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James Somerton: A Guy Who Sucked, But So Does Capitalism

This post considers James Somerton, someone whose greatest legacy is a penchant for total academic dishonesty in a time when you can perform it without actually being one. There are correct ways to deliver academic arguments to a wider audience—e.g., independently writing my PhD and releasing it on my own website—but it should be done while acknowledging the giants whose shoulders you stand on. If anything, it demonstrates a valuable skill: the ability to actually reflect on whatever source material you're building your arguments with, versus simply stealing it for profit and passing yourself off as an Intellectual (to James' credit, while he really had a thing for Foucault's turtlenecks, he didn't seem to advocate for child rape like Foucault did; The Living Philosophy's "Why French Postmodernists were Pro-Paedophilia in the 1970s," 2021). 

Update (same day): While this piece was written under the possibility that James may have taken his own life, he is apparently fine according to his ex-co-writer, Nick Herrgott (source tweet: AGramuglia, 2024). James' habitual lying should come as no surprise, and I will happily accept him doing so and learn to live with a compulsive liar/weird cis-queer nerd than earnestly wish him dead. To be frank, his lies are currently hurting himself more than anyone else, and sadly his feelings of suicide ideation—while probably genuine to some degree—have become yet-another-bluff for the world to call; he's clearly not well nor suited for work as a public intellectual and I think this latest lie is merely another example of that. The mask is off. So, keep an eye on James if you must, but a) be mindful that people like James are both unwell and capable of self-harm as much as harming others, and b) remember that other people exist who aren't self-destructing, thus continuing to harm the communities they operate inside to a far great degree than James is currently doing.

Enough about Foucault. We're here to talk about James Somerton, who while he certainly sucked to a far lesser degree than Foucault as a person did, also didn't produce any ideas on par with Foucault's (few have). But like Foucault, James was also someone people devoted far too many words towards, so much so that I almost feel sullied writing about a person so utterly beneath me (I don't like Foucault, either, but I do feel the need to rescue his ideas from the man behind them; i.e., in my postgraduate work). Almost. Given that he may have just committed suicide (source: David James' "Is YouTube Essayist James Somerton Dead?" 2024), I want to finally say something about James Somerton. I just didn't want to do it before I had a chance to say something about Nex Benedict or Aaron Bushnell, persons far more worthy of my time.

To borrow from Edward Said, James was accommodated, insofar as his ability to grow within the YouTube system accrued enough social capital for him to pass himself off as "genuine." It also highlighted a profound lack of scrutiny in a place where citations aren't required. This sudden growth and dearth of community standards allowed James to farm content by stealing it pretty much wherever he went. While far from the only established content creator who did/does this (see: Essence of Thought's "Vangelina Skov Plagiarized My Lily Orchard Series," 2024; as well as various places covering Iilluminaughtii's own well-established lack of scruples), James was someone whose plagiarism was so bad that it gave another established content creator enough ammunition to sink his entire career in one video (hbomberguy's "Plagiarism and You(Tube)," 2023).

Except, it doesn't really stop there because James was someone who had no idea how to apologize—twice. He failed both times (and removed said videos afterwards), insofar as his apologies seemed both premature and utterly insincere. The guy was clearly sticking to his guns—a con artist who, when his back was to the wall, followed his usual instincts. And the tragedy that he might have just committed suicide doesn't really change that fact. He was a con artist, and got caught out in a series of lies well before his apologies (or apparent suicide) came to pass.

I don't wish to speculate on whether or not James may be dead (we'll find that out, soon enough), nor do I actually wish harm on him despite his actions leading me to lose all respect for the man. Seriously, the sheer hubris and impunity he enacted through his actions is gross, but it's easy enough to say "drop dead" as a figure of speech without calling for actual harm against him. I'm not against organized resistance, insofar as violent activism helps workers challenge the state and stochastic terrorism/hate crimes, but frankly James—while being entirely deplorable as an "academic" and "filmmaker"—doesn't merit that in the slightest. Even so, speaking as someone who has devoted her entire adult life to academic pursuits and queer expression, James did spit in the face of all I hold dear merely to pass himself off as an "activist" (who, as a cis-queer man, was not without his own bigotries). He was part of a larger problem and he certainly personified it exceptionally.

(source tweet: Dan Olson, 2023)

To critique James but also find worth in his sorry actions, he was an opportunist who stole from more obscure* sources that until 
hbomberguy no one on YouTube (with any massive reach, that is) noticed. What James did was wrong and the original authors certainly deserve credit. But like a bear swallowing a seed and shitting it out elsewhere, he did move some ideas along in ways that helped them gain a wider readership. In short, he stole from various academic sources and packaged them in a way that brought attention to what otherwise might remain undiscovered in popular discourse.

*Not that no one knew them but that they were relatively vague for a mainstream audience.

Make no mistake, this is ultimately a shitty thing to do because James did it to enrich himself and neglect the original authors on purpose (I'd certainly resent him from stealing from my own writings for these purposes, especially if I was eclipsed by him in the process). But if it brought academic ideas beyond the castle paywalls to a larger readership, then I can't entirely fault him for that (again, "if" being the operative word, here). Accessibility of ideas that live and die in obscurity thanks to neoliberal tampering is something I'm happy to change for the better (even through theft). Instead, it's the smaller creators who don't live in academia that I feel far sorrier for, and for whom I think James wronged the most; i.e., those who rely on exposure now to survive. That's like stealing from members of your own impoverished neighborhood to elevate to a new class standing. It's a terrible thing to do. 

Another thing to consider about James is he could act (to the degree he needed to), which only failed him once his crimes came to light. And yet, the reality of the situation is that he was fairly skilled at bullshitting and could have used that for good (think Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul, 2015). Instead, he chose to line his own pockets and throw other queer authors under the bus. And this, to some degree, would seem to weaken the ideas he stole from others, if only because many will associate his pilfered canon with that of the thief and not the victims he stole from. Except James' thievery is not so complete that these ideas can't be separated from him and inspected and appreciated unto themselves. Indeed, it's generally what made "his" content so compelling. He knew what to steal and passed it off as his own quite authoritatively—all while mixing it in with the content of his then-business-partner, Nick Herrgott; e.g., "'Killing Stalking' and the Romancing of Abuse," (2022), a video I actually enjoyed. To that, he wasn't afraid to blend in/use people who lent him an air of authority. Perhaps, under the right circumstances, he would have done well in Academia after all (a place known for theft and getting ahead at the cost of others; re: Foucault).

(source: Gennaro Cuofano's "Who Owns YouTube?" 2024)

In other words, the larger point of James' actions constitute the theft of things that, under Capitalism, have monetary value (including in Academia). The more content you make, the more presence you have, and generally operates according to the detriment of others. Except people also seem to have blamed James for the reality of a system that makes it hard for most people to succeed at all. Even if James never stole a single idea and came by his money honestly, the fact remains the people he stole from are already being stolen from and abused on a regular basis (this doesn't excuse James' behavior, but the fact remains). We all are, insofar as YouTube is a corporation that relies on privatized content in order to exist. It does everything it can to encapsulate and control what is produced being part of itself, operating a platform that for many years had a monopoly on the whole idea of do-it-yourself video content: it's a factory (the Marxist idea of private property) owned by shareholders and executives. They're the thieves stealing from us.

So, yes, James annoys me. He annoys me a lot, actually. It seriously pisses me off that he—a career intellectual thief from the queer communitychose to rob marginalized intellectuals who are actually fighting for queer rights. But also, he's far from the only one. Equally annoying are the staggering amount of people jerking off hbomberguy despite his preference for scapegoats instead of systemic critiques. "Plagiarism sucks, and James did it way too many times." No shit; the sky is blue. But you know what sucks more than James Somerton to a nigh-infinite degree? Capitalism! You think James stole shit and passed it off as his own? Look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk! Look at every American President who has ever existed, or Tolkien or J.K. Rowling. Theft is literally built into the system, so perhaps we should critique Capitalism a bit more instead of focusing on just one guy who, in the grand scheme of things, is fairly paltry in terms of the systemic harm he caused? Far worse, I would argue, is people's myopic glare at him while all basically saying the same thing: "James sucks at [insert topic, here]." Think of what they could do regarding capital and state atrocities if they weren't so distracted by one small-time thief! 

Yes, small time. And yet, James sucked all the oxygen from the room and people couldn't shut up about him (I say this despite discouraging plagiarism with every fiber of my being); he became the Internet's bête noire when it should, in fact, have been Capitalism. And while I understand that it's far easier to critique people than it is to meaningfully challenge and change systems, we need to be aware of how much energy we devote towards one person despite how tempting it may be to just give in and state the obvious: James Somerton did plagiarism and plagiarism is wrong. Again, no shit. Can we move on already? 

I'm not against muckraking, here, but there is such a thing as beating a dead horse and James' career is well-and-truly dead at this point (versus Karl Jobst* investigating Billy Mitchell or The Completionist [above]—people who constitute active threats with numerous powerful friends to defend them, disposable money to burn in frivolous lawsuits, and reputations that [in defiance of reason] still carry weight). James, then, was the lowest of low-hanging fruit, one that got done to death by people who were literally doing the same thing (re: Vangelina Skov). Up to a point, I think James was certainly a victim of his own success, then, unable to duck out and move on once the jig was up. Let's call that his comeuppance, and he really has no one to blame but himself.

*Despite being an excellent muckraker, Karl is selective about who he investigates and who he doesn't. For example, he doesn't talk about his own racist past and loves to take sponsorships for dubious products like Raid Shadow Legends (2020) whose company, Plarium Games, is an Israeli developer. Big yikes for that, dude, but also for hawking a gambling game to kids. For shame, Karl. We all know you don't play it, you hypocrite (and that's the problem: Karl doesn't see Capitalism as an issue, using his position within the Imperial Core to turn a quick buck despite the harm it does to Palestinians).

To be clear, pointing out James' attempts to scam others by keeping his Patreon open is perfectly valid, as are exposés targeting similar ploys by him; e.g., his false claiming of "financial difficulties" to net 2,000 Patreon subscribers so "his channel wouldn't shut down." The problem, here, was the endless stream of editorials all speaking together as part of a singular tribunal and trending topic that had well-and-truly run its course but refused to die. Normally I would feel a little remiss writing this piece at all, but if the guy is dead it does raise concerns regarding a larger issue: a desire for revenge instead of systemic change and preventative justice. 

For instance, if you really gave a shit about the ideas stolen by James, perhaps it would have been better to make a video about the victim(s) instead of the thief every time he showed his stupid face? And if you wanted to prevent actual systemic harm, maybe go for the cause instead of the symptom? Again, this was one man not of the ruling elite, but you'd think hbomberguy convinced everyone who saw his video that James invented Capitalism; i.e., the whole of the bourgeoisie lived inside him, meaning if you punch James, you kill a CEO (if only). The Palestinian genocide isn't going to stop no matter how many times you laugh at James Somerton for thinking he can unring the bell. And the reality is that now that he's potentially dead, there's plenty of people just like him that you won't bother to critique. You did it with James because, like Nixon, he got caught red-handed. But Capitalism will keep exploiting people long after James has passed out of public memory. 

Think bigger than James. You can't dredge him up and act like it's not a systemic problem, and this goes all the way to the top.


Persephone van der Waard is an anarcho-Communist, sex worker, genderqueer activist and Gothic ludologist. She sometimes writes reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews for fun; or does independent research for her PhD on Metroidvania and speedrunning every now and again. She's also an erotic artist and a writer. If you're interested in her work or curious about illustrated or written commissions, please refer to her website for more information.


  1. I found your page in looking for more information, and I'm a bit taken aback at what you said about hbomberguy and his video, because he brought up multiple times that this is a systemic issue and that people get rewarded for this. That was the first (and only) hbomberguy video I've seen, I'm not some stan or something, I'm just really confused because it sounds like you see the video like it was a smear campaign. I did not get that from the video at all, and think that hbomberguy both talked about and would agree with a lot of the points you are making about this not just being a James problem, especially since he talked about multiple creators, content farms, and a number of topics that show this goes way beyond James


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