November 9, 2023 - 11:00am

Towards the end of last week, indie filmmaker Mike Clum released a short documentary about the YouTube personality Steven Jay Williams, better known as Boogie2988. The Dark, Sad Life of Boogie2988 is just under an hour long and is a focused, deeply depressing account of the rise and fall of an overweight man who achieved fame by playing video games and ranting on camera. 

The release received no press coverage, but it has attracted online reaction. On a subreddit dedicated to Williams, some commenters wondered if the documentary was just another opportunity for the notoriously self-pitying YouTuber to feel sorry for himself. Others pointed out that it glossed over some of the less savoury parts of Williams’s history, instead homing in on his financial situation. Given the doc received his endorsement, it’s no surprise one user described it as “e-begging”. 

The man who was once a sadsack star is now just a sadsack and an object of scorn. He still has the odd supporter, such as the 20-year-old fangirl-turned-lover we meet halfway through the documentary, but they are few. And if there are more around, they’re not nearly as vocal as his detractors. Partly that’s because of the fickle nature of online fandom. The scrutiny is harsh; expectations are high. 

And it’s not easy keeping the online crowd onside. Being an internet personality is even more difficult, brain-bending, and soul-crushing than being a traditional celebrity. They don’t “play” a character: they inhabit their character, 24/7. Nor is there any privacy. An internet personality is expected to put everything online: they need to produce thousands of hours of content over the course of a career, yet never lie or embellish. Nor can the internet personality react to criticism, because any sign of vulnerability is “feeding the trolls”. These tactics work with a single podcast appearance or a handful of social media spats. But “Avoid the comments section and don’t overshare,” doesn’t work so well when selling your id is your job. 

Williams has a well-documented history of embellishing his hardships and wallowing in self-pity, and has previously been charged with aggravated assault. He has been accused of racism and exploiting viewers’ mental health conditions, and has also claimed that “rapists and Nazis” are more redeemable than his critics.

Perhaps worst of all, though, he’s a lolcow. That is, “a victim […] who can’t help but be milked for lulz time and time again. They have a compulsive need to give up as many laughs as possible at their own expense despite themselves.” But lolcow status is the fate of anyone so exposed. Whether a pathological victim or not, few can escape this end.

Should online personalities be held accountable for what they do and say? Of course, especially when it ventures into hateful or dangerous territory. Yet we — the audience — routinely underestimate what it means to be a career internet celebrity. The event horizon has passed once it becomes your career: there is no “doing this correctly”. Even when — and it is “when”, not “if” — people aren’t making fun of you, once you make a living this way, you are the once and future lolcow. 

Acknowledging that there’s a ceiling to your growth won’t save you. Only logging off will. And even then, for the man still best known as Boogie2988 and others, that’s no solution either.

Katherine Dee is a writer. To read more of her work, visit