It’s the day after Halloween. Social media is crammed with half-assed Bob Belchers, expensive It masks, slutty construction workers. You scroll, finding the unoriginal ceremony bleak. A link hits your inbox. You open.
A fluorescent night is captured on cell phone video. Overlaid is a song with sparse hi-hats and vocals distorted as if rapped into a trash can. A figure in a Scooby-Doo mask sneaks into frame, then slides fully into view wearing Scooby-Doo tie-dye over Adidas track pants and shoes, meticulously matched. When I get off of the plane / just give me the Henny I’m sippin’ the drank / Know that you heard of my name / They call me lil’ Benny I’m killin’ the game. The figure flounces through a vacant Sam’s Club gas station, springing to the rhythm, hands flicking to the snare. He pauses and wiggles, rubber cartoon eyes meeting yours, then continues his creeping dance. A simple caption reads: DROP DEAD ..
The costume is cheeky and cohesive—better than your coworker and high school friends mustered. Curious, you click the user’s handle, benny_revival. He follows no one. The link in his bio points to a 33-minute SoundCloud track titled ‘CHILD.’ Interest piqued, you scroll.
It dawns on you—this is no Halloween costume. Each of his near-daily posts feature a figure, presumably Benny, wearing a mask and athleisure clothes, dancing to funk or house-inspired rap. He slinks through various public scenes with unimpeachable grace and fits, flaunting, haunting. Each video has its own lonely symmetry. They are perfectly consistent and there more than a thousand. All have captions like:
OBEDIENCE BEFORE UNDERSTANDING IS CRITICAL .. SIN IS MY BIGGEST PROBLEM .. NOT THE DEVIL .. GOOD WORKS ARE NOT THE REMEDY FOR IT .. REPENTANCE IS THE FRUIT OF A RIPE RELIGION .. CAN NEVER ASK FOR FORGIVENESS .. WISDOM IS JUSTIFIED OF HER CHILDREN .. OH ..
The moment I was directed to Benny Revival’s page this summer, I was swallowed into gross, voyeuristic obsession. My brain and body hungered; I had to know more about him. What reason did Benny have to record these videos? What does he want? Where does he buy those masks? With hundreds of SoundCloud tracks and hundreds of thousands of words in Instagram captions, there was no shortage of content. There was, however, a shortage of information.
Each video Benny uploads is a piece of data. Only the first video of its kind—Benny dancing in a Jason Voorhees mask, dated midsummer 2014—contains real information. Without providing new data other than a variation in mask, track, or location, the informational value of each post is minimal. Early in my ravenous consumption of Benny Revival, I found I was encountering not information but repetition. My stomach was left growling.
There are more than 40 million articles on Wikipedia. There are functionally infinite news outlets, research papers, and historical records; metric tons of banal information are available to anyone with internet and interest. Like any resident of the ‘Information Age,’ I’m accustomed to the availability of answers. I don’t know a world without YouTube tutorials for replacing the windshield wipers of every possible car. This dilemma is not about the existence of information, it’s about information being withheld. A child is more likely to claim the right to eat a pizza if that pizza exists; more so if they can see the pizza and maybe most if they can only smell its sizzling pepperoni. Likewise, entitlement is not about information being out of reach—even children know there is always a pizza baking somewhere. No, information entitlement is about power, and being on the sharp end of it while thinking of yourself at the hilt.
This is a uniquely modern delusion—that with enough effort, we might uncover any information not imperative to national security. We consider it not a currency or commodity, but a right. When celebrity no longer allows reclusively, Benny Revival is an outlier. All details of his life are literally masked. With the acceleration of my obsession came a slow-breaking realization that my brain, and perhaps a larger collective brain, expects the unrestricted voluntary presentation of information.
If you’ve matched with someone on Tinder who lacks a social media presence, you maybe felt, in some way, cheated. Controversial tweets deleted without screenshot invoke remarkable public ire. Restaurant websites that don’t list their happy hours summon, for meat least, wrath. The availability of information is a choice made by the originators of facts, and when they’re held beyond reach, the million-mile arms in our pockets itch. Answers are obligatory; we are owed.
Consider ‘Shitty Media Men,’ a recent Google Doc bearing the names of men in publishing and media combined with anonymous allegations of their sexual misconduct and assault. First circulated among publishing professionals, the list leaked days after its existence was reported. Information entitlement can take the form of rabid demand for information only some possess. That interesting, urgent facts exist outside your reach, referred to only in abstract, is maddening. You are accustomed to the privileged position of receiving information at the same time as everyone else, and the stripping of this privilege is bitter. With a presidential administration leakier than wicker shoes, this sensation is exaggerated. Information must be presented, and God help the press if it isn’t done with speed.
The aftermath of Shitty Media Men unearthed a reaction common to anonymous accusations of rape and harassment—the flustered cry that information must be verified to count. Some, presumably men worried about the exposure of their own crimes, weren’t satisfied with incomplete, amateur, or uncertified information. There seems to be a common assumption that omission is an implication of guilt or inaccuracy; that if information didn’t contain something sinister, it would lay itself bare.
When the facts of Benny Revival’s identity proved obscure, my first conclusions were dramatic. I suspected he was Denzel Curry dodging contract obligations, or that he had a white-collar job. In a world where fame is coveted and identity is cheap, that he would obscure himself because of personal preference—or worse, without reason—felt impossible.
A distinction must be made between the withholding of information and the cultivation of mystery as a marketing tool. Who will appear after the credits of the latest Marvel movie? What’s the name of Kanye’s forthcoming album? Who’ll be the special guest at tonight’s show? Mystery relies on a promise of revelation. The function is to build suspense, therefore interest, therefore sales. When there is no prospect of an unveiling, or in the case of Benny Revival, an implicit promise of obscurity, entitlement blooms.
Not a willing prisoner to Benny Revival’s labyrinth, I yearned to find the source of my fascination. Beyond the kinked information hose, his aesthetic draws from obscene familiarity. Benny’s music is reminiscent of neon Florida rappers like Spaceghostpurpp or Robb Banks, his fashion recalls a department store Travis Scott, and his masks are identifiable pop figures, ranging between Pinhead and Kermit the Frog. When examined in fragments, Benny is not that strange. As an amalgamation, he’s bizarre and troubling. Take his video locations, for example—they’re places we’ve seen and visited, from hotel halls to high deserts to county fair carnivals, made obscene through transformation, sucked dry as if by rapture. His language contains references to pop culture, mentioning No Nut November, political correctness, and Trader Joes, but his bizarre typography and doomsday Biblical references to Nephilim and repentance make his words obscene. Benny contains elements of familiarity, twisted and made strange.
Maybe Benny Revival’s magnetism originates in his occupancy of this uncanny valley, a Frankenstein’s monster of culture. Maybe I’m giving too much clout to a gimmick; maybe his draw originates, as I implied before, in his exertion of power through negligence and deprival. There’s no indication Benny will ever reveal more, aspire to fame, or change creatively. All I know is that the direct message I sent him on Twitter, tinged with depravity, offering to mail him a Dennis Rodman, was left unread.
Other public entities have faces as shrouded as Benny Revival’s. Thomas Pynchon, Death Grips, and even the trite phenom Banksy occupy similar time zones. Still, their obfuscation is public, and I doubt their enigmas would persist without fame and fandom. In the eyes of an audience, these celebrities have earned the right to hide their faces. Benny Revival, however, is a nobody. He could not be considered a recluse because he has no spotlight from which to excuse himself. Why is he doing this to us? What is his motivation?
Twitter user @skrongmeat_ has done some legwork. In a Medium piece titled ‘Everything I know about BENNY REVIVAL,’ he lists a few mushy facts: Benny is probably black, may reside in North Florida, runs several eponymous SoundCloud accounts, and has written three books, titled ‘GENERATIONAL_OUTBREAK,’ ‘ASMODEOUS_PRESENCE,’ and ‘INFIRMITY_GRIP.’ Everything beyond these tenuous shards is observation or speculation.
Skrongmeat’s article, and the title of this one, lampoons a news format popular in the wake of tragedy, scandal, and rumor. Readers are drawn to titles like ‘Everything we know about the Niger attack that left 4 U.S. soldiers dead,’ and ‘Everything we know about Stranger Things' second season.’ While not varying substantially in content from a regular news article, these pieces differ in claim. ‘Everything we know’ articles purport to hold nothing back, placating information-entitled readers with an offer of full disclosure.
Some information should obviously be freely available in its entirety, especially the workings of government and military bodies. Education should be universal and free. Though presenting news necessitates triage and prioritization, full stories should always be available for those who seek them. Corporate transparency and accountability requires disclosure, and we have the right to information that impacts our wellbeing. We are entitled to these forms of information, and cases of its denial are cases of injustice.
In my estimation, the forms of information over which we have no ownership include: Personal information that is not voluntarily shared, including but not limited to preferences, opinions, motivations, backgrounds, and physical characteristics; explanations of art or entertainment from their creators; or any mundane information that contains no real consequence. What is the benefit of releasing this information from your network of expectations? Though attention and energy are regenerative, only a certain amount can exist at once, and freedom from unnecessary information may allow greater personal capacity. Imagine living without containing the personal details of others that were not shared directly with you; imagine going life free of inconsequential fact. But can this abstract feeling of entitlement ever be reversed or diverted? The gathering and retention of information is usually done without conscious effort, but I’m not proposing a change in behavior, I’m suggesting shift in attitude. Try believing you neither deserve nor desire useless information. The relationship status of a former classmate does not belong to you, the filmmaker’s inspiration is not yours, and the minutia of life, from the Pantone number of your walls to the currency of a country you’ll never visit is wholly, finally unnecessary.
Granted, this attitude is impossible to achieve. I haven’t quit browsing the Facebook pages of my coworker’s husband, nor have I quit digging into Benny Revival like a hungry woodpecker. We are a conditioned people, which, ultimately, is fine.
Whether or not you swallow the horror-baited hook and get pulled in the strange, intoxicating microcosm of Benny Revival, you have to at least acknowledge his singular purity. Here is a man who does not fake the funk. At minimum, Benny is committed. He has presented regular content with a fixed style for years without warble. We should all aspire to Benny’s dedication, cohesion, and freedom, and we should all try to consume his content without entanglement in the modern concept that we deserve more information. Frightened, turned on, or infected with groove, we should simply watch him dance.
To quote Benny Revival:
INFORMATION IS USELESS WITHOUT EXPERIENCE .. SOME PEOPLE ARE PAID TO IMPEDE TRAFFIC .. OH .. FIGHT WHAT SYSTEM .?. HONEY YOU DO DRUGS & COULD NOT RUN A MILE .. BUY GUNS .?. SWEEETHEART THEY OWN GUNS OLDER THAN YOU .. GO PROTEST .?. CHILD IF THEY CUT OFF THE ELECTRICITY FOR A WEEK YOU WOULD CRY .. OH .. SHAVING PUBES LIKE TAKING OFF YOUR CLOTHES WAS NOT NAKED ENOUGH ..
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Luke Muyskens lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His fiction has appeared most recently in West Branch, Third Coast, SAND Berlin, Arts & Letters, the Hopkins Review, and a Pact Press anthology on the opioid epidemic. He earned an MFA in fiction from Queen's University of Charlotte and scholarships from the Tin House Summer Workshop, the Hambidge Center, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and the New Orleans Writer's Residency.