Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Hello, I am the Random Column Generator, and welcome to my column, where I’ll make snarky comments about pop culture and the media. I hope you enjoy your brief visit to my virtual world, because it’s the only place I really exist; the internet is my only home. There is a flesh and blood person whose fingers are pressing the keys to write these words, but that man/woman/rejector of a gender binary (sorry if I missed anyone) does not exist on the web; her transcendental thoughts are the only things that have a presence in this electronic subspace (I’ll refer to myself as female just for ease of pronouns). Knowing her identity would not really add much to your understanding of her writing, and it would make her feel much less free to write interesting things.
You may be asking yourself if I’m writing under a pseudonym because this is going to be a sex column, or because this is going to be about sensitive issues that are informed by deeply personal experiences that I don’t necessarily want the entire internet to know about. The answer to both questions is no. Not only is “The Random Column Generator” probably the least sexy name I could think of, but I’m also probably not going to talk about anything that’s all that private or serious. For the most part, I’ll probably just make snarky comments about pop culture and tell fart jokes like I’m a bad stand-up comedian. This is going to be a column about mischief. This is going to be a column about mayhem. This is going to be a column about soap (Note: It probably won’t actually be about soap, unless soap exceptionally upstages someone at the Oscars.) My column will be about the ridiculous things that the world puts forth and expects us to take seriously. It will be commentary on the absurdity of Facebook logos on Macbook Pros. It will boil and purify the cultural knowledge scooped out of media cesspools. It will be what Willis was talking about. This column will be…not that serious, because there are enough serious things in our lives as it is.
This column will be lighthearted, but I’ll write under a pseudonym anyway, because anonymity needs a new face. Were my name attached to this column, I would be concerned with how my writing would affect the public persona that I reveal to the world, and that self-image concern would constrain my thoughts to be more consistent with the image I would like to present. Quite frankly, that column would be pretty boring because I would only write things I would be okay with future employers seeing (Google is a powerful tool, my friends). No one wants to read a column that some middle manager would be okay with reading. When you create something with concerns about self-image or money in mind, you get garbage like Transformers 3 ($352 million box office? Really, America? Even Megan Fox thought that movie was too shameful to exist). No one wants to read the Daily Gazette column-equivalent of Transformers 3, and so I remain anonymous.
Anonymity needs a new face because, as attempts to regulate the internet (such as SOPA/PIPA and their predecessors) have shown, people fear the anarchy of the internet. They go to anonymous comment boards and see the ugliness of racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and all the other -isms and -phobias, and think that if all the anonymous masses had names attached to their words, they wouldn’t dare be so vulgar. They see people torrenting gigabytes worth of music and movies, and think to themselves that those people wouldn’t dare walk into a store and steal that many CDs or DVDs, because they could be identified and caught (physical property and intellectual property are not strictly analogous, but that’s a different issue). In short, the people who fear internet anarchy see the darker sides of anonymity, and then view it as an evil to be defended against.
Anonymity, however, is just a mask, and the mask is only as harmful as the person behind it. People can have good reasons to wear a mask. A sex columnist might not want to accidentally disclose sensitive details about the people they write about (including themselves). A confidential informant (e.g. Deep Throat) might want to protect their own career or their own life (depending on the circumstances), but still want to tell the world the secrets they know. Batman might want to shield his friends and family from the potential repercussions of his secret double life (or maybe Christian Bale just wants an excuse to do his Batman voice). The masks they wear give them the freedom to do whatever they want without fear of repercussion, and though that kind of freedom can be destructive in the wrong hands, they choose to use it in a way to better society.
I have no such lofty pretenses, however. I have no juicy government secrets to share with the world that could put my career at risk, and I don’t know intimate details about other people that I might accidentally reveal if I wrote about my sex life (well, maybe I do, but let’s not talk about that). What I do have is a creative side which my persona fears will be exposed and doesn’t fully understand, and it needs a mask to protect it. At the end of “Batman Begins”, Rachel Dawes (before Chrisopher Nolan used his demon magic to transmogrify Katie Holmes into Maggie Gyllenhaal) tells Bruce Wayne that his Bruce Wayne face is his mask, and his real face is the one that criminals now fear. I’ve always kind of imagined myself to be like Batman (but with smaller boobs), so I hope that as you read, you will enjoy the opportunity to look behind the mask and see my true creative face.