Artist, social commentator and online comedian George Ouzounian was a pioneer in blogging before “blogging” was even a word. Ouzounian now 35, was honestly the first “Internet celebrity” I ever became aware of.
His brash, uncensored satire gained an underground fame amongst a young and cynical crowd of early internet adopters who spread the word of Ouzounian’s website full of comedic rants, f bombs and mean doodles, before the phrase “going viral” lost its infectious connotation and meant something good.
Better known as Maddox, the uncompromising digital revolutionary, full time pirate and creator of The Best Page in the Universe, Ouzounian was first inspired to set up a site after his article “fifty things that piss me off” went big on EFnet’s #coders channel. He setup his website in the form it exists now in 1998 - simple white text, and yellow underlined links on a black background.
Ouzounian’s early posts primarily circled around two main subjects – things he hates, and a tongue and cheek representation of what it means to be manly. Maddox’s hits grew quickly and by 1999 his website, The Best Page in the Universe, was pulling in more traffic daily than enormous corporations like McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
At the height of his popularity “Maddox” was a more searched term on Google than Adsense is even now. Seriously, take a look.
Maddox has never been a very prolific writer though and despite the obvious opportunity to tap those views with advertising, Ouzounian never has. Instead of writing in volume, Ouzounian instead focused on simply expressing himself and building his brand, which he has leveraged in the form of merchandise.
This rare setup has led to an appreciative fan base that understand articles aren’t being produced simply to get hits or fill a time slot. Today, The Best Page in the Universe stands out amongst other formulaic, pageview oriented and ad-revenue hungry blogs for two reasons -
1) No ads – advertisers would only try to censor him anyway, and…
2) Articles are ready when they were ready, and only happen when Maddox had something to say.
Maddox’s famous brand of shock comedy may seem crass and childlike at first glance, with articles titled everything from “How to make a mean sandwich” to “Old people should be eaten” – but it doesn’t take much digging to realise this over the top, profanity spewing persona is just a comic sugar coating for some genuinely well argued and thought provoking social commentary – “Oops! You’re Racist” cleverly attacks the fallacy that immigrants somehow steal jobs, whilst “Embrace Diversity,” and Other Bullshit Phrases That Don’t Mean Anything” highlights the innate prejudice in politically correct rhetoric.
What makes Maddox’s career as a satirist truly standout is its long history, which spans an era in which the common social values regarding freedom of speech have changed drastically. When Ouzounian began his website, the thought of being fired, sued or even arrested for your online ramblings, no matter how hateful they may be, was totally unheard of. Today, the public increasingly accept the notion that you have freedom of speech, as long as you don’t offend anyone.
It’s considered “common sense” that you’re being spied on, and that you shouldn’t rock the boat. Having and sharing an opinion anywhere is bad enough, but without a disclaimer that you’re probably wrong or failing to mention the other side of the argument right afterwards is tantamount to a thought crime, and if your speech enrages someone enough to act violently, it was your speech at fault, not their actions.
To maintain an opinion-free demeanor through your public social media and online interactions is the most common response – for fear of being fired or in England, even arrested. In spite of these drastic slips in freedom of expression over the last decade, Maddox has never toned down his writing – in fact browsing his website lately reveals that a lot of his recent commentary has been predominantly concerned with censorship – his to be particular.
After 2003, new content from Maddox appeared with less and less frequency. Bottoming out in 2006, where only 4 new articles went up the entire year (due to a busy book launch schedule) Maddox lost more readers over the next four years than most contemporary writers could ever dream of having. In 2010 however, Maddox’s writing began to pick up again, and since then The Best Page in the Universe has been getting a more steady (and growing) stream of content from the legendary satirist.
What’s interesting about Maddox’s return though, is that most of his latest posts include an embedded video hosted on the worlds most popular video service, YouTube.
Compared to the usual tired Vlogs that dominate the top of the YouTube charts, The Best Show in the Universe feels like a breath of fresh air. Running between 2-5 minutes long, Maddox keeps it concise and to the point. Tackling just one subject each update instead of lazily cramming in as many pop culture references as he can, Maddox speaks with a calm and measured confidence. Matching his controlled cadence, Maddox’s videos don’t employ jump cuts – if you don’t have the attention span to watch somebody talk for 2-5 minutes, Maddox thinks you can go to hell.
When I saw Maddox doing his thing, I first took his show at face value, but after a few videos, I was struck with a revelation – despite any rhetoric about our rights to free speech, the creeping movement to limit or ban it has already affected our behavior. It was actually an unfamiliar experience to watch a popular entertainer on YouTube uncompromisingly state an opinion. Popular YouTube vloggers are, probably unwittingly, championing a thought-free world by playing into the idea of a false middle ground, even refusing to give their honest opinion about whether they like twinkies or not.
So far Maddox hasn’t used YouTube as a platform to tackle any of the more sensitive subjects that his blog frequently does, though even when covering lighter topics, such as “Things that suck about New York” and “The solution to sexism in videogames” the quality of commentary and the singular commitment to represent and defend one side of an argument really elevate Maddox’s content above the purposefully indecisive children’s entertainers such as Ray William Johnson and Philip DeFranco.
Despite the limited amount of effort Maddox has put into his YouTube channel so far, the elements are there for him to become the most popular YouTuber of all time. Why? Maddox has always been popular with the young demographic that embrace online video. His videos are short, standalone and funny, ticking all three of the most important boxes where YouTube success is concerned. His thoughts and opinions breed comments and fan interaction just by nature, and the frankness of his content begs sharing with friends. In truth, Maddox’s polarizing stances give him a credibility Ray William Whateverface will never ever enjoy.
I don’t need to agree with Maddox on anything particular to appreciate that he’s one of the few online entertainers keeping the original spirit of Internet alive (uncompromising freedom of speech). Too deep? Fuck you!
Currently Maddox’s channel has 69,000 subscribers and just over 15,000,000 video views – impressive but not enough to change the YouTube world just yet. If Ouzounian keeps his current momentum up, there’s no doubt he’ll reconnect with his lost audience, and those numbers behind him again, there’s a chance Maddox could become an influential YouTube star, and in doing so, perhaps start to raise the bar of social commentary by showing others it’s okay to have an opinion.
268,708,408 people think Maddox is right about everything.