There are many people who could conceivably be chosen as the personification of Everything That's Wrong With Modern Society -- and particularly with the Internet, which is increasingly the same thing.
I've written about several of them in this space over the past few years. But it's hard to imagine anyone who fits that description better than Ryan Holiday. He is, in so many ways, just simply the worst.
Consider: he has handled public-relations for both American Apparel and Tucker Max, and those are just two examples of his putridity, and not even necessarily the worst ones.
Betabeat is the New York Observer-owned tech site that for some reason has decided that Holiday, despite the purity of his awfulness, is deserving of its imprimatur. Last week, he wrote a column there lambasting Upworthy, the site that's responsible for all those feel-good videos you see in your Facebook feed. Sometimes the videos are a bit much, but usually they exist simply to provide a palliative for all the nastiness we see online all the time. You just read a pro-rape Internet comment under a story about Rand Paul saying some insane thing? Watch an Upworthy video. Or don't, because Upworthy videos are easily ignored.
But Holiday argued (knowing that what he was saying was pure bullshit) that someone looking at Upworthy's list of popular videos "might be forgiven for thinking that the world is doing awesome." Sure. But would they be forgiven for being so incredibly stupid as to gauge the state of the world -- the world! -- by what's on Upworthy's "most popular" list?
Anyway, that was the gist of the argument: that Upworthy somehow, by itself, colors people's opinion of the world, because apparently if you watch Upworthy videos, all other knowledge in your brain is immediately vaporized. This week, he followed up with a whiny retort to Upworthy's reaction to his column that was disguised as "advice" for dealing with bad publicity.
It's an idiotic argument, but it's not even close in either idiocy or vileness to the kind of things Holiday has said elsewhere. He first came to my attention in June via a Gawker post titled "Insufferable Article Written." That article, by Holiday, was published, ironically enough, by Thought Catalog. In it, he offered "25 Rules For Living From A (Semi-)Successful 26-Year-Old."
The notion of a 26-year-old fatuously dispensing life advice is bad enough. One humblebragging (right in the title!) that he's "Semi-successful" makes it a little worse. But then we get to the actual rules and we begin to see the monster within the pipsqueak. One of them is:
If there is a long line and you don't want to wait in it, walk up to the front (or walk through the back or opposite way) and pretend you didn't know you were doing things incorrectly. It almost always works. And when it doesn't, no one thinks it was malicious. After all, you were just turned around. Note: pretending you forgot something-like you were just walking up to grab silverware at the buffet line works well too. Grab your stuff and make a getaway.
In Chicago, this guy would be referred to as a real jagoff.
He also, it appears, advises being a dick to waitpeople, but this one's a little hard to decipher (people in the Gawker comments went round and round on what he's talking about here, but no consensus was reached except that he was being a dick again):
After you're done eating at a restaurant, just hand the waiter your card. You don't need to see the receipt first (99% of the time it's right and if it isn't-it's their fault. Send them back to fix it). Also, there's no need to calculate the tip. I just enter the final number I'm paying. I'm paying them, they can do the math for me. (Provided you actually tip well.)
That makes no logical sense that I can determine, but it's easy enough to know what he means by "I'm paying them, they can do the math for me."
He also offers some advice that, at first blush, seems to be encouraging good civic behavior, like getting out of the passing lane for faster cars and not putting your airplane seat back because it takes up somebody else's space. But it doesn't take long to realize that these are just the complaints of an entitled ass -- you just know he's one of those guys going 90 in the left lane and tailgating everybody. And maybe even one of those guys who kicks the seat in front of him on airplanes.
Another rule reveals him to be a paleo dieter, which of course all by itself makes him insufferable. I'd rather be stuck in a small cell with eight vegans and four Atkins cultists than spend five minutes with one of these paleo people. He writes:
Everything your doctor, school and parents said was healthy is probably bad for you. Whole grains, soy, corn, wraps, milk. Ask yourself: does what I am about to eat even remotely resemble something my ancestors evolved to eat?
Ask yourself: did you know that your ancestors lived joyless, miserable lives and died at an average age of 25?
There's no need to review everything that's completely wrong about American Apparel and its repellent founder, Dov Charney. You can see a lot of it here. And Tucker Max, same thing. Timothy Ferris is a charlatan who tricks gullible dupes into believing they can do everything important in life -- like work and be healthy -- by devoting just four hours a week. To each thing, I guess.
Holiday has handled publicity for all of them -- lying for them, publicizing their worst acts and ideas, making them all more popular than they otherwise would be, and hence, making the world an observably worse, more depressing place. One must assume that when he dropped out of college at 19 to become a publicist, his plan was to find the very worst of the worst public figures (at least those of the insufferable-brodude variety) and represent them. Which would make him worse than any of them, and maybe even all of them combined.
He also has represented the band Linkin Park. No further commentary needed there.
But even all that isn't the pinnacle of his awfulness. That came with his book, published last year, called "Trust Me, I'm Lying; Confessions of a Media Manipulator." In it, he explains how his whole life is devoted to lying to reporters, bloggers, and others, usually on behalf of his clients. (So of course the New York Observer gave him a column. Maybe they felt they had to publish someone more odious than Rex Reed. You'd think it would be difficult to find such a person, but no -- no it isn't.)
I haven't read the book. I won't, and I don't have to. Descriptions and reviews written by sane people, as well as Holiday's own history, are enough to know how horrifying it is. One thing he often does is plant negative information about his clients to get them more attention. For instance, he wrote: "Phrases like 'known rapist' began to follow what were once playfully encouraged rumors of bad or shocking behavior designed to get blog publicity for clients."
What's amusing about that one is that it could conceivably apply to more than one of Holiday's clients.
He also uses false identities to plant false stories, pays shady services to send "fake" traffic to web sites to make his clients appear more buzzworthy, and advises friends to threaten people with lawsuits they never intend to file in order to collect settlements.
Remember: this isn't a mea culpa like the ones sometimes issued by repentant former gang members and white-collar criminals. This guy is proud of what he does, and he's still doing it.
Of course, since the guy is an admitted liar, it's not always easy to tell which anecdotes in the book are true and which aren't. When he announced that he had gotten a book deal, it was reported that his advance was $500,000. That was almost certainly a lie, propagated by Holiday. The point, though, isn't the veracity of any one of his claims, it's that he's proudly making them, thereby spreading the increasingly popular notion that being an asshole is not only a-OK, it's an aspiration. It's a career.
The fact that Holiday started on all this stuff when he was 19 means that, if he has even a little bit of a human conscience, he might be starting to question his choices now as he moves further into chronological adulthood. His reputation as a thoroughly objectionable human being has now been firmly cemented, by himself. It will likely never change, no matter what he might do in the future. Probably, that questioning, if any, is still mostly confined to his subconscious, and of course counting his money surely helps assuage any growing doubts. But imagine if your whole life were determined by how you had presented yourself to the world at age 19. Now imagine that you at 19 were actually 1,000 times worse than you actually were, and that people's perceptions of you would never change, even as you reached 30, 40, 50. Wealth or no, the only way you could live with that would be if you were a complete sociopath.