“I hear you. You sound like you’re in a lot of pain.”

“Oh, Jesus fucking Christ! Speak like a fucking human being!”

– Black Mirror S5E2, “Smithereens”

Are you sexually aroused by correct explanations? If so, type “what is a soyboy” into Google, kick back with a glass of wine, and get ready for the least erotic evening of your life.

Nobody gets it right. Even Wikipedia misunderstands the soyboy concept, which feels suspiciously tactical, like a group of libertarians not knowing the age of consent.

“Soy boy is a pejorative term sometimes used in online communities to describe men perceived to be lacking masculine characteristics.”

No. This could describe many male groups throughout history: dandies, SNAGs, beta males, nerds, metrosexuals, incels, and so on. A soyboy is a specific cultural archetype. Urban Dictionary is equally confused, although I like “The darkest nick kerr”‘s definition (“A submissive cuck”), which has brevity on its side.

A soyboy is not someone who uses insults like “arsetrumpet” and “fuckwaffle”. That’s a cockwomble. Cockwombles are frustrated young British men, raised on Monty Python and Douglas Adams, who cloak their seething anger and resentment issues in cutesy swearing and exaggerated “Britishness”.  Soyboys are not cockwombles.

“Soy” is the load-bearing pillar of the word. It indicates a mindset: deferential, milquetoast, pandering, and overly eager to please. It can be used as an intransitive verb (“DrDisrespect really soyed out with his Youtube apology video”), or as a predicate adjective (“when John Scalzi typed ‘dudebro’, it was very soy of him”). There is no matching “soy girl” archetype, but a lot of soy behavior is female-coded, so it doesn’t stand out as abnormal when women do it. Women can be powerful vectors of the soy mindset.

But it denotes something more: an awareness of the DeBordian Spectacle of modern life, and a desire to manipulate it. The soyboy’s emotional displays are always performances, field-tested with an eye toward going viral.

Where did it come from?

“Soy” is the result of the worst parts of Youtube and Reddit getting mashed into a compost and seasoned with various bits of cultural detritus (kiddie entertainment, social justice/wokeness,  overambitious “influencer” careerism, and late noughties blogging culture).

The soyboy has always been with us, but around 2012 he started to rule the world.

Soyboys are creatures built to exploit algorithms. Their traits – lazy puns, phony enthusiasm, and exaggerated feminized mannerisms – are actually social hacks designed to elicit a maximum of attention for a minimum of effort, and the more the world becomes run by filters and discovery networks, the more the soyboy thrives. They are lifeforms optimized to attract clicks and upvotes.

So when you see someone like this…

…Understand that you are witnessing the pinnacle of evolution. This is a beast designed dominate his environment the way the wolf dominates his.

Most of us hated it when the internet “karmafied” itself in 2007 or so (with every site having upvotes and downvotes and reputation scores). The soyboy loved it. He wants a number attached to his name, demonstrating his value. He loves cold data, and abhors context and nuance. Life should be simple, he thinks. People should have numbers floating beside their heads, showing whether they’re objectively Good or Bad.

Soyboys are somewhat pathetic figures, but we should not hate them. We should hate instead the world that creates them.

Ben Sixsmith notes that he possesses cockwomble traits. Sadly, I have soyboy traits. For example, I recently wrote:

One advantage of me being Australian (aside from the whole walking upside down thing, which gets old fast)

That’s soy humor. The stale “hurr hurr, people in the Antipodes stand upside down” gag, along with the fact that I’m basically “othering” myself, becoming a wacky cartoon Australian stereotype to appeal to a perceived American reader. And my trying-so-hard-to-sound-casual construction (“the whole walking upside down thing”) is derived from ValSpeak, which has a noticeable influence on soyboy speech patterns.

I will leave it in. It’s a chance to reflect on my mistakes and grow. I’m listening and learning.

What makes a soyboy a soyboy?

The biggest trait is “fake enthusiasm.” Redecorating their Animal Crossing garden? Unboxing a Funko Pop? Learning that the cast of Darkness Man: Darkening Dark of the Darkest Darkness now has six Chris actors instead of five? All of these reduce a soyboy to helpless spasms of squealing, seal-clapping glee.

Soyboys have one emotional gear and react to everything in the same way. They’re like those poker machines that scintillate with flashing lights regardless of whether you’ve won five cents or five thousand dollars.

Indeed, “react” is the foundation stone of the soyboy identity. They are passive creatures. They do not create, imagine, or dream. Making a original song is risky: maybe it won’t be any good and people will hate you and your social credit score will trend downward and the only solution will be SUICIDE.

It’s far smarter to cue up a song from the critically acclaimed new Beyonce album and film yourself flapping your hands and gurgling and making chimplike noises in between utterances of “yass!” and “slay queen!” Everyone loves Beyonce, unless they’re racist. You can’t fail.

Soyboys seldom make anything original. They attach themselves like barnacles to whatever’s popular and hope for a free ride to the top.

As you’d expect, “reaction” videos are the quintessential form of soyboy content. It’s an easy form of video to churn out, and plays both to the soyboy’s strengths (identifing rising trends) and away from their weaknesses (originality, thought, and effort).

Again, they are slaves to their analytics page. They are not people so much as they are semi-intelligent slime molds that Youtube has trained to slowly wander through a maze, following tiny crumbs of ad revenue.

If you are a child, soyboy enthusiasm will seem infectious. Little Timmy flees his nightmare of a school (with its jeering bullies, girls who pre-emptively reject you even though you haven’t asked them out, and overmedicated zombie teachers) and runs into the soyboy’s technicolor embrace, where life’s a party and everything’s great. A parasocial relationship develops where Little Timmy regards the soyboy as his friend.

But once you’ve seen behind the veil, you’ll find them creepy and insincere. You’ll realize that it’s basically an act. Most soyboys are miserable, living in a hell that locks from the inside.

A good example of this is kandyrew, a “content creator” for the first-person-shooter Apex Legends.

Note the wacky smiles, suggesting he’s just overjoyed to log on and play this wonderful game from EA.

I stopped playing Apex Legends two years ago. It’s a good game, I just got bored with it. Kandyrew has logged more hours on Apex Legends than me by a factor of three. There is no way he’s still excited to sign on every day, get Kraber one-shotted and then t-bagged by MyBallsInYourMouthTTV.

It’s insincere, in other words. A performance. One that never ends. His community expects him to keep playing this game forever. He cannot change course, or his brand will die. Soyboys have taken the DeBordian spectacle and plunged it through their chest. It’s part of the flesh, and if they pull it out, fatal bleeding will start.

Physioynomy

Numerous cliches and stereotypes have emerged from soyboy culture. Occasionally they cross over into the mainstream. There’s the infamous soyboy face, or “soyface”.

…the “soy eyebrow raise”.

…and the “soy point”.

Other soyboy fashion tropes exist, such as soy glasses (thick, with box frames) and the soy beard (a bushy but nonthreatening mass of “beardscaped” facial hair, usually paired with a flannel shirt).

But the clothes don’t make the manlet, and the soyboy’s essence is in his personality: nebbishness, hyper-accelerated and packaged into a commodity.

Is there a soyboy anthem? A song that captures this important cultural moment the way “Smells Like Teen Spirit” does Seattle grunge?

Good question. There are many contenders, such as “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers, “Lanterns” by Birds of Tokyo, and various Imagine Dragons songs. My own choice for most soy song ever written is “Fireflies” by Owl City.

Humor

“Dad jokes” are a fascinating example of how soyboys don’t just attach themselves to culture, they mutate it to suit themselves.

Originally, dad jokes were just that: the kind of jokes dads tell. Usually they’re an aggressively unfunny pun.

“What do you call a fish wearing a bowtie? Sofishticated.”

Dad jokes are now extremely soy. In 2023, the median dadjoker is not a dad at all, it’s a 27 year old millennial “influencer” who plays the ukelelie. Why?

First of all, dad jokes are nearly effortless to write. Can you think of two words that sound the same? Congrats, you made a dad joke. They are the reaction videos of humor.

They’re also inoffensive, which is important for soyboys (who live in mortal fear of being “cancelled”). Dad jokes are an accepted and well-known form of cultural expression. We know what they are, and we know how to react when we hear one. Soyboys don’t do anything unless they’re sure of the reaction they’ll get.

But something always goes missing in the delivery.

Dad jokes are trolling more than they are humor. No actual dad could give a shit whether you laugh or “get it”. He lets his joke stand in all it’s awfulness. In fact, if you don’t laugh, that makes it funnier. The hypothetical dad is demonstrating his freedom: the rules of comedy have no power over him.

But “soy dad jokes” are always delivered with an apology, an explanation, a justification. They lack self-confidence, and this destroys their breezy liberation.

“What do you call a fish wearing a bowtie? Sofishticated. Heh…get it? it’s a dad joke. Oh my god, that was cringe. Dad jokes, huh? Gotta love em. Anyway, click like and subscribe.”

It copies the form of the dad joke, but it’s missing the soul. It’s like a freestyle jazz solo where every note is meticulously planned out ahead of time.

Traditionally, trends become uncool when parents steal them from their kids. Dad jokes are a rare example of the trend happening in reverse.

Pop culture

Soyboys are notoriously fond of the pan drippings of pop culture.

When Marvel shits, the soyboy eats. When DC pisses, the soyboy drinks. When Disney farts, the soyboy breathes. When Warner Bros cums, the soyboy swallows.

This is the difference between the American soyboy (say, Robert “MovieBob” Chipman) and the Anglo cockwomble (say, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw). Cockwombles adopt an attitude of smug superiority toward media – they think they’re too good for it – while soyboys present themselves as enthusiastic consumers. Cockwombles imagine themselves above mass media. Soyboys stand inside it.

I don’t mean to insult those who enjoy children’s entertainment. We all have our ways of relaxing: I sometimes watch cartoons. Why not? God doesn’t delete the universe when he detects a 33-year old man watching Blues Clues, even though He probably should.

But the soyboy isn’t motivated by a genuine love of children’s entertainment. He does it because This is what’s popular. This strikes at the crux of why soyboys are disturbing. They’re good at conjuring extremes of emotion…but it’s always at least a little calculated.

Soy-cial Justice

Soyboys are “woke”, but a special kind of woke.

Social justice has a hierarchy, generally determined by whose group has suffered the most. Those at the top often become outright grifters, exploiting their victim status for financial gain.

That’s obviously a joke, but it’s still setting the frame. “Me yammering about representation in TV shows is work, and I should be paid.”

I wish I’d screencapped an old forum thread where some microaggression was commited, Shanley Kane showed up, profanely “educated” the wrongdoer in what they’d done wrong, and then dropped her Ko-Fi link, so that people could compensate her for the “emotional labor” she’d undertaken on their behalf. The high achiever in this class is definitely Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose acclaimed Atlantic cover story The Case for Reparations proposes a redistribution of wealth from America’s white upperclass to its black underclass: a group he himself is a member of.

But soyboys don’t (and can’t) do that. They are at the bottom. They’re typically white men: the historic oppressors.

White males are often called upon to reflect upon their privilege, but ironically, within the social justice ecosystem, they are the ones with the least privilege of all. It’s honestly brave, in a way. Like signing up for the army when your last name is McPutMeOnLatrineDuty.

Their standard mode is to grovel pathetically. “Please give me a chance! I’m not like those other yt males!”

John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is remains a foundational text in soyboy lore, as important in its way as the Magna Carta or the Code of Hammurabi. Here we see all the mental processes of the white male soyboy: the self-flagellating, the use of “dude”, the wacky rAnDuMb humor about vampires, the extended videogame metaphor (because we’re nerds, and we don’t understand anything unless it’s related to a videogame). This essay is almost unnecessary in light of Scalzi’s: he’s like a machine that’s sharing its own blueprints.

Again: how sincere is this?

Often, very sincere. I don’t mean to imply that Scalzi and so forth are frauds. But there’s still the confounding variable that social justice is the prevailing cultural wind. It takes no particular courage to stand against Andrew Tate or JK Rowling on a social media platform. You’re kicking the easiest of targets, and gaining social cred in the process.

The EnSoyclopedia

The visual presentation of soyboys comes from Youtube and Tiktok, but their writing style mostly comes from Reddit. If you use the phrases below, you might be a soyboy. Does this worry you? Well, being fanatically curious about your social standing is a soy trait too.

If your response is “fuck you, these words are who I am. I’m gonna say ‘heckin’ doggo’ all I like and you can’t stop me. Go cry about it” then you are probably not actually a soyboy.

“Scientist/doctor here…”

“That’s enough Internet for one day”

“Instructions unclear, penis stuck in blah blah blah”

“Let’s break it down.”

“Louder, for those in the back.”

“Buckle in, we’re going for a ride.”

“This needs to be higher.”

“Sir, this is a Wendys”

“Can confirm.”

“It’s almost as if…”

“Sportsball”

“Sexy time.”

“That happened.”

“As you do…”

“Let people enjoy things.”

“Y’all folks.”

“Amazeballs.”

“Having a normal one.”

“Friendo.”

“Sexytime.”

“Adulting”

“Everybody go home, this comment wins the internet”

“Username checks out.”

“My brother in Christ”

Some of these phrases are from TV. Others emerged from Reddit. All are extremely annoying. It really doesn’t matter, they exist as shibboleths of group identity. “We use these words because we use these words.”

The Fate of the Soyboy

Soyboys have undergone rapid cultural evolution. They exist with their faces pressed against the belt-sander of the Google or Reddit algorithm and anything unique or edgy eventually gets blasted away. PewDiePie no longer makes edgy jokes. The Angry Video Game Nerd swears far less, and uses milder words. Many soyboys are glad to see the forum-based internet of the past die, because it contains posts written by them that would be considered advertiser-unfriendly today. The gradient of the soyboy is toward corporate blandness.

Earlier, I said that algorithms caused the rise of the soyboy. It might be more accurate to say (particularly on Youtube) that they caused everybody who’s not a soyboy to fail.

Occasionally, soyboy tropes get purged for sheer annoyingness. “DoggoLingo” used to be a big soy marker, but I no longer see anyone using it. Even the place that started it all, /r/rarepuppers, has abandoned it. The internet has turned against it in a big way.

I think the “soyface” will undergo the same fate. It’s too famous, and too heavily mocked. Although if I look at the last twelve MrBeast video thumbnails, he’s soyfacing in eight of them, so maybe it has some legs yet.

The nucleus of soy (fake emotion) will never go away, but individual soyboys will. It’s an exhausting life, performing a sick, neverending dance to make a Youtube algorithm happy.

There’s no endgame. No way to “win”. The future is an algorithmic boot stomping on a soyface forever.

Often, you’ll see signs of soyboy burnout. Look  for Twitter updates containing phrases such as “taking a break” or “dealing with life” or “adulting”. Or you’ll see hints of trouble in their personal life – abuse accusations, perhaps. The technicolor world of the soyboy is as shallow as it is fake, and there’s always messy, ugly reality bleeding through.

My advice for the aspiring soyboy is to remember that it’s impossible to stay switched on all the time. Eventually an emotional hangover sets in. You have to unplug, switch everything off, and enjoy the sound of soylence.