Editor's note: A few weeks ago, we were approached by a prolific Thought Catalog essayist who writes under the byline "Anne Gus." As it turned out, Anne is a young Swedish man whose real first name is Jakob (he wouldn't give out his last name).
"I feel it's time for me to branch out, spread my wings and hone my skills as a humor/satire writer," "Anne" wrote, "so here I am, on the hunt for a new challenging project to take on."
I explained that while we didn't generally publish the kind of satire he undertakes at Thought Catalog, we'd be very interested in a piece about his experience writing articles like "You're Not A Woman Until You've Had Your First Abortion" for the personal-essay site. In response Anne sent us the following, which has been edited slightly for clarity.
In March this year I submitted an article in the name "Anne Gus" to Thought Catalog, the online haven for liberal young women who're floating around in the Lena Dunham-esque stage of their lives and who love lists and themselves. The article was titled "5 Things Women Need To Do In Their 20's (Or Else The Suffragists Died For Nothing)" and was intended as a spoof of the typical, vapid, feminist TC piece, the likes of which had made my blood boil ever since I stumbled upon the site a couple of weeks earlier.
I realized that if I'd written a serious critique of the TC culture as myself, a 19 year old gym bro with conservative leanings from Sweden, I'd have been brushed off as a sexist white male who couldn't handle these strong womyn's totes fab articles about their live.laugh.love-lives. So I created the Anne Gus character, an exaggerated imitation of the quintessential female 20something writer, and let her be my mouthpiece in the revolt against the millennial mess that has given TC its infamous reputation. The pillars of TC culture, entitlement, narcissism, special snowflake syndrome and the neurotic need to for some reason tell the readers that you're between the ages 20-29 were all in my scope.
The pseudonym "Anne Gus" comes from "Pepper Your Angus" a popular phrase from Bodybuilding.com's forums, which in turn means, "Prepare Your Anus"—I thought the name fitting seeing as Thought Catalog was about to take an unexpected ramming.
I had set out to collect all the ingredients in a typical TC piece and make a big fat parody pizza out of it. The recipe was pretty straight forward: a dash of entitlement here, a few spoons of self-absorption there, a twist of Tumblrina-style feminism for added flavor, and lastly, an "I'm so cool cuz I casually do drugs like it's nothing"-mentality for topping. It genuinely surprised me when TC replied on the same day I submitted it, saying they liked the piece and that they would publish it. I was unsure whether they had understood it that it was an attack on their identity, a lampoon making fun of a large portion of their writers.
As soon as the article was up, I ran to my fellow gymbros in the Bodybuilding forums to tell them about my coup and unsurprisingly, they went into a frenzy about it.
The article blew up faster than Drake. Hundreds of comments flooded the comment section, expressing a mixture of anger, confusion, and some recognition that it was satire. Most commenters were outraged, and who wouldn't be? The article encourages young women to sleep around indiscriminately, do whatever drugs they could get their hands on and perhaps worst of all, major in Women's Studies.
My phone became a jackhammer as dozens of reader emails asking "Is this satire?," "Are you being serious" and a good deal more along the lines of "Where do you live you fucking bitch!!?? I got a good mind to slap you upside the head" deluged my inbox. I got more hate mail than a Danish cartoonist, but I took the fact that I got my first set of those sought-after "haters" all the rappers are talking about, as a sign that I was doing something right.
Before long, sites like TIME magazine, Gawker and Uproxx, having found my fessing-up post on the Bodybuilding forums, broke the story of how a "Gymbro" had fooled TC's editors by sneaking a satirical article past them, and the article began to go viral. Over the following days, I got about half a dozen interview requests, forums and message boards around the web started discussing the article, and a whole heap of letters of appreciation and encouragement to keep writing came my way. I knew then, that Anne Gus was here to stay.
Ever since then, I've continued writing as Anne Gus, developing the character as I go. As of today, fifty Anne Gus articles, all satirical and mostly on social justice, sex and popular culture have been published, each one crazier than the last. My ambition has been to continue constantly pushing the envelope, cranking up the outlandishness-meter, using unabashed clickbait titles such as "You're Not A Woman Until You've Had Your First Abortion," "I Was Catcalled By An Actual Cat" and "Denying A Woman Sex Is Rape" to create discussion about a range of topics.
TC prides itself on being open and uncensored, and around 95 percent of the time I've gotten my ideas through. But occasionally my stuff has been too twisted, even for TC's "all thinking is relevant" motto, to make it onto the site. A piece where Anne writes a love letter to one of the Boston Bombers Djokhar Tsarnaev, condoning what he's done because he's a "total dreamboat", musing that the real reason the terrorist attack was directed at the Boston Marathon was because they wanted to protest the unrealistic beauty standards runners project on fat women, didn't fly, and neither did one where Anne touches her baby cousins "wee-wee" as a way to take power back from the Patriarchy.
Thankfully VICE co-founder Gavin Mcinnes (who recently had a run in with TC himself) site has welcomed these too-risqué-for-TC pieces with open arms on his site Street Carnage. Still, I don't think there are many other places on the net where I would be allowed to express myself as freely as I do on Thought Catalog. The unrestrictive platform really pushes you to excel.
I've learned that my readers are divided into three camps. There's one that doesn't understand that it's satire and reacts from a position of ignorance. There are the people who get that it's satire, but still complain about something (like being offended). And then there's the third one, my favorite camp, that's full of people who understand that I'm a man, that what I'm doing is satire, and think it's entertaining. It's great to get positive feedback, that really propels you forward, because it's not always easy to get the message across. To convey what you're making fun of, you're always relying on the reader to connect the dots themselves, and there's an added pressure to be entertaining and funny.
Only half the work that goes into an Anne Gus piece is done by me. The other half is completed by the audience's feedback. To the perceptive reader, reactions of the not-so perceptive readers in the comment section, are just as entertaining as the article itself . This is the best part of writing satire, it always elicits such a wide range of reactions, both positive and negative, it's a good tool for illuminating the issue you want to adress and doing so with the use of humor and irony. I read them all with a wide grin on my face, like the glorified shit-stirrer that I am.
As you can imagine my relationship with my editor was at first a little strained following the debacle surrounding my first article and the implicit act of rebellion. But as the dust of dramatic entrance to the TC scene settled, and my pile of pretty traffic-driving articles grew, it was smooth sailing from there on. I have since gained a lot respect for TC. It is truly an extraordinary place, with skilled editors and employees, that exemplify the inventiveness and fresh thinking of youth (and no, I'm not paid to say that).
Once you're an established writer on Thought Catalog, the process of turning an idea into a published piece is seamless and dynamic. On the typical day, I come up with an idea in the morning, spend an hour or two writing it down, then I pass the ball to my editor who—once it's daytime in America—edits it, and later publishes it. By this time it's usually 2 a.m. in Sweden so I get to the comments and reader emails first thing the next morning.
About 20 articles into my time at TC, I got a message from the head honchos saying that they were considering changing my editor. My initial, female editor was probably tired of me bashing the demographic she's very much a part of (not saying she's an Anne-like character, just a twentysomething), and didn't exactly subscribe to my political outlook, so they paired me up with a new recruit of theirs, Jim Goad. Jim Goad is a renowned writer and comedian with a no-nonsense, red blooded (some would say racist and misogynist) attitude, understood and appreciated what I was trying to do on a whole different level - this made the entire process a lot more stimulating and helped me grow as a writer.
Since we started working together, Jim has become very familiar with the Anne Gus persona, so much so that when I, on occasion, sloppily use a word too difficult for ditzy Anne, he comes to the rescue, tweaking the language to better suit her vocabulary, turning "incredulous" into "disbeliefy" or "indelible" to "alwaysstickaroundy." Jim also wedges in jokes and puns where I've missed opportunities, giving the articles a sharp comic edge.
As for headlines, I tend to come up with the most clickbaity thing I can, something that often makes for long and not-so-fetching titles. Jim is very skilled in shearing off the fluff and keeping the only the essentials in the titles. For example, one of my more recent brainchildren "That Hitler Dude Was Right About One Thing, Short Men Are Subhuman, Let's Gas Them All" was pruned down into the more palatable "It's Time We Sent All Short Men To The Gas Chambers".
In terms of coming up with ideas, I tend to look at current events or hot topics that I would like to create a discussion around and then I ask myself, "what would Anne say about this?," a question I always seem to have the answer to, (something that's caused me to wonder whether I have more in common with Anne than I like to believe) then I work backwards from there.
Once I've got an idea, I follow a simple roadmap to put together an article. First I uproot a crazy point of view or opinion from the sprawling SJW meadow. Take for instance, one of my more controversial pieces, "When He Says 'No': Denying A Woman Sex Is Rape." I got the idea from a Tumblr post where this sentiment was actually expressed, for real (unless of course was it was satire and I was fooled by my own schtick).
Then I simply bake the insanity into a small narrative that serves to both flesh out the Anne Gus universe ( I don't want her to be just your regular, two-dimensional Social Justice Warrior screaming and hollering from the other side of the screen) and contextualize the issue I want to illuminate.
In this particular article, Anne visits a café, orders an empowering Frappie and is then "raped" by the barista. Of course, what really happens is that Anne is attracted to the barista, propositions him by going behind the counter, hiking her skirt up and readying for impact, but is then, against all odds turned down and thrown out of the establishment. She is of course horrified that a man she wanted to have sex with didn't want to join in the tango and bursts out of the store, traumatized.
I was going to leave it at that, happy with just having illustrated that entertainingly insane point of view I'd found trawling Tumblr, but my Jim, who often finds ways to sharpen the narrative and bring it to the next level of absurd, suggested that Anne would report the man for rape and lie about the details to account for the "unprogressive" legal system in order to make sure he was convicted—needless to say, I went with this, and stirred up quite the shitstorm.
The reactions to this particular piece restored some of my faith in humanity somewhat. Almost everyone condemned Anne's actions, many wanted to get involved and free this imaginary barista from the allegations, I even got emails from people saying they were going to report "me" to the police for false rape accusation. This was great to see. On the flip side, a small minority applauded Anne's actions, giving her the you-go-girl pat on the back and celebrating that an innocent man was going to jail.
Naturally, I was happy with the flurry of reactions, but not only because it feeds my ego, but because it gets people involved and creates discussions about important contemporary issues.
When it comes down to it, controversy is the key to Anne Gus both because it drives traffic to the site, keeping the higher ups happy and because it generates discussion about the issue I'm parodying, which keeps me happy. The intention is almost always to make as many people pissed off as possible, and finding new ways to do it. I've made Anne into a truly awful, horrible person to make this pretty darn easy. Anne is the kind of girl that can champion women of all shapes and sizes one second and - call all short women swarthy hobgoblins the next.
I've tuned her personality to push as many buttons as possible, in as many different people as possible, which has resulted in an ultraradical feminist / "Mean Girls"-character hybrid. Gals like Anne Gus don't really exist in the wild, but the scary thing is that there's a whole lot of almost-Annes running around, and I think that's why so many people believe she's for real.
So what's the future of Anne Gus? I'm in the process of writing a book from her perspective, but it's proving a much greater challenge than writing 1000 word articles, so that's going to take a while. I also want to move Anne into a visual medium so I'm searching for an actress brave enough to play her in a YouTube vlog series.
Today, six months into my TC career, I feel like I'm part of the family. From having been a disgruntled trickster who was against the very essence and culture of TC, I'm now a TC convert, who is not only tolerated but encouraged by the higher ups to make my voice heard. It is a stimulating environment to work in and it is hugely rewarding. If you're a hungry, aspiring writer, TC is the perfect place to start getting your stuff out there.
Image by Jim Cooke.