There were a couple nice years where the entire United States had a public enemy number one: Martin Shkreli.
His company jacked up the price of HIV drugs by thousands of percent, and when questioned about it he basically laughed it off. Instead, he went on social media and became a shitpost memelord king. There’s nobody in the world more universally hated, who also got so wide a platform to project his views.
I mean, this dude got summoned to Congress for a publicity stunt for politicians trying to get reelected in 2016. Then it backfired spectacularly when Martin Shkreli got the whole of the spotlight instead:
The entire hearing was done just for some grandstanding politicians, and this smug asshole wiped the floor with him. It’s a classic video to show just how crappy Congress is, but also the breakout moment for America’s crappiest villain.
In 2010s fashion, he took his newfound fame and… became a social media star. Ugh.
Martin Shkreli the Social Media Villain
Think about a nerdy, white, college-educated man in the 2010s, and Martin Shkreli is to that group what Larry the Cable guy is to rednecks: An over-the-top stereotype that gleans the surface level characteristics, all of them negative, and then unleashes itself onto the world with absolutely no remorse. Unlike Larry, though, Martin is a real dude. I guess.
Everything negative about the nerdy white guy stock character, Martin Shkreli’s public persona filled. Never a genuine word out of his mouth. Talks up niche, obscure subjects like it makes him cooler to know about Smash Bros. or whatever. Creepy incel vibes–he eventually got suspended from Twitter for being real gross to a reporter–and vaguely but not strongly right-wing leanings. The knowledge that, yes, he’s a privileged rich guy, and he’s not guilty in the least.
As his criminal indictment heightened, so did his public villainy. He bought a one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan album, basically his main claim to fame aside from the drug price thing. He even openly courted buying 4chan, home to all of the worst elements on the internet.
There’s a lot of douchebags on the internet who somehow got famous and went on social media rampages (e.g. Max Landis). But Martin Shkreli was probably the worst of the bunch because it was so obvious what he wanted to do. He committed some indefensible moral crimes, and now he was on a publicity campaign to make a bunch of other white guy shitposters love him. It sort of worked over time; many people began to honestly believe Shkreli was a warrior AGAINST Big Pharma instead of just a grifter, and that he was a self-sacrificing martyr who gave his livelihood to make sure drug price reform could be done.
No, he was not that. Instead, Big Pharma was able to briefly cover up its own moral crimes by turning Shkreli into this big public villain.
Of course, eventually he went to prison, so all’s sort of well. He’s not in the public eye, and probably won’t be for another 4-5 years.
But I have to wonder what will happen when Martin Shkreli comes back. Will the luster of ironic villainous white dudes fade? Or will some cult-like niche circle of supporters rally around him for whatever his next grift might be?
That’s a question way outside of the scope of a 2010s Retrospective article. Oops.
Read my other post about a different public villain who’s fallen from his previous heights. I wonder if there’s any similarities.