The man, the myth, the meme account: Who is @uoecellectuals?
Here’s what I learnt from spending an afternoon with Edinburgh’s most notorious shitposters
What do Daniel Day-Lewis, Patrick Bateman, Robert Pattinson, Batman, the Riddler, Hillary Clinton, Jordan Belfort, the Joker, Timothee Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, Lana Del Rey, Walter White, Kanye, and Mitski all have in common?
If that’s the setup, @uoecellectuals is the punchline; the popular meme account that enthusiastically listed all the above to me as their greatest influences and inspirations.
If you’re anything like me (a lover of gossip) you’ve already come across the stories about “the uoecellectuals guy”- tales of strange encounters (often in the Bongos smoking area) that led me to reach out for an interview in the hopes of answering one question:
Who is this guy?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you. @uoecellectuals is actually a pair of first-year students and best friends from high school who (after a heated sidebar) asked that I refer to them only as John Doe and John Smith, so their “opps” can’t figure out who they are – a group that includes everyone from future employers to other meme accounts.
The dynamic duo
After meeting them, I can’t imagine the account not being run by the duo. Their dare I say heart-warming friendship felt straight out of a coming-of-age movie, as they bickered and riffed off each other.
Smith is the more audacious one, he’s a Politics student, a self-proclaimed “male femcel”, and proudly banned from a Domino’s.
Early on, he randomly declared an unconditional love for Kanye West and looked up from his phone for perhaps the only time, carefully watching me for a reaction. A few pints later he sheepishly returned to the topic, clarifying that he liked his music but “doesn’t really support a lot of his actions.”
Skete Davidson still remains firmly on the opps list.
Doe seems to be the more grounded, despite picking his codename for being “what they call unidentified mental patients.”
An aspiring teacher studying Philosophy and Theology, he chose his words carefully despite also consuming six pints (I didn’t drink, they didn’t notice or care).
“I feel like we just give people a chuckle, and that’s all they need,” he said. “I don’t think the account needs to contribute anything important.”
Doe admitted that their popularity came as a surprise: “Once he and I followed, I thought that would be it”. But after starting the account last October, they hit a thousand followers in a little over a month and now have well over two thousand.
Smith bemoaned the fact that he was going to have to keep his “f*cking balaclava on at all times” to avoid recognition. They’re anonymous, but they both have “niche internet celebrity” on their Tinder – it’s an open secret.
‘I love the batman – he’s literally me’
Smith ran another incellectuals account for their hometown and used to argue about politics on Twitter before getting banned.
“I used to really go at the transphobes,” he told me, denying any accusations of having good intentions. He insisted he was motivated not by social justice, but by the belief that “[his] opinion is the only one that matters.”
Earlier this year they were briefly banned after “lightly doxing” the owner of another popular meme account for alleged racism. “We did our due duty,” said Doe, but when asked if they wanted to use the account for good, they said no. “Just vigilante justice”, Smith claimed.
They did tease a potential run for EUSA president, but on the alarming platform of ending Big Cheese.
“I love stewing in negativity”
Some of their memes tend towards hyper-specific oversharing. “I’d be miserable anyway, might as well get clout,” Doe explained. Smith agreed, saying: “When I post about my misery, I get more likes.”
While they joked that it is a cry for help, they insisted they only want attention, not concern.
“I spoke to the uni therapy people, and they said I didn’t need therapy,” Smith said, saying he wouldn’t speak further on the topic. “If I want to talk about it, I’ll make a meme about it.”
The line between irony and sincerity is often blurred, both on their account and in our conversation. When I asked what they thought this said about our culture, Smith observed that “a lot of actual feelings are hidden behind irony… it’s probably something about capitalism.”
Much of the account is centred around what they hate. During our interview, sweeping condemnations were issued against everything from certain clubs to former prime ministers.
They really dislike Pollock Halls, a major recurring theme, but charitably exclude its international residents. When I asked why we were sitting in Southsider then, a top Pollock hangout, they insisted they were there first. “Besides, it’s like a safari,” Doe said. Southsider is “what Spoons should be”, Smith declared.
They do really enjoy Edinburgh. Doe tells me that: “anything’s better than where we were”. While many of their gripes are ironic, there’s one thing they sincerely hate: their hometown.
“I think the fact that we run a meme account says all you need to know about what high school was like,” said Smith, insisting that they “were cool in an actually cool way,” but maybe not widely regarded as such. “Now we run an empire” added Doe.
They had little they’d like to say to their former classmates: “We have more followers than you” said Doe. “Plus, you’re racist” added Smith. They wouldn’t elaborate.
So did they live up to their reputation?
“I’m too pretentious. I got on with people, but they were just less than me. I have massive small-town main character syndrome” Smith said.
This felt cringy, but I suspect a lot of students relate to that sort of superiority complex, at least a little. This is the secret behind the account’s success; it’s funny because it’s often uncomfortably relatable.
You probably wouldn’t tell 2,500+ people that you’re in bed all day blowing off coursework or deep into overdraft – but maybe you’ll put their meme about it on your private story.
Smith and Doe have a reputation as narcissists, which they repeatedly agreed with. But from our limited interaction, it’s my opinion that if it exists at all their strain of narcissism is more childish than malignant. Their most questionable jokes are often at their own expense, they don’t punch down.
Despite my expectations, they were friendly and seemed well-intentioned. They kept calling themselves male manipulators, but I found no problematic misogyny in their content or our conversation.
It almost seems like they want an edgy reputation – I worry that exposing them for being surprisingly pleasant and normal is more likely to land me on the opps list than any insult.
As I was editing this, I saw that they had posted an Instagram story demanding that we “drop [their] f*cking interview already.” I started to swipe up and considered adding some of the cringier statements they’d made six pints in, before remembering something I learned once in a babysitting training: children who act out often just really want attention, and validation.