Burial at Sea: The Fall of Maddox, the Internet’s First “Outsider” Celebrity

In 2002, an unassuming and simple website operating out of Utah outpaced the online traffic of major companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Microsoft.[1]  By 2017, the same site’s articles averaged about 200,000 views; respectable, but hardly rivaling the aforementioned corporate giants.  The story of Maddox and “The Best Page in the Universe” provides a fascinating glance into early internet culture.  Yet, missing in much of the reporting over Maddox’s aborted $300 million lawsuit for libel against his former podcast cohost, Dick Masterson, is the sense that the internet has moved under Maddox’s – and our – feet.

“The Best Page in Universe,” is the website of “Maddox,” an editorial character portrayed by George Ouzounian. Ouzounian, a computer programmer working for a Utah-based telemarking company, produced one of the internet’s first success stories.  Boisterously mocking the early-2000s internet’s corporate advertising culture, as well as topics ranging from politics to children’s artwork to the business practices of the Orbitz travel company, Maddox set the internet alight, eventually earning a deal with Kensington, a Penguin imprint, to write The Alphabet of Manliness in 2006.  Maddox’s book topped the Amazon sales charts, as well as reaching number two on the New York Times’ top-selling advice books.[2] The year 2005 was a wash for America at large, seeing the federal government’s failure during Hurricane Katrina as well as mounting opposition to the disastrous Iraq War, but it was a landmark for Maddox.  His brand of uproariously offensive hypermasculine comedy seemed a permanent fixture of an ascendant class of internet-savvy comedians and satirists.

A major ingredient to Maddox’s early success was its irreverence.  Nothing seemed to be off limits.  From mocking children’s artwork to encouraging readers to commit suicide to encouraging child abuse and violence in general, Maddox’s material shocked internet busybodies, leading to his site being banned in the United Arab Emirates and the Apple Store.  Ouzounian presented Maddox as a burly pirate, always quick to insult his opponents, with a penchant for beef jerky, bacon, and hard liquor.  The banner image of “The Best Page in the Universe” was a stylized image of Ouzounian in the visage of Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, albeit with an eyepatch and a jolly roger on the beret.  On the FAQ page for the site, Ouzounian explains that he did not intend the image to imply any association with Marxism, but to disrupt the image of Guevara as “Che the hero” and to present “Che the Pinko.”[3]  Famously, Ouzounian also made the site ad-free so as not to compromise the “authenticity” of its content.

Maddox’s self-presentation as a hypermasculine pirate who loves meat, but hates feminism and communism evokes the idea that Ouzounian was some form of right-wing provocateur.  Yet, Maddox’s site was also replete with digs on right-wing figures like Bill O’Reilly and George W. Bush.  Further, most of Maddox’s feuds with readers in his “hate mail” section were with vegetarians and people accusing the site of “unoriginality.”  Maddox’s problems as a satirical character emerged early.  For all the supposed iconoclasm and anti-corporate mischief of Ouzouzian’s character, no substantial critique of politics, modern life, or corporatism ever occurred.  None of Maddox’s vaunted targets, like vegetarians, typically held relevant positions of power in society (feminism was mostly a dormant topic in mass media in the mid-2000s, taking a backseat to criticism of the Iraq War, even in leftist circles.).  Criticisms of corporate America tended to hinge upon the “ineptitude” or ignorance of internet culture practiced by corporates in the mid-2000s.  Said criticisms were often naked instances of self-promotion, centered around how Maddox “rules.”

Indeed, the intended irony is that “The Best Page in the Universe” is a humble HTML-coded website with a very simple format.  Yet, the irony loses its edge when, in an April Fools’ video, Ouziouzian places a screencap of the “Best Page” among other examples of satire, such as South Park and A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift.  Even more ironic is the complete lack of a satirical edge in Maddox’s writing.  More ironic still is the way Maddox’s loves – beef jerky and bacon – were colonized by advertising in the late 2000s.  It is difficult to imagine a world in which Denny’s briefly lived “Baconolia” menu (which included a bacon sundae) could exist without Maddox’s writings providing a popular basis.  If a site like “The Best Page in the Universe” could attract millions of unique monthly visitors through word of mouth alone, it is not too absurd to assume that a few advertising executives were taking note on how to emulate that success.  After all, by the mid-2000s Maddox was publishing books with Penguin whose sales made a sizable dent on the New York Times bestsellers’ list.  With success, Maddox had to shed his skin of the vulgar outsider and could only move into more “mainstream” spaces.

Maddox’s attempt to break into the mainstream involved a move to L.A. with hopes of creating a television show for Spike TV, a now-defunct television channel made “by men, for men.”  The creation of said TV show involved meeting Dax Herrera, creator of the character Dick Masterson, a self-proclaimed “chauvinist.”  Herrera, as Masterson, had early viral success with his book Men are Better than Women, culminating in an appearance on the Dr. Phil Show.  A union between Maddox and Masterson seemed natural.  Both disparaged feminism, vegetarianism, and other forms of “unmanliness;” both espoused these views through hypermasculine personae; and both found success primarily through writing on the early internet.  Spike TV passed on the show, but Maddox and Masterson launched a debate podcast entitled “The Biggest Problem in the Universe” wherein the two exchanged jokes about the “problems of the day.”

Meanwhile, Maddox maintained a Youtube channel where he presented “The Best Show in the Universe,” a video-based version of his website.  The Youtube channel would prove a sign of things to come.  Maddox’s notoriety was made behind a character delivering jokes in a very minimalistic text-based format.  Here, Ouziounian showed his face, awkwardly delivering “quips” to a camera with few facial expressions and gestures with little aplomb.  In this regard, Maddox is the Clara Bow of the internet – moving from text-based blogging to video-based content is akin to moving from silent films to talkies.  Further, Maddox was crowded out by his own imitators.  Ray William Johnson, himself a target of one of Maddox’s early videos, produced songs with Maddoxian titles such as “Beat Yo’ Kids.”

Maddox’s failure on Youtube was outmatched by his failure to deliver in his own podcast.  “The Biggest Problem in the Universe” was premised on a contest – each week Maddox and Masterson would present a topic as the titular “biggest problem” and listeners would vote on which problem was “worse.”  As the podcast continued, Maddox’s topics were more and more passed over by voters in favor of his co-host.  Eventually, Maddox’s losing spree led to a falling out between the two producers and long public feud, resulting in a massive lawsuit on Maddox’s part.

In November 2017, Maddox sued Dick Masterson, as well as Patreon and a bevy of other associates of Masterson, for defamation and libel.  In the summons, Maddox and his lawyer claimed that Masterson’s harassment led to a massive loss of popularity, personal sanity, and financial gain, numbering well into the tens of millions.  Interestingly, Maddox objected to Masterson and his associates’ characterization of Maddox as a “cuck” (Web slang for “cuckold”).  The summons goes so far as to list the lyrics of a parody Christmas carol: “Cuck, cuck, cuck/cuck, cuck, cuck/Maddox is a cuck.”  As pointed out on the Mic Dicta legal podcast, Masterson’s lawyer pointed out that “Truth is a defense,” meaning that libel per se can be established if the claim of “cuckoldry” is, in fact, true.   The case was dismissed in April 2018, in part because the summons (which amounted to 53 pages) was considered unprofessionally written and incoherent by the judge.  As a result, Maddox’s reputation has deeply declined.  Youtube is replete with Masterson’s fans mocking the once-legendary internet maven with claims of “cuckoldry.”

The “cuck” insult emerged in alt-right circles to disparage conservatives critical of Donald Trump as “cuckolds” for liberalism.  But Maddox is not a Trump supporter.  Masterson, however, is.  Part of Masterson’s legal and financial success involves selling a persona to an audience, primarily of men, that is “authentic” and worthy of emulation or at least admiration.  Ironically, Maddox, the purveyor of politically incorrect humor on the early web, has been accused of being an “SJW,” or “social justice warrior,” by Masterson’s fans.

How could this happen?  The situation arose, in part, due to the aforementioned lack of satirical focus in Maddox’s content.  Maddox saw himself, first and foremost, as a satirist and breaker of “politically correct” taboos.  Yet, part of Maddox’s success was the near-universality of his content.  Who hasn’t fantasized about responding to a screaming child with violence?  Who doesn’t hate air travel and dealing with travel companies and their ridiculous policies?  Such topics are humorous and highly relatable, but they rarely reach the level of “satire.”  Said content has more in common with a Jerry Seinfeld bit than, say, Voltaire.

Stripped of such common comedic fodder, the reader is left with Maddox’s “political” content.  Again, most of Maddox’s complaints about the likes of Bill O’Reilly or George Bush were commonplace in American politics at the time.  While O’Reilly was well-watched, Bush’s approval ratings nosedived in his second term, becoming one of the least popular presidents in the modern era.   Furthermore, Ouzounian himself refused to commit to a political party, at least publicly.  He opted instead to endorse parodic parties like the “Regressive Party” on his website, which Maddox claims is “Anti-Abortion, but Pro-Killing Babies.”  Shocking, yes, but not explicitly political in terms of the “Regressive Party’s” focus or aims as a satirical device.

Thus, if anything was unique about Maddox as a “satirist,” it is his hatred of who we now call “SJWs.”  In Maddox’s early material, he railed against “feminazis” and women in general, complaining that they “lie” and “nag.”  Such material, again, has more in common with an episode of The Honeymooners than the work of Voltaire.  But, here, Maddox’s overt sexism stands out as angry even on an angry site.  Further, antifeminism followed Maddox into his Youtube career, as he made a video about the “myth” of the Wage Gap, as well as criticisms against popular feminist Youtube vlogger, Anita Sarkeesian.  Maddox’s criticisms of feminism do not alone create a problem.  Indeed, reasonable criticisms have been made against Sarkeesian’s videos.  Rather, Maddox’s long and loud railing against feminism through a hypermasculine persona without a satirical direction leaves one to question whether this aspect of Maddox’s content is ironic.  Without an editorial focus or clear statement of satirical purpose, Maddox appears as a prophet of the alt-right, particularly its attitude on sexuality and gender.

Legendary American writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his early novel, Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”  Mother Night, of course, tells the story of a U.S. spy who, through a series of misadventures, becomes an infamous Nazi propagandist.  Maddox was spared the fate of Mother Night’s protagonist.  However, Maddox’s avoidance of an ironically evil outcome was one of incompetence, not design.  Instead, Maddox paved the way for a “lost generation” of young men seduced by the chauvinism of the alt-right.  However, to such men, Maddox is no forerunner to alt-right ideology.  Instead, he’s a traitor to an ill-defined cause he never envisioned.  Maddox’s legacy to the very men he appealed to in his writing is not that of a “redpiller” or a master satirist, but a “cuck,” whose legacy was overcome by someone who could outdo his sexism.  Maddox did not become who he pretended to be.   He never became the manly, jerky-chewing, woman-punching pirate.  He did, however, walk the plank into ill-repute and irrelevance, doomed to obscurity in a world he helped to create.

 

[1] Maddox, “How is it Possible..” http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=owned

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/books/arts/paperback-best-sellers-june-25-2006.html?sq=paperback+best+sellers+june+25%2C+2006&scp=1&st=nyt

[3] Maddox, FAQ page.