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The Fraught History of the American E-Boy

by Fionna Farrell

[originally published spring 2020]


There was a time before them, and, bless the clout in the clouds, there will be a time after them. When might this time come, you humbly ask? Sadly, such matters lie far beyond the scope of mortal knowledge.

The presence of the e-boy seems not to have been instigated by some prevailing social norm or trend, but rather to have appeared almost overnight, out of thin, e-free air. The e-boy is no fated byproduct of some great cultural or political conflict. The e-boy, although surely generationally driven, is no voice of his generation. The e-boy is not beacon nor martyr. The e-boy simply is.

Although a curious phenomenon called TikTok marked the e-boy’s surge to power, the colloquial use of the “e” prefix might trace back to as far as 2013. This is when the term “e-girl” (although, curiously, not e-boy) imprinted itself among the great colossus, Urban Dictionary: it was accordingly used as a derogatory term for women who “craved attention” on platforms like Tumblr. Attention from, of course, the neanderthal, hereto unevolved variant of our entrée course, the e-boy.

For several years (checks scrolls and ledgers), this was the only real recorded usage of the enigmatic “e”. The solidified counterparts to the “e-girl” were still floating around in the stratosphere, knockoff Timothée Chalamet locks flailing over sullen eyes across e-space. Alas, though, as TikTok permeated the plebeian sphere in 2017, the letter “e” was totally divested of its former meaning: “e-girls” began to embrace the term in a new, unforeseen light, viewing it as a resoundingly positive moniker that could be flipped on its head for clout acquisition.

As the e-girl embarked on its journey of self-actualization, the development of its counterpart finally began to make some headway. Armed with an infinite supply of striped long-sleeves, clanky wallet chains, and palpably burdensome chips on their shoulders, e-boys everywhere descended from their heavens and rose from their hells.

And what sort of attitudes did they reserve for Earth? Markedly shabby ones, I tell you. E-boys exist in a pool of existential pain that most mortals could only dip a trembling toe into. This is why e-boys do not smile, and why they have become associated in hybrid form with the more macabre of subcultures: the goth and the emo. Yet, where the goth and the emo are apt targets of derision, the e-boy is that of envy. This is because the e-boy, more than any other group, has perfected the art of existing on the surface level. Substance is inconceivable for the e-boy. The e-boy is a vapid and nihilistic creature—there, I said it.

These are very brash words, but if you try to sugarcoat an inky bottomless void you’re still going to get an inky bottomless void, with maybe a little something sweet around the edges. First and foremost, there is the matter of the e-boy’s attire, by far the make-or-break factor of his existence. While other groups try to put forth an iota of originality in their presentation, the e-boy is nothing more than a conglomeration of adjacent groups’ most riveting, often most obnoxious, fads. From the skater, the e-boy takes the Thrasher and the Vans; from the goth, the nail polish and the occultish, subtly-unsubtle rings and dangly things; from the emo, the Hot Topic tees and soul-absorbing black cargo pants; and, finally, from the average old streetwear-sporting Kyle, the pinstriped shirts, monochrome sweatshirts, and jeans that are somehow still too tight for his nicotine-fueled Gumby frame. These fads cannot be outsourced: appearance-wise, the e-boy is all of these things and nothing more. Everything but himself, he is! But hmm… maybe his true character emerges from his actions; let us not anoint the e-boy with premature disgrace.

Surprisingly, the e-boy learned with great alacrity that he can do other things while wearing clothes.These things include making TikToks that expose viewers to the inner chambers of his heart and soul. Doing away with Vine meant doing away with the frivolous heartthrobs like Cameron Dallas and Matthew Espinosa and ushering in an era of new internet brooding—one in which the e-boy would find his true home. Yet, did this omnipotent sense of brooding translate to TikToks brimming with Shakespearean tragedy? Not quite. Instead, e-boys deigned to create TikToks consisting of many an outfit change and many a skateboard trick, performed to the quintessential ghostmumbledreampoprap soundtrack. TikTok being the primary vehicle for the e-boy’s expression, he soon trapped himself in this pit of utter senselessness, out of which he has never dug himself out. His main cause, then, appears to flaunt the very trends which he has stolen. Indeed, not very cash money of him.

This results in an alarming hollowness that distinguishes him from other groups current and past. While other groups use the superficial as a complementary force, the e-boy is nothing more than his superficiality—one whose components he has taken from others and manipulated for his own benefit. He is what happens when subcultures no longer become a bridge, but an end in themselves. After all, what does the e-boy hope to achieve? Another view, another follower, another soon-to-be-regretted glance in his direction—whatever self-ingratiation can fuel his further self-aggrandizement.

Is this dismal reality the e-boy’s fault? Perhaps not—maybe this is how the mighty e-powers intended it all to play out. But, nonetheless, we should learn to view the existence of the e-boy as a fair warning for whatever cultural onslaught is to come next: we must always remember to exist for more than and beyond ourselves. The great clock of the universe TikToks for us all.

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