Like a lot of pasty white people who have strong opinions about comic book continuity, I enjoy the music of Jonathan Coulton. I like that he’s a nerd musician whose work contains enough conceptual depth of craft to stand up to a bit of analysis.
One of the recurring themes in his work is sympathy for the unsympathetic. Songs like “Tom Cruise Crazy”, “The Town Crotch”, and “I Crush Everything” create warm, empathetic feelings for people and entities one normally thinks poorly of, usually by putting us inside their perspective.
Three of his most popular songs, indeed, form a trilogy about the most toxic forms of Nice Guy Syndrome.
Coulton’s attitude toward intellectual property being what it is, we can illustrate this post with World of Warcraft videos by spiffworld. We appreciate their hard work in illustrating just how creepy this shit gets.
First we have the most seemingly innocuous one, “Code Monkey”:
This is one of the songs that makes a lot of guys go “Oh my god, that’s totally my life!” Problem is, this isn’t a song about sympathy for a decent, misunderstood guy. It’s a song about sympathy for a really unpleasant and awful guy. As I said, that’s kinda Coulton’s thing.
“Code monkey hang around at front desk, tell you sweater look nice” is fairly easy to decode as “Code monkey have no intention of looking above your collarbone at any point. Code monkey conduct entire awkward conversation with your boobs.” Coulton’s lyrics are more than controlled enough that “sweater” was not randomly chosen because it has two syllables, y’know?
After that, of course, when the eponymous monkey at least has the awareness to take “go away” for an answer, and he genuinely is feeling hurt and rejected, we get the key line: “Code monkey think someday he have everything, even pretty girl like you.” In other words, he does not give a fuck about the unnamed girl at the front desk as a human being. (Or as a Night Elf, for that matter.) She has worth because she’s pretty, making her one of the accessories or possessions he thinks he deserves. He states explicitly that he wants any girl of equivalent prettiness and therefore equivalent value.
In our next song, he has successfully gotten everything, and is now searching for a girl of equivalent prettiness.
This you must understand: that’s the same guy. He’s gotten the “everything” he wanted. Secret lair? Check. Golden submarine? Check. Ample supply of monkeys for monster-related activities? Check. Pretty girl? Um.
Note that once again, the girl has no name that the narrator ever learns. Here his protestations of deep affection for her become completely transparent: she’s just some girl who’s been kidnapped and brought to him by Scarface. (I always imagine her being brought in a sack. It’s just funnier with a sack.) What’s more, she is clearly not the first girl to be offered up in such a manner, and it’s strongly implied that all the previous girls who failed to love him have been murdered and eaten by wolves.
This is not actually a different attitude toward women than in “Code Monkey”.
In both songs, the protagonist has no idea what the girl of his fixation might actually want or like. Soda? Half-pony-half-monkey monster? Who knows what women want? Nor does he actually care. A girlfriend is an accessory, an item on his checklist, a valuable artifact, an unlockable achievement. An object.
Some might doubt that Code Monkey and Obviously Never Read The Evil Overlord List are in fact connected, are two points on the same continuum. To help clarify this point, Mr. Coulton recorded another song that traces the line of connection clearly.
This one is my personal favorite, if only for the finely-observed detail of the narrator’s adolescent fantasies. He’s not just a nerd, he’s a late-70s/early-80s nerd. Monorails, talking dolphins, couples’ skate, the word “bionic”… this guy is from a time when Cosmos was on TV and Omni magazine was a thing. His blind faith in magic science and a cutoff date of “the future”, the use of “engineered” instead of another word, all speak of a guy I’ve known many times in my life. It’s a beautiful character sketch.
Of course, it’s of a pretty sketchy guy. One has to love the gradual progression from “Aw, that poor kid, I feel for him” to “What the fuck cyborg rape how did we get here?!?” It’s the same progression from “Code Monkey” to “Skullcrusher Mountain”, of course, only this time Coulton makes it explicit that it’s the same guy. It’s a guy with essentially toxic and hostile attitudes toward himself and toward other people, women in particular. At the beginning of the progression, he is constrained by human society and the limitations of what’s possible. At the end, those constraints are removed and he’s able to give free rein to his fundamental impulses and attitudes.
In other words, he becomes a rapist supervillain because he always wanted to be, even when he was all alone during couples’ skate. He was just waiting for sufficient Future Science to make it possible.
So next time you hear someone complain that Nice Guy Syndrome is just an evil feminist plot to shame passive or shy men, remember that there is nothing passive or shy about feeding someone to wolves. Passivity and shyness not coupled with repressed misogyny are simply not the same problem. NGS is about a fundamentally hostile attitude toward women, though admittedly one that, in the right hands, can be really catchy and upbeat.