According to the Hungarian physican Gabor Maté, we come into the world with two basic desires: a desire for authenticity and a desire for attachment. Authenticity means being true to oneself, and ensuring that one’s physical and emotional needs are met. Attachment means being true to others, in order to develop relationships with them.
While it is possible for both of these desires to be met simultaneously, there exists what Maté calls a “traumatic tension” between them. Often we are forced to pick between one and the other. The simplest example of this when someone expresses disapproval towards us. We can choose to remain the way we are, and to threaten the possibility of a positive relationship with this person, or we can choose to change ourselves to please them, and to threaten the possibility of a positive relationships with ourselves.
Much of our lives consists of a balancing act between these two extremes — the “traumatic tension” that Maté describes. But what if you leaned completely to the authenticity side of the equation, never for a moment changing yourself to appeal to others? What if you exposed the raw facts of your existence to the world, without abandon but not without sophistication?
Enter Max Karson.
A writer, filmmaker, and video essayist based in Oregon, Max has abandoned what rhetoricians call “optics.” Your optics are how you come across when you say something — how you might be interpreted, including how you might be misinterpreted. Due to his disregard of the need for attachment, Max Karson does not allow what he says to be dictated by such concerns — although, as a rational human being, he certainly has them. He simply states what he believes, with no eye for taboo or manners.
If I’ve made Max sound badass, lower your expectations. There’s a reason that such a profound tension exists between authenticity and attachment: because both of them are necessary for a healthy existence. To fall too far to one side is inevitably to bring serious problems upon yourself. And, as we will see in this post, Max Karson has no shortage of serious problems. This makes him all the more interesting.
Part 1: Virginia Tech
During his formative years, Max went to college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He studied psychology there, as well as working on various personal projects on the side. He released multiple rap albums, for example (none of which can be found online, unfortunately), and wrote a newsletter called The Yeti.
In 2007, Max was publicly arrested for comments he made in a class discussion about the Virginia Tech shooting. The discussion, which took place in a women’s studies class, began with various students sending their thoughts and prayers to the victims. Max suggested that that it would be better to discuss what it is that drives someone to do something like this, and what it is about the nature of the US education system that may have led him down that road. He then stated that “if anyone in here says that they’ve never been so angry that you wanted to kill 32 people, you’re lying.” As reported in the Denver Post, Max then explained that he was “angry about all kinds of things, from fluorescent light bulbs to the unpainted walls, and it made him angry enough to kill people.”
The professor then reportedly asked him “Would you kill all of us?” How Max replied depends on which source you rely upon. According to a blog post written at the time, his response was “No. Not all of you.” According to a personal statement from Max himself, more than a decade after the incident, his response was “Thought about it? Yes. Considered it? No.”
Regardless of which rendition is accurate, Max’s comments inspired fear. As Brad Wiesley, the university’s police commander, explains: “More than one student said they were afraid. They said they were afraid of him and afraid to come to class with him.”
Max’s statements are understandable — anger in young people, and the role that the education system might play in this anger, are valid discussion points. However, his chilling reply, “No. Not all of you,” isn’t the kind of thing you should say just a few days after one of the biggest school shootings in history. Gallows humor or serious statement, anyone with a sense of optics would have kept it to themselves.
Today, Max still defends his comments. However, this would not be the worst thing Max’s disregard of optics would lead him to double down on. In 2020, things would get much worse.
Part 2: Cuties
Cuties is a film that was released by Netflix on September 9th, 2020. A French coming-of-age drama, it is said by the director to serve as a criticize of the hypersexualization of pre-adolescent girls. In criticizing this hypersexualization, however, the film features the very thing that it denounces, and is filled with sexual depictions of preteens girls (allegedly — I haven’t seen the film). This has led to the film receiving widespread, international critique, and the general opinion among those who know of the film is that it is deplorable.
By 2020, Max had become an avid video essayist, releasing scripted monologues over film clip b-roll on his YouTube channel. Shortly after the release of Cuties, a new video could be found on Max’s page: Cuties: An Uncomfortably Honest Review.
In the review, he makes several important, nuanced points, pointing out, for example, that the fact that the movie is about the problems of exploiting children does not excuse its exploitation of children. However, he also makes some deeply disturbing comments. Most notably, this one: “This film does try to make you sexually aroused by 11-year-olds, and… it’s not bad at it. It’s not a total failure in that regard, at least for me.”
Predictably, the video was mass-disliked and eventually removed from YouTube. In fact, Max’s entire channel was taken down — although it would be reinstated nine months later. Nonetheless, he continued to double and triple down on his statements, releasing a video entitled The Cuties Review Wasn’t Satire. He simultaneously maintains that he is not a pedophile, despite admitting to being aroused by 11-year-old girls, his argument being that he is attracted to them despite the fact that they are pre-pubescent, rather than because of it. He also claims that everyone has the attractions that he does, but that he is simply the only one willing to admit to them.
Unlike some, I am not willing to say that pedophiles are necessarily horrible people. I think that pedophilia is a paraphilia, and that some pedophiles feel the attractions that they do against their will. Therefore, I have respect for pedophiles who resist the urge to fantasize, or, worse, to commit actual child abuse, and who seek help. However, Max’s assumption that his attraction is normal but simply taboo to speak about is deeply worrying. The normalization of atrocity is often the first step on the road to its occurrence.
Part 3: Destiny
In December, 2021, Max’s relatively obscure existence experienced its second thrust into the spotlight — the Cuties review being the first. At that time, he was invited by the live streamer Steven Bonnell, (better known by his digital alias Destiny) to have a live-streamed discussion about transgender issues. The discussion lasted two and a half hours, with Max interestingly juxtaposing two seemingly contradictory viewpoints, the first being that trans women aren’t women, and the second that gender categories should be abolished. Afterwards, Steven’s audience made it clear that they had found Max fascinating, and wanted him to return to Steven’s stream as soon as possible. And so he did, appearing many times over the next few months to discuss topics ranging from personal boundaries to beastiality.
In the wake of his popularity with Steven’s fans, Max began to develop his own audience, and started doing his own live streams. While most of his content was, like Steven’s, debate based, he also ran a show called “Advice and Confessions with mrgirl,” where viewers could call in to give confessions, get advice, or both. Here he showed a surprising level of psychological wisdom, often leading callers to revelations about themselves that they hadn’t previously considered. Obviously, the depth or reality of these revelations is questionable — we are talking about a call-in show, after all. However, at least a few of them seemed genuine, and it was clear that Max was extremely skilled at getting people to open up, and at asking just the right questions to lead them toward insight. Perhaps this was the result of his degree in psychology, or maybe of his general disposition toward the world. Perhaps it was both.
During the course of this era of his content, Max revealed many things about himself — may things that most people would consider too personal to ever share. I won’t list them here; suffice it to say that there were many. Given that Max is a known nude model and exhibitionist, a caller at one point asked him if his psychological proclivity to expose himself was yet another manifestation of his exhibitionism, to which he answered, “Yes.”
At the same time that this was going on, Max became quite publicly critical of Alok Kanojia, a psychiatrist who goes by “Dr. K” online. Alok, like Max and Steven, is a streamer. He live streams what are essentially therapy sessions, though he is careful to say “this is not therapy; we’re just talking about feelings,” for legal reasons. Nonetheless, the therapeutic dynamic is obvious: troubled people are coming to him, a psychiatrist, and telling them what is wrong with their lives. He, in turn, is guiding them towards emotional topics, getting them to cry or express emotion, and then giving them advice and reassurance.
Max’s primary criticism of Alok was that he was exploiting people for money — getting them to cry on stream for views — and that it is unethical to do “therapy” in front of a live audience.
You’re probably thinking: What Alok is doing sounds exactly like Max’s advice and confessions show. And you’re right. Nonetheless, Max argued that what he was doing was different, because he wasn’t a licensed therapist. (He has since ended his show, saying that it was unethical.)
Part 4: The Doll Review
Max had always been the artsy type, and by the time May 2022 rolled around he had been making low-budget films for decades. Now, having requested a review copy of a RealDoll, one of the most advanced sex dolls on the market, he publicly announced his plans to make a short-ish film reviewing it.
The doll review came out in late May, and Max’s audience seemed to like it. Despite featuring uncensored sex with the sex doll, his fans didn’t mind — at this point, they had become used to the weirdest of the weird. However, there was something about the review that his fans did care about, and that would lead many of them to renounce their fandom. This was a 25 minute conversation between Max and his girlfriend Shaelin that he included in the review. In the conversation, they talk about Max’s desire to enact a kind of free-use fantasy, wherein his partner lies completely still and doesn’t react in any way, and they discuss how the doll might give him an outlet for this desire. Max also convinces Shaelin to agree to a sex plan where she will lie completely still once a month, and allow him to do as he pleases.
The reason the conversation struck such a bad chord with so many people was not because of its crassity or strangeness — as was previously mentioned, at this point they had become used to the weirdest of the weird. What really put people off was the relationship between Max and Shaelin. Max came off extremely manipulative in the conversation, and many people would soon call in to his show to call him an abuser.
What exactly was so abusive about the conversation? A full understanding requires a watch-through (though Max’s channel was since been deleted, a reaction to the conversation can still be found here), but here are the major points:
- Throughout the conversation, Max is incredibly controlling. Due to projection, however, he sees her as incredibly controlling. This is beautifully illustrated by the following exchange: Max: “Can I just talk, without you trying to control what I’m saying?” Shaelin: “Ok.” Max: “Can you just shut up, and not say ok?” Shaelin: *silence* .
- Max makes everything about himself. If you’ve watched the conversation, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, just consider this quote: “You have a tendency to make lots of things about yourself… If something’s 89% for me, but 11% for you, I feel like it’s just for you. You fit 90% into that 11%.” Project much, Max?
Not only did Max engage in gluttonous amounts of projection, but he was self-aware about it, and believed that it was justified. The way he put it was that stopping yourself from projecting is the same as repressing your emotions, and repressing your emotions is bad.
Around the same time that this was happening, Max stopped his advice and confessions show, starting a new one called “mrgirl hotline,” where callers could talk about anything they wanted. He stated that the new show would be much more bombastic, much more entertaining, and much more no-holds-barred. And it was. He frequently yelled at callers, and the same no-holds-barred conversational style began to seep into his interviews, which he had been doing on his YouTube channel for a while. In one tragic interview, he speaks to a history professor about the Holocaust. He says something, and the professor says “I think what you’re grasping at is…” only to be cut off by Max yelling “I’m not grasping at shit, motherfucker! I have a firm grip on this thing with both hands!” The professor responds by saying that if Max is going to insult him then he’s going to have to leave, and offers Max a compromise: if Max apologizes, he will stay. Max’s response? “I can’t do that.”
I myself called into Max’s hotline show once. I met a guy with the thickest Indian accent I’ve ever heard in the waiting room, and me and Max had a fine conversation about music and pizza. But that’s a story for another day.
Part 5: Waffles with Nazis, Leaving Orbit, Burning the Bridge
Steven Bonnell, aka Destiny, had always had a reputation for having anyone on stream for a debate, no matter how far-out their beliefs were. In late August 2022, this resulted in Steven inviting Nick Fuentes, a known neo-Nazi, to debate with him in a Miami restaurant over a plate of waffles.
Max took issue with this, believing that treating Nazis as the kind of people you can peacefully have waffles with sends a dangerous message, sanitizing their ideology. Because of this, a neo-Nazi streamer on the site cozy.tv send hundreds of his viewers to mass report Max’s YouTube videos. Since Max was already skating on thin ice with multiple community guidelines violations, the reports resulted in his YouTube channel being permanently deleted, his repeals falling on deaf ears.
Ever since his first time on Steven’s stream, Max had been what is called a “DGG orbiter,” DGG being a name for Steven’s online community, and orbiter meaning someone who gains a small following through association with someone with a larger following.
In late October, Max decided to leave orbit, i.e. to stop associating with Steven online. This occurred almost immediately after Max was banned from Steven’s subreddit, for essentially no other reason than that the sub’s head moderator, 4thot, didn’t like him. Steven defended 4thot, saying that decisions are up to the moderators, not up to him.
After this, Max accused Steven of sexual misconduct with the woman that he has on his stream, claiming that he has sex with them, then has them on his stream and sics his fanbase on them, getting a perverse pleasure out of their suffering. Max plans to support his accusation in an essay, which he originally stated would be released in a month, but has since extended the deadline on multiple times. According to his fans, “a month” always means “a month from today,” no matter what day it is.
There are many other things to talk about here — Max’s rap album, his book that was never published, etc. — but I think I’ve hit the major points. For now, I want to end this post with a somewhat lengthy quotation from a Reddit post, entitled The mind of a narcissist; a window into Max’s head. The post examines three elements of Max’s rhetoric that point to him being a narcissist.
Here is the quotation:
1) Max’s perspective is the only perspective
What Max sees about the world, what he feels about the world, is what everyone sees and feels. There is no other perspective or lens in which to view something from. If a specific action would make Max feel a certain way, then that action would make everyone feel that way.
If this person does not agree with this characterization? They simply do not understand themselves (The times Max says he knows your own subconscious better than you do), or they are just lying about it (The infamous “I don’t believe you”). If something would upset Max and make him angry, and you say that you would not be made angry by that? He will either directly dismiss your comments or try and reconcile this discussion by framing your reaction as some degree of anger on some spectrum or something so it’s technically true. He almost never accepts the other frame of reference as that person’s true feelings
2) Max is correct
Combined with the first point, we end up in situations where this clash becomes unresolvable. Every person believes themselves to be correct to some degree, but Max believes he is fundamentally correct — and since he cannot view reality from a different perspective, there is almost no way to convince him he’s wrong. Information will not change his mind, because he already has all the information he needs on a topic to believe he is correct.
Whether it’s a discussion on what exactly transgender people experience, or discussions on psychology ethics, these thoughts are already well fleshed out and cemented in his brain. After all, why would he choose to believe the wrong thing? If a sentence in the APA ethics handbook could be read in a different way, well it would just mean you are wrong since he has already read it and believes his view is correct. Why would I choose to read a sentence and interpret it the wrong way?
Max must be correct, because it gives weight to his beliefs. He views the world a certain way, and then will argue that it is that way. Any other perspectives or arguments made to try and prove Max wrong must, deductively, be the fault of the other party in some way.
3) Max is exceptional when it benefits him, and normal when it would hurt him
Max sells himself as a thought provocateur and someone who is extremely introspective, educated and well read on topics. He has done extensive research into topics like gender and knows a lot about it. He is educated in psychology and can speak authoritatively on the subject. He is extremely empathetic and can be, as he described it once, bombarded by peoples subconscious thoughts and emotions. Max can see where Dr K did wrong but where the normal people cannot, he just has to show them.
When Max and his fans were banned from Destiny’s subreddit, Max needed fans smart enough to engage with his content to be a translator. Those who agree with Max are smart, and those who disagreed need to be shown why they are wrong. Max himself has argued his content needs to be digested by people with an above average intellect, and that a lot of people just won’t get it.
But when Max is abusive to his girlfriend? Well, that’s just normal. Every relationship has problems and fights! Sexually aroused by the Cuties movie? Well everyone has to be attracted to children in some way, I’m just honest about it! I’m emotionally dysregulated and have literally hit my significant other in the past? Well everyone should go to therapy because everyone needs therapy — it’s normal that I keep trying to go to therapists for most of my adult life!
When Max can do something and look good, he’s exceptional and the only one to stand out amongst the crowd. The only one to see things us normal people can’t be. In his words, he wants to be a hero, not just feel like one. But when something would make him look bad, like saying he wants to shoot up his college — he’s just saying what everyone is thinking (where he’s normal) and too afraid to say (where he’s exceptional)
Having followed Max’s work for so long, I find this a wholly accurate analysis.