Nathan J. Barnatt has created a cultural phenomenon. His fictional character Keith Apicary began as a modest internet video back in 2009. Between then and now, the character’s popularity has exploded into the mainstream, garnering millions of outspoken fans online and netting Barnatt his own show on the [adult swim] network block. But why do we like the lispy 28-year old from Woonsocket, Rhode Island so much?
On the surface, Barnatt’s character exudes a unique personality that is almost satirical in nature. His striped 90s sweater and faded jeans are a throwback to years prior. It was a simpler time, when everything cool was “the bomb,” and the only thing that children of that era had to be worried about was which console they brought home. As we learn through his videos, Keith is an avid Sega supporter, with his only real Nintendo obsession taking the form of the big N’s 32 bit disaster, the Virtual Boy.
But while this has all the makings of a wonderful satire, and indeed, many of Keith’s trademarks come from these ironies, it’s difficult to label him as a parody. At the very least, Keith Apicary isn’t a full-fledged parody. Behind the stunts, the jokes, and the bottle cap glasses, there’s a distinct sincerity in his words. Keith Apicary embodies what a majority of gamers represented in the 90s; he’s passionate, he’s outspoken, and all in all, he’s an imperfect human being.
Keith represents the overarching schema of 90s gaming, for better or for worse, which is why he’s easily relatable as a character. At his core, he’s one of us, even if opinions occasionally deviate from the same path. He’s like a childhood friend, the one you grew up playing video games with all through the night, and the friend that was with you in the wee hours of the morning when you finally beat Super Mario Bros. 3, Link to the Past, Final Fantasy III (VI), Turtles in Time, Super Castlevania IV, or, more appropriately, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Castlevania Bloodlines, Vectorman, Ristar, Phatasy Star, and Hyperstone Heist.
In addition to that, Keith as a character encompasses some of our more subconscious psyches. He crashes parties. He destroys clubs. He jumps off of roofs. He falls down stairs. He dances in public, sometimes in his underwear. And you know what? Everyone loves it. Watching his dance videos will almost surely bring a smile to your face, and, pardon the exaggeration but, his antics are the stuff of legend. Three and a half million views in a few months can’t be wrong, and if they are, then who wants to be right.
Keith simply does what he wants to do, and unlike some demographics that use that as an excuse for their behavior, Keith’s shenanigans are pleasantly silly. There’s an undeniable charm in what he does and it resonates with his fans in many ways; some viewers are envious that he has the courage to do some of the things he does (like publically dance in his underwear), while others love the simple comedy behind his behavior. Still, others like the unpredictability and spontaneity of his tomfoolery and take an unbridled pleasure in not knowing what he’ll do next.
To put it simply, Keith Apicary is a marvel. Barnatt’s awkward hero represents everything that we’ve come to know and love as a demographic of gamers, and his social larks serve as a wonderful backdrop to the simple fun that follows. So why do we like Keith Apicary? Is it because of his mad dancing skills? Is it because of his outspoken affection for classic video games? Is it because of his lovably awkward demeanor?
Perhaps, but I’d like to think that there’s more to it than that. I’d like to think we love Keith because of what he represents. I’d like to think it’s because we see fragments of ourselves in him. I want to believe we like Keith Apicary because he’s just a really cool guy.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments or feedback, please post them down below. I usually respond to all of them. =]
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