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MEMES, Part 2: Scumbag Steve40:12
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(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)
(Rory Panagatopolis for WBUR)

If there is an OG meme in which a human is the star, Scumbag Steve is it. He spread across the internet like wildfire in 2011 as a universal representation of dudes who are the worst. And, like any person grappling with immediate internet fame, Blake Boston — the man behind Scumbag Steve — tried to capitalize: merch, rap songs, public appearances.

But the full story of what happened to Blake — and his family — has never been told. The Scumbag Steve meme became a bargaining chip in a custody battle, a complicating factor in meeting his birth mother, the cause of fights with extended family members, a source of anxiety attacks, and an echo of trauma. In this episode, we go past the origin story of Scumbag Steve and learn about Blake’s real struggles with PTSD and abuse — and how trauma has brought him and his mother, Susan Boston, even closer.

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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

TRIGGER WARNING: This episode mentions the sexual assault of a minor.

Ben: When he pulls up the long driveway of his parents house in the Boston suburb of Millis, Blake Boston — yes, that is his last name — appears to live up to our expectations. He gets out of his white Mercedes SUV, lights a Newport cigarette almost immediately, and starts gesturing with a pointer finger on the same hand where he’s fisting a large Dunkin’ coffee with the ease of someone who is used to gesturing with a large Dunkin’ coffee in his hand.

Amory: Blake is gesturing into his mom’s garage, where a small burgeoning forest of new marijuana plants are turning into teenagers with the help of large black felt pots. Pot in the pots. They’re his mom’s. Blake’s immediately friendly, open, and fun. He’s got a thick golden beard, thick forearms covered in tattoos. We go around the back to enter the family home from the immaculate deck, and Blake’s sons bound up. One asks if he can help us put our recording kit together. The other announces that they are about to go save some tadpoles.

Ben: Blake’s Mom, Susan, is not exactly a shrinking violet either. She and her son Blake, and her grandsons, seem clearly cut from the same cloth. Even if technically they aren’t. Today’s interview is Susan’s Mother’s Day present. But first she has some questions.

Susan Boston: You're not going to make us look like assholes, right?

Ben: No. I mean that's up to you.

Susan: No, it's up to editing.

Blake: You need to behave, the thing is, is you say.

Susan: You need to behave.

Amory: Spoiler: Nobody in this conversation is going to behave. Susan did try to make sure that at least Ben behaved, as any *mutha* would.

Susan: Don't spill your water on all this stuff.

Ben: I'll try not to.

Ben: Amory and I are here, trying not to spill the glasses of ice water that Susan gave us, in a kitchen that is beautiful and full of flowers. And we’re here with Susan and her son because Blake — after months of DM-ing with us — has agreed to do yet another interview about what happened to him. He’s done many.

Blake: My name is Blake Boston, AKA Scumbag Steve. Scumbag Steve is a meme. It’s like a character. Me being a typical guy I was kinda hiding the hurt feelings with anger. Basically someone saw that and was like, that dude looks like a scumbag.

Amory: But not many with his mom. And not many where he’s talked about some of the things that fill out the picture beyond the image his mom posted online that became a meme, and turned into a years-long obsessive internet-induced anxiety attack for both of them.

Ben: Today, Blake and Susan Boston are going to talk more openly about what happened. An interview with public radio is a bit of a departure from their usual Mother’s Day routine.

Ben: Is is it true also that that for previous mother's days, you used to ask Blake to.

Susan: Steal?

Ben: Steal some flowers?

Susan: Yes, and I find that, you know, it's nature. I mean, OK, it is in somebody's yard. But, you know, you would think--

Blake: It was like drive by. She literally drive me around. So we lived in that time. So we would literally drive around like Norfolk county, I guess you'd call it. Yeah, it would be like five or six different towns. And by the time we were done, she'd have a bouquet of all different colored lilacs. Probably if you bought it, the store would be like a three hundred dollar bouquet ‘cause it was so large and she -

Susan: Yeah, I remember when I first had Gabriel, my oldest, I was 21 and she was like, come on, Blake, you got to get over here. I was living here at the time and I was like, What are you talking about? And she's like, We're going to get my flowers. And I was like, I'm not 14 anymore. I'm going to get arrested for this. And she I don't care. I don't care. I bought her flowers one time. I bought her lilacs.

Susan: And I was mad. I gave him the silent treatment. I was like, this is something this is a tradition that we need to do all the time. But but one guy chased us and he's like, Mom, Floor it. And I was like, I would be the driver.

Blake: Yeah, that was the year I was on probation. And you made me do it. Oh, like, mom, you're going to get me arrested.

Ben: So I feel like you're already answering this question, but like, how would you describe your relationship to each other?

Susan: I don't really like him.

Blake: I don't even remember her name.

Amory: This couldn’t be further from the truth. Blake and Susan finish each other’s stories. Each other’s sentences. Each other’s jokes. You couldn’t find two peas more in a pod.

Ben: But a lot of close parent-child relationships are forged in the fires of trauma. And, if you’re lucky, the love and humor and struggle that can come after that trauma. So it also makes sense. Because Blake Boston and his mom have some trauma — some of it unrelated to the meme; some of it very related to the meme.

Blake: Like, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words never hurt you. 

Susan: But they do.

Susan: Hi, I'm Susan Boston and I live in Millis. Dog Town. All right. That's awful because somebody will listen to it.

Blake: What happens when you're in the friggin' drive thru at Dunkin' Donuts and someone's like there's that freakin' Sue Boston over there talking trash. Then you’re going to call me in hysterics. "Get down here, please!"

Susan: No. I'm Susan Boston. And I live in Massachusetts and I'm a mom and a grandmother and a wife. How about you, Blake, now that you can speak?

Blake: Well, since you asked, my name is Blake Boston, a.k.a. Scumbag Steve, and I am a loving father, cook by profession/musician. And I'm just, you know, doing my thing, raising my kids, having a good time while doing it. You know,

Susan: Don't forget your fiancée. 

Blake: Oh my god.

Susan: That would have been a complete -- 

Blake: Take two. Hahaha.

Amory: I’m Scumbag Amory.

Ben: I’m Scumbag Benny, and you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. And today we’re talking to a true OG meme and his mom, who talk a LOT — sometimes, at the same time.

Blake: They did me so bad. They did me so dirty.

Susan: OK, whatever they even had even––

Blake: Can I finish the question he asked me?

Susan: I gotta remember this one thing or else I'll forget.

Blake: This is why you don't do an interview with your mom.

Susan: OK, listen to me.

Amory: Now, when we refer to Blake Boston — who conveniently happens to have that last name while sounding like THIS...

Blake: Why make their jobs harder? Let's make this as smooth as possible.

Amory: … When we refer to him as an OG meme, it’s because Scumbag Steve turned TEN this year. Which is like a century in internet years. And he has remained ubiquitous. In our last episode, we learned about "Kilroy Was Here," a meme that physically made the rounds around the world during World War II.

Ben: But Scumbag Steve was among the first modern-day memes, reaching all corners of the globe simultaneously. Instantly. Because... the INTERNET. And if sometime during the last decade you’ve stumbled across the Scumbag Steve photo showing a random, teenaged, rosy-cheeked kid wearing a crooked, backwards baseball hat, a fur-trimmed coat, a gold chain, scraggly facial hair and an aloof stare,  you’ve probably also seen some of the captions it’s been given by strangers on the internet.

Amory: Captions that are… scumbaggish. Things like…

[VOICE-OVER] “Pukes on something. Disappears.” “Can I borrow a dollar to snort this with? Pockets dollar.” “Drives slowly in the left lane. Speeds up when you try to pass him.” “Grandpa gets surgery. Steals pain meds.”

Amory: And if you’ve looked at that photo of Blake Boston and thought that some of those captions might be true, many things will surprise you over the course of this episode.

Ben: Many things, but not everything.

Ben: What was Blake like as a little kid?

Susan: Well, as a little kid, he was horrible.

Ben & Amory: Hahaha.

Ben: Blake was adopted as an infant.

Blake: Note to everybody: do not conceive a baby in the back of a muscle car because I'm the result.

Amory: Susan says Blake was a true mischief maker. Hyperactive, predictably unpredictable — a riot and a parental panic attack, all in one.

Susan: I remember one time we went to the Boston home show and I said to my parents, go to the other end because you could go in and go out. There's no way he'll get lost. But he wants to go through by himself. So he went through. I come around to the other side. Um, my parents are looking. I'm like, where is he? Where is he? He freaking climbed out the window. Oh. And started going beeline to where they were selling like candy. And I was I thought he was gone. I was like, this is he's the type of kid that, I was at one point thinking of having a leash on him. Everywhere we went, he was the kid that everybody loved. Everybody thought was hysterical and caused me, like, just so much angst. You have no idea. But I adored him.

Ben: Blake was a handful, and Susan brought in professional help pretty early on.

Blake: Well, my first ever therapy session was after I got bit in the eye by a dog.  

Amory: Bit in the eye? Oh God. 

Blake: Yeah he ripped like like half my face off. 

Susan: So he was identified like this is how he was identifying with the dog instead of the victim. So I had to take him to this therapist, his play therapist, because he was biting all the kids at the preschool.

Amory: Blake was only 4 years old at the time. He had to have facial reconstructive surgery. But instead of becoming afraid of dogs as a result, Blake started acting like one around his classmates.

Blake: I was like tackling them, growling, growling, biting the dog. And so my brother and I started punching people. I'd like claw at them like I was a leopard. 

Susan: He said in trauma with kids that age. He said sometimes they're going to identify you there. It's a victim, you know, and be afraid of dogs or whatever or the rarely. But sometimes it does happen. They become the dog and he became the dog.

Ben: Susan says therapy helped her son a lot. But as he got older, nothing could stop this teenage boy from being, well, a teenage boy.

Blake: Oh, and forget about when I found out about Jackass, I would literally-- April Fools was my day. I put jello in her toilet, saran-wrapped her toilet. I put it it was so funny. I got her one day. I put it, I put it, obviously not a used condom, but I put soap in it, so it made it look used and I-- 

Susan: That's disgusting. That's too much. NPR!

Amory: This became a common refrain throughout our conversation with Blake and Susan.

Ben: Every time her son said something outrageous — not safe for work or for broadcast — Susan would yell…

Blake: What do you think half those books--

Susan: NPR!

Blake: Do you not realize half the romance books out there are more graphic than a porno?

Susan: I told you NPR we’re going to bring it up a notch!

Ben: We should admit, a four year old biting other school kids? Covering your mother's toilet with Saran Wrap? This is real life SCUMBAG material right? Or at least future scumbag material.

Amory: But Susan — as you may have guessed from the whole Mother’s Day flower-stealing ritual — she’s pulled off some shenanigans of her own…

Blake: You're forgetting the whole point where you dress up and put on a fake beard and like cool disguise so you can watch me perform.

Ben: Blake has pretty much always wanted to be a musician. He started playing in bands in high school. And yes, one time, a friend of his helped sneak Susan into one of his shows so she could cheer him on without, you know, being the mom at the show.

Susan: He put a whole beard on me and a doo-rag, remember?

Blake: I still have that picture!

Susan: And I was dressed in like these big chains. And I was like walking, and he never even saw me until I had, like, didn't have a camera or something —

Blake: I was on stage and I almost stop rapping because I was like, oh -- 

Amory: Susan has done many things out of love for Blake that have ended up being  kind of mortifying for him. But the most mortifying of all is the reason the Scumbag Steve meme exists.

Susan: You know, do we have to really, like, rub it in?

Ben: The story goes like this: In 2006, around the time Blake was playing shows with his high school band, Susan was getting into photography.

Susan: I thought it was so cool, OK, I thought I was-- And they would humor me because I'd use the same filter and I just do a blue red light and coming through and I'd be like, look at this. And he's like, good, mom, keep at it, keep at it while they're downstairs probably making out with girls.

Blake: We were doing a lot more than that.

Amory: Susan wanted to support Blake’s musical endeavors — beyond just showing up to his shows in a beard. She thought he needed some promo photos. So one day, as Blake is trying to leave the house, she snaps a picture of him in the doorway. He wasn’t ready for it, but it was a pretty good shot, she thought.

Susan: And I said to him, give me your MySpace. And he's like, Mom! I'm like, you going to do all of the stuff you have to promote yourself! So he gave me the thing... I put the pictures up.

Ben: Including a picture that would turn Blake Boston into Scumbag Steve. But not for a while. Which makes the origins of Scumbag Steve all the more mysterious…

Amory: Susan posted the photo on MySpace in 2006. But it didn’t take off as a meme until January 2011, when it popped off among Reddit users. Within days, someone had made a website: scumbagsteve.com. Blake and Susan have no idea who started the meme. They barely knew what a meme was at the time.

Blake: All I know is he kept calling. It. he Goes I'm a me, me, me, me, me, I it's not French but I didn't know. But let's not talk about excuse because every time you go in donuts, you and your croissant.

Ben: A girl from school called Blake to tell him he was all over Reddit and 4chan — two sites he also wasn’t familiar with — which made processing the meme and its prominence a little complicated.

Susan: People would be like, oh, you front paged on Reddit again this week. I'd be like, so...?

Blake: But then there would be other people, like we go to your mom's house and then there would be your sister, like not my sister, but a distant cousin saying, oh, I don't think he should come. He's been stealing pain meds. And I'm like, first of all, I've never blown coke day in my life, you know what I mean? I don't do hard drugs. I smoke weed, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol. I've taken mushrooms. but I don't do hard drugs.

Amory: So this was because someone had put a caption on the picture that had to do with like stealing drugs? 

Susan: Right. But no but one of the things that I will tell you is that when we used to go up, go on the Internet and we'd see them, we would be in hysterics laughing. Oh yeah. Total hysterics. Until then, every once in a while, then we'd look at each other and say, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Amory: Do you remember any of the captions that you thought were funny?

Blake: Oh, what the hell was it? Steals your keys, spends twenty minutes helping you look for him. Yeah. Oh my God. Sleeps on your couch. Steals all the change inside or the change inside the cushions.

Amory: Did any of these resonate with you?

Blake: The lighter one.

Susan: A couple of them did.

Blake: I still do that now because like if you go go on a night of drinking now, don't go out with one lighter and I'll wake up the next morning with three.

Ben: Scumbag Steve started out as what’s called an ADVICE ANIMAL meme. Basically, they’re pictures of animals and humans with captions on them suggesting a certain character archetype. But over time, iterations of the silly stuff started to get pretty upsetting — captions that had to do with mistreating and taking advantage of women, which Blake and Susan say isn’t him.

Susan: Those hurt. Those were horrible to us.

Blake: Those, I don't like those. There's a certain line you don't cross.

Amory: But Blake had no control over when the line was crossed online, who was crossing it, and who was seeing all of these memes. And if the line between Blake Boston and Scumbag Steve was getting blurry for even his family members — who thought he might be stealing pain meds because of a caption online — what did the rest of the world think of him?

Blake: You know, I go try to go on dates and then girls wouldn't want to date me because they'd be like, oh, you're just going to try to have sex with my best friend. And I'm like, what are you talking about? This is our first date. Yeah. You know, people could not they could not separate it. They couldn't remember. No, I lost a lot of my, you know, high school friends around this area. Huh. And a lot of them stopped talking to me and, you know, thought that I was that person.

Ben: Susan went full Mama Bear. Just like she’d done at Blake’s shows in high school, she wanted to cheerlead for her son. So she waded into the various online forums where Scumbag Steve was circulating to try to set the record straight.

Susan: I was new to everything, OK? I had no knowledge of the Internet, no knowledge of Reddit, and I literally thought that I could rescue his reputation. And I was on there all night. I'd be writing something and I signed it as Blake Boston's real mom or something like that. And they'd say, Hi, Blake, but what are you trying to do?

Ben: They just assumed it was him.

Susan: Oh, yeah.

Ben: Susan’s attempts to defend Blake, heartfelt as they were, were, of course, futile. And really, she never had a chance.

Amory: Because Blake’s random unknown face didn’t just go viral. Going viral is brief. Everybody talks about it for a day and then mostly never again. But as any internet cat knows, memes can have 9 lives, 9 thousand lives, 9 million lives! And suddenly Blake had been catapulted not just into a new level of recognition, but into a new identity as a scumbag.

Ben: And if you’ve seen this thing, you have to admit. The image is perfect. You immediately want to caption it yourself. It’s an amazing canvas upon which to let loose your own ridicule of scumbaggery. It became so iconic that it inspired spinoffs. His backwards hat — JUST THE HAT — could be placed on any image to denote shady activity. Someone stuck it on a map of the US to criticize Guantanamo, for instance. And, unlike most of the other memes from the advice animal genre, Scumbag Steve is alive and well.

Amory: Remember our meme chorus — the group of experts we talked to about memes more generally? Well, as the meme chorus explains, the most iconic memes are the ones that perfectly, uniquely, instantly capture an intangible idea — in this case, Scumbag.

Joan Donovan: They're really ways in which we structure and then create a shorthand for a whole set of ideas.

Gianluca Stringhini: So, you know, if you want to convey a certain message online, you know that you can use a certain meme and people will get it.

Amory: So here’s Blake, in his early 20s with his whole life seemingly ahead of him, and, all of a sudden, he’s a scumbag in the eyes of just about everyone. His options were limited at this point. But if he couldn’t discard the Scumbag Steve label, he could lean in to it. Not unlike the dog attack from when he was young, instead of becoming the victim, Blake became the thing you’d think he’d shy away from. Susan watched him “become the dog” all over again.

Susan: And he, like, go to these performances acting like a complete asshole.

Blake: Oh, yeah. New York City walking down the street punchin' limos while the driving by, they beep at them, jaywalking. And I'll just punch the limo. I mean, thinking it was my job because I was there as Scumbag Steve.

Susan: And I'd be like, that's but it's not you. And he's like, Mom, I got to either go with this or not.

Ben: And for a while, Blake went with it. He thought it might be good for his music career. He posted music videos on YouTube that seemed to fully embrace the identity the internet had given him.

Scumbag Steve (rapping): Who’s been smokin’ up all your weed? Scumbag Steve, Scumbag Steve. And who keeps pickin’ out your girlfriend’s weave? Scumbag Steve, Scumbag Steve. Who showed up and drank all your beer? Scumbag Steve, Scumbag Steve. And how’d you get puke on your brand new gear? Oh yeah that’s me.

Amory: Doors did open for Blake. He got to perform at South by Southwest in 2013, he was invited to internet conventions like ROFL-Con where he was received like a celebrity. He appeared on WWE.

Ben: But there were doors threatening to close, too. When the meme blew up, Susan was in the process of contacting Blake’s birth mother, whom he’d never met but always wanted to. Blake had always struggled with what he calls a void in his heart. A question for his birth mother: Why didn’t you want me?

Amory: Susan had tried to raise someone Blake’s birth mother would be proud of. And then, all of a sudden, right when they were reaching out to introduce Blake to his birth mother, he'd become internationally known as a scumbag. Would she even answer their messages now?

Susan: I was crestfallen. I was like. They're going to think-- her whole family, the embarrassment actually of it and the right. Yeah. And and and they're being not who he is at all. But, you know, how do you explain something like that? I didn't know if they knew what a meme was. I mean, we certainly didn't. You know, there were so many things that were built into that.

Amory: Including the fact that Blake himself was a parent now. And his alter ego Scumbag Steve just happened to be spreading in the middle of a custody battle with the mother of his children.

Blake: More or less her angle was, oh, yeah, he's a scumbag and he's, you know, out doing all these crazy drugs and this and that where it's not the case. You know, like I said before, I don't use drugs, you know, marijuana. But I don't really consider that the marijuana, you know. And like that kind of messes with me, too, because, like, I've tried always hard to stay away from crap like that because, you know, I've not personally dealt with addiction, but like a lot of my friends have and I've lost some friends because of addiction. It's like that alone just kind of touches me the wrong way.

Susan: And you have a limited amount of time to stand in front of a judge to say who you are and how you can be a great parent and and why it's right for your children to be with you. And if you can imagine the fear of going in there and thinking that limited amount of time is when somebody holds up his picture. With all these sayings on them over and over and over again or here, go on, Google, Google his name, there's seven million over seven million memes of him. So how do you explain that to somebody that's not, you know, aware of what a meme is and what it is so vital to his character and in his life. That's where. That's really the crux of what was me wanting to really make everything all right along with for his reputation, but I just I knew that if this went that far and he ended up losing his children over meme, I don't know how he would have come back from that.

Amory: It’s pretty unusual for the father instead of the mother to end up with custody of kids in a divorce. And neither Blake nor Susan wants to talk very much about what happened and why. They’re still afraid of what might happen. Apparently, there was a whole reality show following Blake and his family around that MTV shot and piloted, and Blake’s ex — the mother of his boys — got that project deep-sixed.

Ben: But what we can say is that Blake has had full custody of his boys for 6 years now. And he credits them for helping him get through some darker moments. Some of which have been brought on by the meme — times when the world’s vision of who Blake was felt suffocating, which he’ll admit even while in the same breath he’s almost trying to brush it off.

Blake: There were times where, you know, I get a little too drunk because of it, and then I'd freak out and, like, scream at the top of my lungs, like, throw a little hissy fit.

Amory: But there have been other low moments, brought on by something else entirely.

Blake: Where, you know, I just sit in the house and I'll go through a little mental episode where I just become really exhausted or just like get really sad for no reason. And like randomly my kids hug me from time to time, just like come up and say, Daddy, I love you or you're the best father. So it like, snaps me out like that. So I just also hold on to that stuff, too.

Susan: That's part of PTSD.

Blake: Yeah.

Ben: This something else entirely is something fans of the meme have no idea about.

Amory: Something that he’s finally starting to talk about with his mom, the person closest to him.

Blake: So I called her at like two in the morning, one morning. And I was like, I got to tell you something. And I was like, do you remember way back in the day? And she was like, Blake, I already know. And she started crying and I started crying.

Ben: More in a few.

[BREAK]

Amory: I'll admit that I don't know exactly how to ask this. So I might I might--

Susan: Be insensitive

Amory: I might tumble over my words.

Blake: I'm offended.

Amory: But it seems--

Susan: I am too.

Amory: Oh good, good if that's where we're starting from, we're in a good place.

Susan: Oh god.

Amory: There’s a reason I’m tripping over myself here. Every once in a while in an interview, you’re hit with something you didn’t see coming. Something that tints the lens through which you see a person’s story. Ben and I had already spent an hour and a half with Blake and his mom, Susan, when he told us that, for MANY more years than he’s dealt with being a meme, he’s suffered from PTSD.

Blake: So I was molested at two different points in my life once when I was about five and once when I was about 15, 14.

Ben: Wow.

Susan: An employee or– 

Blake: A boss. Boss. Yeah.

Susan: Groomed him.

Blake: We're not mentioning names. We're not mentioning where I worked or not mention any of that.

Susan: He wasn’t the only one. 

Amory: When you were five, that was someone else

Blake: that was afraid of. So my mom took me to Home Depot and it was the first time I ever went to the bathroom by myself. And I was all proud and some friggin' knucklehead walked in after me and... Yeah, it was pretty bad. But I lied about it, too, because I didn't want anybody to know what happened. Yeah, so he got away with it.

Susan: Well, he didn't really. I mean, he did get away. They caught him. 

Blake: They caught him. But when they asked me if he did anything to me, I said no.

Susan: Well, he was you you were a little kid. That was awful. 

Ben: Blake didn’t tell his mom about what happened to him at his high school job until about 6 years ago when he was in his mid-twenties.

Blake: It was right after I got full custody of both my kids, I started having really bad night terrors about exactly what happened. And sometimes it was the first time, sometimes it was the second. But I would feel everything that was happening, like it was happening like that time. 

Susan: When he became a parent. 

Blake: When I became a full time parent, I guess, instead of, you know, half and half.

Ben: So he called Susan in the middle of the night and confirmed what she’d had an inkling about, even though she didn’t know what was going on at the time.

Susan: Something was up. I just felt it in my gut.

Blake: Well I'm fifteen years old and after we're closed, he's buying everybody beers and were smoking cigarettes inside the restaurant and we're all getting drunk and having, like, weird ass stuff. I don't know. Yeah. We all thought it was cool because we're underage and here he is. He's like he's like rolling joints for everybody who smoked weed and like you're taking shots and like we all thought we were cool because we were hanging out with an older guy.

Susan: And he was grooming him.

Amory: So, back to the question I was having a hard time articulating.

Amory: It seems like this whole scumbag Steve thing, like you said, you can't control the Internet, so this just feels like something that was out of your control. And as a mother, when you feel like something is happening that is out of your control and you don't know... you're trying and trying and trying to protect your son...but you don't know how to protect your son. And it sounds like this wasn't the first time that something bad had happened to your son where you don't know how to protect- You don't know what to do for him. 

Susan: Right. And you've got to understand that, you know, when he had that situation happen–

Blake: Just say the molestation. Just say it.

Susan: I know you're right. He. Which is really good Blake, that you can say it just like.

Blake: It took me 25 years.

Susan: OK, but when he is so that, you know, was that a trigger, you know, having had that prior experience, probably. And so and honestly, that's where my husband was so good because he'd be like this is this. That was that. OK? You trying to protect your son so diligently is not going to change the past. And it's not the same thing. You can't give it the same weight. So, yeah. Was it blurred? Yeah, but it was blurred in some regards and maybe that's why I was so into it and trying to correct it. But, you know, I don't know, maybe I've never really actually thought about it, not in those terms. Whether it was multilayered and triggers from before. Could have been. Do you think it was?

Blake: Probably. probably had a lot to do with it.

Susan: Yeah, I never even thought of that, really.

Ben: Part of the reason why we wanted to talk to Blake and his mom together is because it wasn’t just Blake’s reputation that was being dragged.

Susan: I was challenged as a mother, like, am I not doing the right thing? And that it was something I prided myself on that I that, you know, our relationship. And it was like you're telling me I didn't protect my son now?

Amory: It seemed like everyone in Susan’s life had an opinion about how she was handling things, and she wasn’t always sure when, and how, to try to shut them all up.

Blake: But I feel like eventually you kind of took my side or my way of thinking about it where it's like, you know, you can say anything you want to, but that doesn't make it true. So if you really want to feel that way, then I just won't talk to you anymore. And she said that to people. If you really think this is how I raised my son, then don't call me again.

Susan: Yeah, I can't, I can't do it with everybody. 

Ben: Sounds like, sounds like he was lucky to have you.

Susan: Lucky to have him in that regard, too, because you you know, he like I'd be looking at oh, God, look at this one. This kid said that you did this, and I'd be writing on 9gag and Reddit like an idiot. No, he isn't, I'm his mother. And they'd be like, oh yeah, Bob, you're here again. You're full of shit. And he'd be like, Mom, go with it. Just laugh it out. Remember? I say, OK, I'll try.

Ben: A through and through scumbag wouldn’t help his mom process anxiety like this. So, yeah, Blake Boston — especially if you know Scumbag Steve — is not really who you would expect him to be.

Amory: It took a while for Blake to get to this point — years of therapy, friends lost, a reputation compromised — all because strangers online found a picture on MySpace and decided he was Scumbag Steve.

Ben: Do you wish that you weren't?

Blake: No. I love it. Now I love it. Yeah. But it's cool because now, like, I'm on cameos, so I do cameos from time to time and, you know, starting a new band. So I'm going to hopefully piggyback off a little bit of Scumbag Steve. So I get a little bit of buzz for the band. So there's a lot of positive things going on, I guess, because of it.

Amory: Earlier this year, Blake was able to cash in on his online alter ego in a way that never would have been possible when the meme came out ten years ago. He sold the OG MySpace scumbag photo as an NFT, AKA, a non-fungible token… AKA, he just doesn’t own the original image anymore.

Ben: The transaction was in cryptocurrency — 30 Ethereum — which, at the time we’re recording this, is hovering around 100,000 dollars in worth. NOT BAD for a picture he never asked to be taken and that had potential to take his kids away at one point.

Blake: And then, you know, I still have the hat. I'll just throw it on from time to time and I'll like walk outside and take the trash out in my apartment complex and everyone's like... 

Amory: You get recognized still? 

Blake: More or less when I'm in character. Like if I, you know, I also have my own T-shirt, has class at noon, sleeps till 4:00 pm with my picture on it. So I'll wear that sometimes.

Amory: Blake has a level of clarity and agency over his meme-hood now that he didn’t have before. He gets to decide when he wants to embrace Scumbag Steve, and when he just wants to be Blake. And maybe more importantly to him now, just "Dad."

Blake: Honestly, my kids, they kept me straight. I still carry, you know, newborn pictures of my son's in my wallet. So I'll pull that out.

Susan: That's where you know who you are. When you're a father and parent, you know, not for everybody, but for him. He knows who he is, for his children, you know, and. That's stronger than any meme.

Blake: Definitely.

Ben: Susan’s kid kept her straight, too. As she and Blake rode out the Scumbag storm together, he buoyed her with the same realization that buoyed him.

Blake: People are going to say what they want to say about you. You can't change the other the way other people, especially if people are bullies, naturally bullies. You can't change what they do. You can change your mind-state on how you react. 

Susan: No, seriously, that kind of mind frame, because I could not take away being, you know, a mother within the meme situation. There wasn't. But he he did it for me. He separated it. And that was a lot to expect from somebody that was being called Scumbag Steve worldwide. To expect him to be there for me. So I love you and thank you.

Blake: Well, let's not get all mushy now.

Susan: OK, I won’t cry.

[MUSIC]

Ben: Next up: the bait-and-switch meme at the center of a billion YouTube views, countless email link jokes, and a song that just might have special musical powers…

Amory: And, the guy who claims to have started it all.

Ben: We’ll ROLL that into your feed... in a week.

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