Getting mad online is not a seasonal pursuit. On any given month, in any given climate, I guarantee this: If you log onto the internet, it won’t take you long to find someone who is totally and profoundly steamed. My favorite joke about online rage is from 2011, when beloved Twitter user @dril posted this:
"im not owned! im not owned!!", i continue to insist as i slowly shrink and transform into a corn cob— wint (@dril) November 11, 2011
The tweet riffs on how defensive people can become after losing an argument, facing criticism, or getting mocked. Six years after its first and finest use, in some corners of the internet “corn cob” is now shorthand for becoming tremendously peeved. Simply getting into a fight on the internet once doesn’t make you a corn cob. It’s the stubborn insistence that you are correct despite all evidence to the contrary, the refusal to accept a loss and move on. At Vice, Eve Peyser recently included the term in a guide to “Leftist Internet Slang,” noting that its popularity among Twitter socialists and its obscurity among pretty much everyone else has caused misunderstandings. (Journalist Al Giordano recently tweeted that the phrase was a “rape culture and homophobic term popular among dudebros,” apparently unaware of its Twitter-specific context. Ironically, by fuming so publicly and so very unnecessarily, he corn-cobbed himself.)
So far, the lingo has stayed on Twitter, which means it’s not really mainstream, as most people living on this round, smelly planet do not use Twitter. The least popular of the major social networks is a verbal chamberpot for journalists, pundits, comedians, marketing professionals, Nazis, Aaron Sorkin–themed parody accounts, brands, ISIS, activists, leftist podcasters, spambots, people who are mad at airlines, and the president of the United States. And even within that limited user base, “corn cob” is still a niche phrase. However, the condition of being a corn cob—of allowing yourself to be defined by and reduced to a piercing insistence that a perceived slight has not diminished you—well, that condition has spread far beyond a small corner of Twitter. In fact, it’s corn cob season.
The most archetypical corn cob on the internet is also the most famous: Donald Trump. Trump exposes himself as a corn cob almost every time he uses Twitter, with frequent tirades against the “Fake News” media, Democrats, Republicans, the family of a U.S. soldier who died in combat, the judge who blocked his travel ban on certain Muslim-majority nations, Amazon, Mika Brzezinski, and wind turbines. “For the next four years, we will have a president who is insanely pissed online most of the time,” Felix Biederman and Virgil Texas wrote at The Outline this February. Six months later, that prediction appears entirely accurate. Trump’s tenor is frequently spiteful, infuriated, or threatening, whether his target is a hostile foreign nation armed with nuclear weapons or Nordstrom—and he does not let anything go. He nurses his petty grievances in public, on the internet and off, with ferocity that would be pitiable if it weren’t so concerning.
There are many examples of Trump’s indefatigable spleen and ego but the more I think about it, the more genuinely upset I am about the state of the nation, so here’s a partial list of other high-profile corn cobs instead:
- Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been properly ticked off over an impressively varied set of perceived injustices, including but not limited to not being verified on Twitter, whether looking at the eclipse was really that dangerous, and rumors that he lives in a basement.
- Louise Linton, an aspiring actress and the wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, recently found herself at the center of a scandal because she couldn’t resist lashing out at a critic on Instagram.
- Jonathan Cheban, Kim Kardashian’s best friend and my enemy, is so devoted to online vituperativeness that he searches his name and yells at normal people who tweet critically about him. His favorite tactic is calling people “peasants.” (I’d provide links to some of the actual tweets but, uh, he blocked me.)
- Becca Brennan, the owner of a restaurant called Summerhill in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, who angered residents by putting out a press release touting “bullet holes” in the bathroom as a way to seem edgy. (The holes were not made from bullets.) Instead of apologizing, Brennan showed up to a town hall meeting dressed like she was going to buy Burger King hungover and insisted she was in the right because she “has a sense of humor.”
Kanye West has racked up enough infamous outbursts to be an obvious candidate for corn cobbery, but he is more of a retired cob than an active one, as he has muted his social media presence this year (and also, because Kanye’s anger was sometimes brusquely expressed but fundamentally righteous). Speaking of Kanye, the new Taylor Swift song “Look What You Made Me Do,” is perhaps the first full-blown corn cob anthem. Last year, Swift and West resumed a longstanding feud over West’s song “Famous,” which included derogatory lyrics about Swift. West claimed that he had asked her permission before releasing the song, Swift insisted that he hadn’t, and then Kim Kardashian released a video showing Kanye on the phone appearing to receive permission from Swift. Although at the time Swift issued a statement saying “I Would Very Much Like To Be Excluded From This Narrative,” her newest single has been widely interpreted as a dis track against the Wests.
It’s “I’m Not Owned: The Single” and is, unfortunately, a prime example of the hazards of the corn cob lifestyle. Swift appears to have been so focused on publicly besting her enemies that she forgot to make a good song. She put the grudge first, and on a track about her supposed superiority, made herself sound as small as an ear of corn.