Half-Baked: The Ontology of ‘Boys’ in the McElroy Realm – Pt. 2

In our previous excursion we began the task of uncovering what it means–in the realm of famous podcasters, video makers, game players and all around bons vivants The Brothers McElroy–to be a boy. Here, we conclude our journey and arrive at some provisional conclusions. Provisional in the way all knowledge is provisional, yes, but provisional additionally in that our conclusions gesture towards further lines of inquiry to be followed in (what we may cheekily refer to as) “Boy Studies”. 

If you’ve not read Part 1, it’s recommended. To review, regardless, we concluded last with a bold claim: that when Griffin, Justin, or Travis, in the course of some podcast, or stream or such, refer to a single entity or many entities as a “boy” or “boys” they are not making statements about the perceived or assumed gender of those entities. Instead, in labeling some thing or things “boy”, the brothers are doing work of some kind _on_ the word boy itself.

The nature of their Boy Project, and the nature of boyhood as a result of it, is what we aim to uncover. 

To do this, we must now put to scrutiny some boy subjects and begin developing an inventory of what does, and does not, seem to comprise such an existence. The subjects of which I speak are none other than the lovable yet altogether structurally enigmatic creations featured in the hit YouTube video series “Monster Factory”. It is during this program that we most often hear Griffin–previously established as the most effusive boy deployer–and Justin utter the term in question. 

To quote Griffin severally, and Justin singly, from a late episode of the series at writing, Adult Cool Needs More Hats:

  • “I don’t want to see the boy frown”, 8:44 

  • “I would love sort of a tapered effect on this boy,” 10:46 

  • “…this one’s huge and it’s a boy’s head that got plugged into a just a huge body”, 11:10 

  • “…give me that big boy he’s gonna [expletive] people up”, 14:00 

  • “Justin… If this game lets me put a very small cowboy hat on this boy…”, 16:34

Like the hexagram found in the I Ching, we here confront _difficulty at the beginning_: a boy is to be taken care of, but a boy is also capable of defending himself. A boy can be big, but smallness defines the boy-like. This figure is, apparently, a “boy” but elsewhere is referred to as “guy” and “Adult Cool” so we can see boyness–contrary to popular usage–has nothing to do with age. But the Book of Changes does encourage, “If a person encounters a hindrance at the beginning of an enterprise, he must not try to force advance but must pause and take thought.”[1] And so we shall do just that. 


*takes thought*

Perhaps what we are to take from these–and other similar boy usages, peppered throughout the brothers’ oeuvre–is that such dualities do not defeat, but are, indeed, endemic to boyness. That that which is held to be boy possesses some tension in and of itself. To deem some such thing boy is, thus, an act of encouragement, or radical recognition. The Boy Project, in this view, would seek to rehabilitate the word: have it conjure not so clear a referent as history would insist (a young man; a tiny male; an immature gent; an in-progress sir). The Boy Project would urge those called boy to look within themselves to recognize some duality, or contradiction. It would hope to welcome any and all those who have experienced said recognition to The Fold of Boys, as it were.

There is, however, a roadblock on the pathway towards the outlook which sits atop Mount Conclusion in this, the land of Fledgling Fellows. That roadblock is none other than the formidable [dramatic pause] Susan Crushbone. 

Now, to be clear, there is a twofold challenge to Susan’s place in this line of questioning. Her provenance is not Monster Factory, but the tumultuous eddy of Touch The Skyrim. This program borrowed heavily from the Monster Factory modus but is of questionable position for several reasons, not least of which being its since reproached (non-brother) co-host. While this may remove TtS from consideration regarding the brothers body of work as such, it does not in my estimation preclude its involvement in this examination of boyitude. While we may question if the show is apart of the McElroy Realm, we need not question if Griffin was *himself* as co-host (he was) and so it is a reasonable window into the facets of what is, and is not, a boy. 

To whit: Susan Crushbone is never referred to as a “boy”. 

This absence is startling, given that duality, tension and circumvention of expectation are, in many forms, central to Susan’s appearance and identity. Were ‘boy’ to chiefly imply an amount of internal multiplicity–a surprising complement of characteristics thought, previously, incompatible–we may find no better avatar for that state than Ms. Crushbone. What reason could there be to abstain from labeling her so? It would appear the trouble is not to be found solely as the beginning, my friends. 

What we may return to, in attempting to think around this (beautiful, fearsome) obstacle, is our example from part one: the non-gendered use of “guys”. While one may feel comfortable referring to mixed company using a word, when spoken singularly, has a widely accepted strict gender referent … one would perhaps never use that same word to collectivize company comprised entirely of genders which, to broad understanding, sit opposed to that strict referent. 

Put another way, these are degrees of misgendering. The blow of “guys” is, perhaps, thought to be softened when the group called such contains at least some male identifiers. To call an entirely female or non-identifying group, or a single woman or gender neutral person, “guys” or “guy” risks being read in a much more aggressive light. 

As the “trans, pansexual orc sex princess” [2], Susan’s stewards may wish to tread lightly around these matters. Though she may be boy par excellence, it may feel risky–or simply complicated–to publicly deem her so. (And lo! Does this not make her a “boy” that much more!) And so: Susan may provide key insight into the McElroy’s strategy regarding this cognomen.

An aside: we now begin to risk putting words in the brothers’ mouths… speculating as to their intentions–a set of things on which they may not be clear themselves. There is risk, also, in moving from our task of _ontology_ by wandering back into the territory of _meaning_. I believe such a wander will be instructive. It may be the case that, much like a boy itself, this essay contains a central tension: in order to be a true ontology, it must also be an apologia. But the truth is always a defense, is it not? Let us progress free of guilt, then.

It is possible, and I think likely, that the Brothers would intend to invite _everyone_ under The Big Tent of Boyhood. But given their sweet, sweet nature are overcareful (tho mbe perfectlycareful tbh) of how and where and at whom “boy” has been spake. They say boy only in situations where, as described, the gendering impact is conceivably softened by a mixed, or unclear distribution of characteristics in those referred to. As to why they may take the risk regardless, we reach now something of a thesis.

The brothers have, following from above, identified something within boyness – the restlessness, contradiction, unfinishedness and internal multiplicity we find in literal, actual, stereotypical boys – which is in fact present in all of us, regardless of gender, and which they insinuate into many of their works. The McElroy Realm smacks not of incompleteness in this regard, but an earnest sort of fortuity. Their goal is often, if not always, to celebrate the unexpected which arises out of unsurety, lack of expectation and with healthy doses of experimentation. 

All of these things are not, to be clear, the mandate of literal boys alone; boys, simply, are an avatar close at hand (perhaps for the reason the brothers, themselves, are the same).

The McElbrothers often celebrate what might, in other areas, be considered failures or monstrosities. Monster Factory, Awful Squad, Adventure Zone, MBMBAM–even Touch the Skyrim and Car Boys–all operate on the fundamental premise that when one is truly open to the possibilities of the world, an ongoing mutual constitution blossoms. We may joyfully respond to the world, and it to us, and in that process not get stuck, wheels spinning, in the mire that is confidence, stability, or authority but realize some type of freedom in an inexpert flexibility.

They, and their works, and through the latter two, *we* are always becoming. The brothers traffic in a creative incompleteness which is not indecisive, or abandoning, but playful and dare we suggest: hopeful. In being called a boy, one is given permission to be what they always already have been: inconstant, in-progress, unsure. This is the state which I see boiled down into “boy” – this is what it means to _be_ a boy.

Assuming I’ve hit upon the truth of some matter which these venerable Internet Lads have likely arrived at intuitively, we may inquire again as to the case of Susan Crushbone and other not-classically-boy-coding entities which the Brothers may hesitate to call such. One solution to this conundrum, one radical act the McElroys may undertake would be to unapologetically recognize the traditionally not-boy _as boy_ when appropriate, in an attempt to hasten the degendering of what has already become a powerful moniker in their Realm. As Megan Mathieson puts its so eloquently in her essay “McElboys: A Feminist Perspective” [3]: 

The McElroys are destroying the gender binary from the inside. From within their protected fortress of male privilege, they are crumbling that wall between the genders one “boy” at a time. And I can only hope that the word “boy” continues its journey, as the bullet through the wall, eventually emancipating me and all those who identify as female to enter the “Boy Net.”

Up until this point, they have done so passively. We may ask what it would mean if they were do to do this actively, and with the same brand of gentle confrontation we’ve come to expect from these three. How, in other words, might they hasten the Boy Change?

As for further study, we may ask: what impact might such a confrontation, when and if taken up by these boy Boys, have on their fan community? Might we speculate as to how such a shift would be considered, and received? And, relatedly, elsewhere in her work, Mathieson makes a bright intervention: she rightly questions my own position studying an area so potentially fraught. What assumptions do I–a straight, white, cis man–bring to this complex use of a complexly [de?]gendered title? To truly reach the heart of the matter, this work must be done–perhaps again and again–by those who possess a perspective which diverges from that of myself, and the brothers. 

There also, recently, has arisen the question of what it means to be a “baby” – a similar sobriquet in The Realm which, while it arguably dances around much of the same themes, circumvents the gender trouble. Where and how and why do the brothers (and their fans) adopt babiness? This is a question I am not prepared to examine, but I am hopeful existing scholarship may provide some context for those who are. 

At present, however, we reach the conclusion of this particular study on Boys in the McElroy Realm. I hope, if it has not been incisive, it has at least been agreeable and, most importantly, that we may see each other soon on that hallowed Field of Boys.

[1] I Ching, Bollingen Series XIX, 17
[2] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/TouchTheSkyrim
[3] Mathieson, “McElboys: A Feminist Perspective”, 2; Private communication