I think about Dr Disrespect a lot.
I think about Dr Disrespect when I’m lying in bed at night. I think about Dr Disrespect when I am in the shower. I think about Dr Disrespect when I am at work. I think about Dr Disrespect when I am walking out of the office for my lunch break. I think about Dr Disrespect when I see a man walk past me in the street who is wearing sunglasses, or has a moustache, or has a mullet haircut that could, from a certain angle, be considered to look like the mullet wig that Dr Disrespect wears. I think about Dr Disrespect when I am in the pub, with my friend who is watching Dr Disrespect on his phone. As I continue to think about Dr Disrespect, my friend will explain to me, adoringly, just how much of a big deal Dr Disrespect is – how he really is 6-foot-8 and “built like a brick-shithouse”, how he really did work as a Call of Duty map developer and how his moustache really is real.
He’s clearly a phenomenon. The raw numbers tell you that much all on their own. He had 380K viewers on his return stream. Two million people follow his Twitch channel. I don’t know how many people are subscribed to him, as Twitch doesn’t make those numbers available, but the answer is, I’m guessing: a lot.
In the 1500 or so words that follow, I’m going to attempt to figure out how all of this came to be. What is it about the Dr Disrespect brand that is so alluring? Why is a one-dimensional fictional character one of the most popular streams on Twitch? And why, despite trying so hard to like him, is the appeal completely lost on me?
You’re sweating. Hunched over your laptop, you stare blankly at the google doc. If you wait long enough, the blink of the cursor eventually synchronises with the blink of your phone’s notification light, which sits next to you on the bed. Your gaze flits back and forth between the cursor and the phone. Blink, blink, blink.
You hear some footsteps up the stairs. They’re heavier than the footsteps of any of your housemates. Your door swings open, slamming against the wall and leaving a door-sized dent. The figure walks into the room and turns to face you.
“Hello,” Dr Disrespect says.
The first thing that strikes you about Dr Disrespect is how striking he is. The moustache, especially, is striking – black and bristly and bushy, it obscures the Doc’s top lip almost completely. It sits there looking smug and kind-of dictatorial looking, the moustache. It looks as if it knows how important it is to the Dr Disrespect brand; like it knows, somehow, its own untouchable status as the centrepiece of the Doc’s visage. It looks, and I hesitate a little in saying this because it seems like such an inappropriate word to describe a moustache, but it looks triumphant. If a moustache-themed battle royale were ever to take place, the Doc’s moustache would be the moustache that takes home the chicken dinner.
The rest of the Doc’s aesthetic understandably takes a backseat to the moustache. There are sunglasses, usually Gunnars but sometimes other brands, that keep the Doc’s eyes permanently hidden and lend him a certain mystique. There is a black mullet wig, every bit as bushy as the moustache and combining with said moustache to create a kind of 80s footballer-type vibe. There is a hefty-looking combat vest, which the Doc usually wears for the entire duration of each stream and, as far I can tell, serves no purpose beyond making Dr Disrespect look like Dr Disrespect.
His streams are like theatre. At the beginning of each there is the same video, of a slow-panning shot over what is gradually revealed to be a big Dr Disrespect logo fashioned from fluorescent light-bulbs; in the background, a Deadmau5 track thumps. (A track that he actually made specifically for Dr Disrespect, the electronic composer being quite nerdy and therefore very much into this kind of thing). At this part of the stream the chat is going totally wild. There are emotes everywhere; there are, for all practical purposes, far too many emotes in the chat.
The next bit that happens in every single stream is the Doc slowly and ceremoniously swivels his swivel chair until he is facing the camera directly. This swivelling process takes around one minute on average. Before the rotation begins there is a brief pre-rotation phase, during which Dr. Disrespect moves his head rhythmically to the music; here the Doc has an aura of purpose and potential around him and the suspense builds, slowly. The first 90 degrees of the rotation are pretty fast – which is smart, as going from stationary posturing to quick movement in an abrupt fashion makes for far more hype and emotes and “Yayayayayaya”s in the chat – but the 90-180 degree portion of the rotation is a lot slower and more played out, with the Doc doing a lot more twitching and tensing up and, for some reason, furious licking of a moustache comb, which he every time produces from seemingly nowhere.
“It looks like you’ve been writing that for a while,” the Doc says.
At this point you’re understandably shocked, but figure you should probably just go along with it. “Yeah, it’s been a struggle to work out what I actually think about you.”
The Doc tweaks his moustache in silence for a little while. He walks up to you – you are still lying on your bed – and lowers himself into a squat. He pulls off his sunglasses. Dr Disrespect’s eyes are the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen.
All of the above contributes to the idea of Dr Disrespect, the mythos. I am now going to propose that when people watch Dr. Disrespect, it is this idea they buying into. They are buying into the expectation rather than the product itself. This is possible because you somehow know what to expect from a Dr Disrespect stream before watching a single second. The name and look build the hype all on their own.
Most streamers don’t operate this way. Take for example the Fortnite streamer Ninja. He’s as massive as they come, obviously, and breaks Twitch viewership records on a regular basis. But look at him and you don’t get anywhere near the same level of visual immediacy as you do with the Doc. His name is completely nondescript, and he looks like basically every other streamer on Twitch. We therefore know that Ninja’s popularity is pretty much entirely due to the content of the stream. There’s no way of knowing what he’s about without watching for yourself.
Not so with Dr Disrespect. He starts at an advantage because you expect him to be entertaining. Which makes it all the more disappointing when it turns out he completely isn’t.
There was a huge gap between what I expected from the Doc and what I got. Firstly, I was expecting his over-the-top masculinity to be satire: a way of skewering the current crop of tank-top wearing Twitch streamers, the TylerOne types who somehow possess even less humility than they do self-awareness. And while it is true that the Doc does embody much of the same tropes, it quickly becomes clear that he’s more pastiche than parody. When the Doc does something obviously indefensible – like killing his teammates, or adopting a crude Chinese accent for laughs – he does not do so ironically. Of course, in the face of criticism it’s pretty easy for the Doc’s fans – or his creator, Guy Beahm – to claim that it was all a big joke. But if that’s the case you can’t help but wonder who the butt of the joke is. If we’re meant to be laughing at the Doc, then how do you explain the clear adoration on display in chat? How do you explain the legions of fans who defend his every action?
All of which might be bearable if the Doc was funny. Sadly, though, his humour is hackneyed and consists mostly of catchphrases. “Black on black on slate black” is one we hear at least ten times per stream. “The two time back-to-back world champion” is even more overused. And then there’s the nonsensical “We reached the top of the mountain, but we’re only halfway up!” in which the Doc demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the word “top” means. Impressively for a catchphrase, this one is annoying even the first time you hear it.
The Doc breaks your gaze and glances at the floor. He looks hurt.
“Do you really believe that stuff you’re writing about me?”
“Honestly…” you start to say, but falter. “Honestly I changed my opinion about you several times while writing this. That’s why it’s taken so long. I suppose the main thing was that I thought because so many people liked your stream and I didn’t, there must be something deeply wrong with it. My aim with this essay was to figure out what that is, but I’m still not too sure.”
“Could it be, maybe, that they just like different things to you? Maybe not everything needs to stand up to literary analysis. Maybe not all comedy characters need to function as cutting social critique. Maybe sometimes it’s okay for people to enjoy things that you don’t enjoy?”
You can’t think of anything to say in reply.
“And all that lavish description… You wrote an entire paragraph about my moustache. How does that serve your argument? What even is your argument?”
“I suppose I’m trying to say that your branding is the only reason people watch your stream, because your humour isn’t anything particularly special. The lame catchphrases, for example, grate quite a bit.”
“But that’s just your personal perspective. What if I told you that people like the catchphrases?”
“I’m not saying people don’t like them. I’m just saying that I don’t like them.”
“And doing so with the implication that people SHOULDN’T like them. Do you know how self-absorbed that is?”
“Are you saying I’m self-absorbed?”
“I’m saying you’ve spent upwards of 20 hours writing about why you don’t like a Twitch streamer.”
And I still watch him. I watch him for the same reason my laptop has a big vectorised apple on the back of it. For the same reason I always buy Coca Cola when other brands of Coke are identical in every way but price. For the same reason I continue to buy Adidas trainers when I can get pretty much the same thing for about three quid in Primark. Brands exist because they provide easy, default options, because they manage to convince you that the idea of the thing is more important than the thing itself. Because who really cares about the contents of any given Dr Disrespect stream? The most important thing is that he is Dr. Disrespect. He’s the 6-foot-8, two-time back-to-ba-
“This is ridiculous!”. The Doc is screaming at you. “You write this entire thing decrying me, saying how I’m overrated, how anyone who likes me is an idiot, how I’m basically a racist… And then you finish it by saying you STILL WATCH ME? Do you have any idea how ridiculous, how absurd, how arrogant that is?”
You’re frightened. You’re frightened by the Doc’s imposing presence – he really is every bit as big as he looks on stream – and you’re frightened by the way his hands are now around your neck, strangling you.
“And you know what the worst part is?” Flecks of spit are flying out of the Doc’s mouth. One of them lands on your keyboard. “The worst part is you felt the need to include me in all of this. You think I haven’t figured it out by now? I know I’m not real. I know I’m just a metafictional construct. I know the only reason I’m here is for you to show the reader how clever you think you are. But the reality couldn’t be more difficult, could it? I’m only here because you gave up halfway through, realising your arguments were facile, that you were trying to tear something down for no other reason than that people enjoyed it. But rather than just giving up, you created me. Your final masturbatory act. You sicken me.”
Eventually the Doc releases you from his grip, leaving you spluttering and rattled but basically unharmed.
“S-so…” you say. “So where do we go from here?”
“Wherever the fuck you like. I’m making bank”, the Doc says with a snarl. He puts his sunglasses back on, takes one last disdainful glance around your room, pulls the window open and jumps out.
It’s silent again, now. The Doc didn’t leave a trace; your room looks exactly as it did before his arrival. You look out of the window, hoping to see which way he went, but it’s too dark to see anything much at all. Black, on black, on slate black.
Illustrations by Alice Bindloss.