Unpacking the Internet’s New Boyfriends: Viral Vigilantes.

Half of Twitter has fallen for the Anonymous mascot, and I’m here to explain why.

Allow me to set the scene for you:

The date is December of 2015, a simpler time by all measurable accounts. The Leave it to Beaver-era for those of us straddling the generational fence between Millenials and Gen Z-ers, if you will. The place is a crowded theater in Torrance, California. The characters are myself and my then-boyfriend, huddled amongst moviegoers dressed in floor-length Jedi robes and stormtrooper onesies to watch The Force Awakens.

I admit that I never had much interest in Star Wars as a franchise before that night. I appreciated the movies for what they are and what they mean to pop culture at large. Still, I always viewed myself as a bystander in all the mania, smiling and nodding politely from the sidelines, but never found myself swept up in its cultural hysteria. 

And then, Adam Driver showed up.

Some of you will doubtlessly be rolling your eyes by this point, but you know what? I don’t care. Not only will I maintain that Kylo Ren is one of the most complicated, multi-layered characters in the entire series (and arguably its best villain—fight me), but let’s be real, here: he’s also very sexy.

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As I sat in the theater that night, I found myself overwhelmed by my attraction to this whiny, temperamental Man Boy who looked like a lost member of Slipknot. Why is he so hot? I wondered. What could it be? My perplexity only deepened when he removed his helmet, and I found that I was infinitely less attracted to him than I’d been moments before. 

My befuddlement had nothing to do with Adam Driver’s appearance; the man is Adonis incarnate, and I shan’t soon forget it. But, honey, the mask was it. Onyx and chrome and fashioned like something out of a Mad Max-flavored fever dream, it offered a measure of allure to the character that wasn’t quite there without it. I don’t know if that’s the effect that Mickey Mouse intended, but that’s what he created, and I should issue him a thousand thank-yous for it.

Fast forward to the hellscape that is 2020.

The days of watching midnight movie premieres with an eager audience of superfans hang in dismal stasis. The sequel trilogy closed, and long gone is the magic of seeing a Star Wars film in theaters (especially after the unfortunate event that is Rise of Skywalker). In the U.S., we find ourselves in a country besieged by turmoil, strife, and loss. Protesters flood the streets on a near-daily basis in calls for civil justice. And amidst this shimmering moment of nationwide rebellion, the masked man has seen a resurgence, and he’s returned with a vengeance—nay, with simps.

It began with the re-emergence of an organization of online hackers called “Anonymous.” Their universally-recognized logo is that of a man seated in a dark room, wearing a black hoodie and a Guy Fawkes mask. He appears in PSA videos the group releases to the public, his disguise illuminated by projections of flashing numbers and codes.

“We are Anonymous,” he drones, in a modulated voice that’s deeper than the pits of Hell. “Expect us.”

Shortly after the operation’s revival, Twitter saw legions of women proclaiming their attraction to its figurehead. Fancams of the mascot seemed to surface and double overnight. Calls for the character to “spit in their mouths,” among other, non-socially-distanced-requests, flooded every corner of the website. The group’s official Twitter account even sent out a plea for users to stop DM’ing them nudes.

A similar reaction was generated by a man who began showing up at Black Lives Matter protests and was christened “SpecOps” by the Internet, due to the Master Chief-Esque ensemble he wore in viral videos. Proclamations that he was “Daddy,” and expressions of what people wished he would do to them began exploding with breathless rapidity.

I saw a few people on Twitter declaring, with bewilderment, that the Internet’s new sex symbols were all faceless men. And as someone who still vividly remembers her first glimpse of the Ovary Undertaker that is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, I believe I am the only reliable source who can clarify the matter.

One of the most popular tropes in female-gazed media is artfully-woven mystique. We’ve seen it for centuries—with Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Erik/The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, Edward Cullen in Twilight, and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, to name a few. Love or hate the media from which they originated, it’s undeniable that these characters maintain a steadily-female fanbase. Why? Because these fictional men possess a fundamental level of intrigue. There’s something enchantingly mystifying in their complexities, engaging our minds and offering a space where our fantasies can run wild.

Studies have shown that 90% of women use their imaginations—in a process called “mental framing”—to get turned on. I’d wager that this is probably why erotic novels and the rapidly-growing audio erotica industry are so popular with women. Fantasy and escapism play a significant role in our desires. Maybe this is due to the warping and highjacking of female sexuality, both in media and pornography, forcing us to drum up worlds of sensual whimsy. Perhaps it’s just hard-wired into our DNA. Regardless, as a woman, I can confirm that the allure of possibility is often sexier than reality itself.

Naturally, a man in a mask can weave through this sphere of fantasy with ease. His mere presence invites magic and mystery. He can be anything we’d like him to be. Beneath that disguise, he could look like Chirs Pine or Danny DeVito. He could be your ex. He could be your English professor. It’s all a matter of what our twisted little hearts desire.

Now, I know some people will try to get fresh with me with something along the lines of: “BuT wHaT aBoUt jAsOn VoOrHeEs, oR MiChAeL mEyErS, oR—”

Let me stop you right there.

Allow me to clarify that it merely isn’t enough to wear a mask. Spider-Man lied to all of you, and that is why Spider-Man is not a sex symbol. One must also embody the rugged aura of mystery and abandon that accompanies it. The likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers, et al know nothing of being swashbuckling and enigmatic. The same goes for some of the good guys, too. Captain America lacks the same magic and charismatic appeal that Iron Man has, even despite the fact that Chris Evans is a marbled statue come to life.

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Were I to reflect on this sudden rise in masked sex symbols against the backdrop of 2020, I’d say their prevalence is owed to our collective need for escape. As we all slip in and out of quarantine, jumping from one societal horror to the next, it’s nice to imagine that there could be vigilantes out there keeping an eye on us—be it from behind a computer screen, or in front of violent cops. The masked men of 2020 have become symbols of bravery and rebellion against violent, corrupt institutions. Watching them do Their Thing is, in a word, intoxicating.

So the next time you meet a young woman on the Internet who’s made a fancam for Anonymous, please refrain from shaming her. Don’t chalk it up to quarantine-induced madness. That’s such a dull conclusion to settle on. If women want to fantasize about faceless men, let them have their fun. These days, the world could do with a healthy dose of daydreams, anyway.