In general, I think passing judgement on Chris is a pointless exercise, made even more pointless by our limited view of the man. Good or bad, Chris is Chris and few people will ever really do anything about it. I do think there’s a tendency for observers to project their own issues onto Chris, and base their judgements on that. That said, it’s just as bad to try so hard not to identify with Chris as to declare him (or either of his parents) an unrelatable, inhuman monster.
I’m sure the Chandler family’s situation is not uncommon in the United States, but I wouldn’t call it banal. Our understanding of the household is limited, but it’s still enough to see that the family has a compulsive hoarding problem, which has no doubt contributed to issues with their poor hygiene and increasing social isolation. There are aspects of their squalor that can’t be confirmed just from videos and secondhand accounts; for example, I’m certain some of Chris’s cats are feral, and that he smells terrible, but I don’t know. Nevertheless, the squalor itself is all too clear. Again, I don’t judge the Chandlers for these things, because I don’t know what factors brought them to this point, but I definitely think they should not have reached this point at all.
This is the first time I’ve heard of Henry Darger, who was discovered upon his death in 1973 to have spent decades creating a collection of writings and illustrations now celebrated as “outsider art.” Although Darger’s work is taken seriously by the artistic community, those of us familiar with Mr. Chandler cannot help but notice that he lived in isolation, surrounded by garbage, tracing magazine advertisements to produce images of little girls with penises. I would argue that the artistic merit of Darger’s self-expression is greatly augmented by the curiousness of the self being expressed. If you’ve noticed that this is a central theme of this blog, you’ll probably want to learn more about Mr. Darger.
What does Chris’s work say about the sources he appropriates for inspiration? More than anything, I think it says that those sources do a poor job communicating anything meaningful that would help someone like Chris be a better storyteller or artist. Sonic and Pokemon teach him how to market toys and games—so every action sequence becomes abstract, turn-based combat and the only plot twist he knows is to introduce new characters, powers, and vehicles. Monty Python and Adult Swim have taught him how to break the rules to achieve surreal humor without showing what the rules are in the first place, leaving him ignorant of humor altogether.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. The internet is littered with people like Chris whose creative vision is narrowed by a myopic interest in “geek culture” or “genre entertainment.” Mind you, that’s not meant as a slight to those interests. However, if you’re only influenced by five or six somewhat similar sources, your work is going to be extremely derivative, especially if those sources have overlapping fandoms isolating you from more unique perspectives. For example, I would imagine Mr. Darger’s science-fiction epic would not be so highly regarded as “mad genius” if he’d based it all upon nothing more than Star Trek and Lord of the Rings.
I’ve alluded to this before, but I think Chris’s biggest obstacle is his inability to understand how he is different from others. I don’t think the autism itself is as much an issue as his failure to see it’s an issue. For example, I think Chris is intelligent enough to figure out that trolls want to trick him, but he lacks the self-awareness to admit to himself “OK, I’ve fallen for a lot of tricks, autism makes it difficult to tell when people are deceiving me, so I need to be especially careful.” Instead, he seems to have blanketly decided to assume that everyone he doesn’t know is a troll. That’s close enough to keep him safe from online trickery, but the reasoning is very specious, and avoids the real issue to protect his pride.
His lack of discipline is the other major problem holding him back. Chris is at least capable enough to hold down a full-time job or even court a girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to put in any effort for these goals or sacrifice anything to attain them. He wants an easy job and a hot, loose girlfriend, and he wants to get them by waiting for them to fall in his lap. He’s spent a decade trying to get everything for nothing instead of learning to compromise and possibly get anything.
If Chris could overcome those two issues (and I grant this would be no simple task), the rest wouldn’t be so difficult for him to live with. Self-awareness would keep his gullibility, narcissism, and megalomania in check; discipline would would combat his indolence, disorganization, and poor health. From there I think he could easily work 9-5, and interact with people without seeing them as factions in a conspiracy to determine his romantic future. Admittedly, this would assume his internet reputation wouldn’t haunt him in real life, but I don’t think the average Wal-Mart HR manager is going to pore over Sonichu.com for hours during a background check.