It happened on December 13, 2012, at 10:16 PM. I would have missed it entirely had Lee Slone not posted the briefest of requiems. It was the farewell of an Internet character known by his Twitter handle as Captaintbag1. Most people called him Captain Tbag. I called him Cap Taintbag.
He accepted either appellation, and many others besides. He was a genius.
And now he’s gone, vanished into the ether, or the Home for Deleted Tweeters, or the Stumblehole of Vanished Tumblrs.
He was a genius because he did something completely new with the English language. He invented a vernacular that was idiomatic, yet perfectly grammatical even as it upended all rules of speling and gramar to create something funny, and beautiful, and most of all, new.
“There is no new thing new under the sun,” it is written in Ecclesiastes 1:9, and with the exception of electronic shifting and Prez’s color combos, it’s true. Everything that is has, more or less, already been.
But not Cap Taintbag. He was beyond rare because he was truly an original writer. He left the orbit of rarity and reached the sublime by also being witty, and powerful, and able to convey the truth in his 144-character mind-and-sight-and-sound-bites.
Hope you got to enjoy him while he was around. He was the best.
Who killed Taintbag?
Sad to say, he killed himself. His last few tweets make the reason clear: His persona, his character, his wit and his art were unsustainable.
They were unsustainable, in my opinion, because of his anonymity.
The Internet’s chief promise to many is its assurance of anonymity. All of those things you’re afraid to say because of your job, your spouse, your kids, your teachers, the police, the New National Surveillance Society, whatever…you can say them on the Internet under cover of a clever handle.
Taintbag blazed a path through the lies and hypocrisy of doping in cycling. He became an interlocutor who easily cowed and trampled the false bravado and attendant falsehoods of Vaughters and his apologists. He became a knife-like analyst who could, with a few charts and a few ungramatical mispelings, slice to ribbons the claims that Racer A and Racer B and Racer C won the Tour de D clean.
He was funny as hell, and through it all he reeked of kindness and decency and self-deprecation and humanity.
He was a wanker who you just knew was smarter at the keyboard than he was good on the bike, but somehow you didn’t hold it against him, and you loved him for it all the more.
But he learned a hard lesson: When you become a masked avenger you have to forfeit the You under the mask. You become the Dark Knight, only, since it’s reality not tveality or movieality, there aren’t any super powers or smokin’ hot wenches or fantastic successes that come with it.
You’re just an anonymous slob afraid to rip off the mask and let the You fill up the space formerly occupied by the outsized mask and the superhero get-up.
Taintbag swirled down the drain of his own creation, the dissonance between his persona and his real self eventually becoming so great that he pulled the plug himself. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.
I imagine that he’s a school teacher or a bureaucrat somewhere, incredibly relieved at having set his burden down. Now he can go back to his beloved MTB and tech talk, only wistfully, every once in a while, thinking about Cap Taintbag and maybe even telling himself that he can pick it back up again whenever he wants, even though he knows, I know, we all know, he won’t, and more importantly, he can’t.
Once Bruce Wayne razes the cave and tosses the outfit, he’s done.
The power of your real name
I admired and envied Taintbag. I admired him because he always took the side of right. I envied him because he was an original and a brilliant writer. He was a guy worthy of the highest praise I can muster for anyone, ever: He was a writer worth plagiarizing.
But I pitied him in his anonymity. He was ultimately a coward, a man possessed of great talent and insight and wisdom and decency who was too afraid of the truth to throw himself headlong into it, to announce himself to us so that we could thank him, admire him, and put ourselves at his feet. He had all the qualities of greatness except the one quality that would have made him so: The guts to use his name.
I’ve seen the transformative power that comes with discarding anonymity. Patrick Brady used to be an anonymous blogger who wrote under a pseudonym. One day coming back from Cross Creek I told him to quit being a chickenshit, to ditch the pseudonym, and to start signing his real name to his opinions.
He took my advice and now steers the helm of one of the most influential publications in cycling. He put aside the crippling anonymity of pseudonymous writing and let the You fill the space, then grow beyond it. That’s the power that comes with owning your opinions, with signing your name, your real one, and letting the chips fall where they may.
That’s the difference between people of character, and just plain old people.
When I read the comments that people post to this blog, and I read them religiously, I feel so much respect and admiration for those who cast aside the protections of handles and monikers and fake names and come here to announce themselves as they are, with the names given them by those who brought them into this world.
They stomp around in this Internet cycling gutter and do it in the open. They know that the real currency of real dialogue is real names.
Taintbag, I miss you more than you know. You were master of the Twittersphere, chickenshit and all. The next time you step forward, if you ever do, it will be under your real name, and no one will ever know that you were he.
But shoot me a sly wink. Then I’ll know it’s you. And we can continue on our separate ways, if that’s how it’s meant to be.