(All quotes were given by Benjamin Shrader.)
When I moved in at the onset of my freshman year, I had heard about Ben Shrader through the grapevine. There were mostly whispers about arrogance and cringe-worthiness. Since then, snickers about his social media ostentatiousness and scoffs at his supposed slimy dirtbaggery have only grown louder. If you have seen Ben Shrader's posts, the jokes can seem to write themselves. Here are some of my favorite examples below.
All those things considered, I wanted to sit down with him to give him a fair shot at proving himself to be more than a walking suit who runs several of his own fan accounts on both Twitter and Instagram.
This interviewing task was easier said than done, as Ben canceled on me three times (without actually letting me know; that's right – I got stood up by Ben Shrader and I want that fact on my gravestone.) However, when I finally tracked him down and chatted, I couldn't stay mad at the guy. If anything, I felt bad for him. He's trapped within his brand. With our conversation, I felt as if I got to sneak a peek behind the Wizard of Oz's emerald curtain, to see the regular human with the famous image. Essentially, Ben Shrader is a self-proclaimed "terrified kid" who has a particular façade to protect himself.
On the off chance you don't know who Ben Shrader is, he would love to change that. A man with a brand, "the number one event promoter in College Station", a semi-celebrity who gets recognized "everywhere" he goes in this town, Ben Shrader has concocted a calculated image for all of us who are willing to give him the time of day.
That's what it's all about for him: the image. When I assuredly prefaced our interview with a friendly angle, he immediately took off his blazer as a visual symbol of his "relaxing". Unsure of how to be unprofessional, like a reptilian in an uncomfortable human skin, Ben hit his Juul more times than I cared to count, a new age way to untense his shoulders. Moreover, Ben physically referenced his bulky blue private high school ring as a vital image to him. He recalls having a terrible time in high school and the ring acts as a reminder of the trauma he went through and the motivation to not ever be a "loser again". I assume high school was where his hopeful adherence to his particular look was cemented.
Ben pays attention to the past. Contradictorily, his "bitterness about the past" is his least favorite trait, but his spite for his so-called "enemies" is what lights a fire under him to "stand up for the outcasts" by finally being included.
He had such a difficult time in his adolescence, that when he graduated and decided to go to the "perfect storm of a market" that is Texas A&M, he wouldn't accept a low status as an answer. This time, he was going to be strategic with his image. Ben articulates his new lifestyle best when he says, "I remember thinking: I'm going to college. College kids like to party. If I control parties, they'll like me."
Put yourself in his shoes. He's been bullied for his entire life and then, one day, just through his own fruition, he is "recognized in the dining hall" by a student his own age, asking for a picture, calling herself a fan and member of the "tribal" Shrader Nation. It must be shell-shocking to have tens of thousands of followers paying attention, whether the attention is positive or negative or in jest.
Ben's Transformation from High School to College:
A brand leaves no room for nuances. When you live life according to an image, you are one-dimensional, meme-material, and mostly misinterpreted. Ben is familiar with being misconstrued. In fact, the biggest thing people fail to understand is "the cost". Ben firmly holds that, at this time, there is nothing he won't sacrifice for his career. "Relationships suffer", he contends, recounting an ex from two years ago. (Below are photos he shared via his Instagram story that portray his experience.)
To take a note from Sigmund Freud, let's explore Ben's childhood a little more. His severe dyslexia causes him to read at a third-grade reading level. He simply puts, "I'm not naturally good at school". This learning challenge was not contained in his schooling but also was exacerbated by his brilliant parents. You see, Ben's mother is a New York tax attorney who told him to "make something of himself before thirty". His father graduated from college at eighteen years old and repetitively underscores the value of education. Ben has always struggled with written language and math and goes as far as to say his father and him are "inverted people" with his dad being so gifted at everything that troubles Ben.
Subsequent to our two-hour dialogue, I can say I witnessed a new side to this person. Post-interview, I could say, "lay off! Give Ben a break!", but, I won't - because he doesn't want a break. He craves the publicity, good and bad. Ben has definitive goals of materialistic success, so he plays the role of a Walmart Jordan Belfort as a ticket to his personal victories. Finding happiness in the attention of others is a risky identity game, but it seems like Ben's identity is much more complex than his persona.
A lesson we can all learn from him is the valuable method of unapologetically pursuing your dreams, no matter who you are. His main message is, "I'm no wiser than anyone. I just realized early on that life is short. If you don't strive for your goals while you're young, you'll only have regret when you're old."
While this quote may sound like the ramblings of a disillusioned yuppie, there is real wisdom in his pure diligence. Truly, I hope only contentment for my interviewee. Whether he turns out to be a cautionary tale of image-addiction or an inspirational role model for business people, I want to be around to write the story.