Stefan Etienne Is the PC Community's Chris-Chan

Why he's become so hated has more to do with signaling status than misapplication of thermal paste.

Shortly following the formation of communities online, most of them tend to go through a purification process where aberrations are culled in the interest of maintaining homogeneity. Vexed by a poor showing, the tech enthusiast community has been on Stefan Etienne’s throat ever since the publication of the ill-fated “Verge PC Build” in late 2018–that’s a pretty long time to stay angry, and the reasons why are worth examining.

While the concept of systemic racism is completely lost on an audience that can’t otherwise explain why it doesn’t go out of its way to correct white creators nearly as aggressively or persistently, an interesting parallel arises wherein Chris-Chan’s predicament isn’t all that dissimilar–they’re both characters loathed for their inadequacy as a projection of their detractors’ own insecurities.

But to first understand why Etienne acts as a Chris-Chan stand-in for the tech enthusiast community, one must first know why Chris-Chan was hated the way she was. Short for Christine Weston Chandler, the person in meme form has been the internet’s strangest fascination to an almost obsessive degree–an autistic trans woman with a very public transition, her life was copiously cataloged and scrutinized, and given the precedent she set for being a bit oblivious, some have exploited that to thrust her down further embarrassment that she largely remained quite unaware of.

What subsequent analysis of the Chris-Chan obsession revealed, is that many used it as a way to cope with their own autism by comparing themselves to someone who makes them look less so–Stefan Etienne essentially, has been used by his harassers as a measuring stick to point at and say “I could never be as bad as this!”, bolstered by the tech community’s standard slate of elitist attitudes. There’s pressure within to be knowledgeable in almost everything, and to not be privy to all the details is considered sacrilege–that all manifested the nastiest in the aftermath of the Verge PC Build, but it’ll keep rearing its head whenever a community’s purpose for existence starts to veer into perpetuity.

I’ve built computers as a hobby and in a professional capacity for a combined five years, and have been a PC hardware enthusiast for even longer–I relished the details of how industry juggernauts were investing unconscionable amounts of money into making computing more accessible, so much so that my phone currently is able to easily outperform the Pentium 4-powered behemoth of a machine that my family owned back in 2003. As far as “credentials” go, I’m not running low–so when I saw Etienne’s build, I sure had some objections but ultimately thought that enthusiasts were not going to follow it anyway since they know better than to commit some very basic errors experienced builders are already familiar with. But unsurprisingly, the myth of the video outgrew it and its host all-the-same–the video now only exists as a reupload, and it remains a blight on what was an otherwise uneventful stay of a young journalist at a relatively young digital news outlet.

Despite the fact that we’re unable to prove that the PC Build video caused the damage many purported it would, it’s still being held as a bludgeon against Etienne’s every interaction on social media. I’d been following the young lad long before he became the PC community’s favorite darling, and he’s never gotten that much engagement on his tweets in the past–the constant outpour of negativity for a year and some change can’t possibly be good for Etienne’s mental health, or the prospects of better racial diversity in the tech enthusiast community for that matter.

In this moment of collective reckoning with the value of black lives, we tend to forget that some of their most precious are often the ones that go completely unnoticed–Etienne’s career since his departure from the Verge has been a complete wash, with him settling for freelancer status as job security proved rather fleeting. It couldn’t have come at a worse time where the media’s survival seems to be up in the air as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the industry.

This is what people mean when they denounce racism within white-dominant spaces–the implication isn’t that Etienne was called the n-word by his fellow white peers, but he exists within an ecosystem that took his presence for granted the minute he faltered, in such a way that a white creator simply never could. It’s one of the reasons I can’t stand to watch that content anymore and started sticking to emotionless words on a screen instead — the rot runs so deep, that even those who perpetuate racist attitudes are oblivious to their own complicity.

The tech enthusiast community on YouTube — for the presence of a few exceptions to the rule like Marques Brownlee and Dave Lee — has been undergoing a purge, even if silent, of those who wish to no longer engage its puritan mode of operation. For as much as the tech community brings, it has alienated large swaths of people who through the silence of bystanders, have figured that they’re by default unwelcome unless they comply with some higher-than-normal standards of competency. Etienne failed to meet them in one moment, and he’s been punished for it ever since.

If the tech enthusiast community is to right its course, make amends for its sins, and stop looking for cattle to prop themselves over, there may be yet hope for it–otherwise, it currently remains a cesspool of toxicity wherein virtue-signaling status matters more than maintaining a standard of decency. If the application of thermal paste appalls it, then surely the behavior of some should be just as cause for concern–alas, that does not seem to be the case.