewed by a British camera crew. Wafflepwn contritely answers the producer’s questions as he is hit by the realization that his YouTube antics haven’t been all fun and games. He is just starting to have a sense of how big the world really is, and how the attention of the YouTube Mob can change the lives of the people around him.
In the latest Mep Report podcast, the Meppers discussed, in part, the ramifications of a world in which privacy is on the verge of disappearing. The Wafflepwn Phenomenon is a harbinger of the darker aspects of this world. It speaks to the powerfully exploitative forces that surround a beloved video sharing website, and the devastation that it is capable of wielding.