Behind the Meme

Behind the Meme

Remember your horrible high school class photograph? Or the embarrassing childhood picture that your Mum posted to her Facebook? (Thanks, Mum.) What happens when the Internet gets hold of those photos and, based on that one photograph, assigns you a personality? Do you roll with it? Exploit it? Or do you try to reclaim your identity?

Let’s think, for a moment, about the people (or animals) behind the meme. Grumpy Cat is, according to her humans, a happy little kitty. Bad Luck Brian is in fact quite lucky, having once won an Xbox and a Playstation in the same fortnight. Overly Attached Girlfriend’s personality bears more resemblance to Good Girl Gina, the Internet’s unattainably cool, sexy and laid-back girlfriend. Hipster with a Typewriter is just trying to make an honest buck. Sadly though, Scumbag Steve seems to be a scumbag in real life. How do these meme stars reconcile their personalities with the online persona that has been bestowed on them?

Hipster with a Typewriter’s case is a study in what not to do if you suddenly become a meme. Several months ago, a photograph appeared on Reddit’s front page. It showed a pale, skinny guy, dressed like your garden-variety hipster and tapping away at a vintage typewriter … at a park. What a douchebag hipster, right? What the fuck, man … does he think he’s too good for a MacBook now? A fucking typewriter – are you serious?

Actually, the guy was just trying to earn a buck. In a recent op-ed at, C. D. Hermelin explained himself. On nice summer days he takes his typewriter to parks in New York and writes stories for passers-by in exchange for a few dollars. This is a charming and novel idea, but the photograph unfortunately cropped out Hermelin’s sign and money-box. It was captioned, “You’re not a real hipster until you take your typewriter to the park.” Hermelin wasn’t prepared for the chaos that hit him when the Internet latched on to his photograph and projected all their seething hipster-hate upon him.

“I … felt thrown when I was presented with an image of myself that I couldn’t control,” Hermelin stated in his op-ed. So what can you do? How can you regain control? Hermelin tried to explain his story-writing pursuit on Reddit, and received a few apologies. His photograph is still making the rounds on the Internet, though, without the necessary context. Though he tried to ignore it, the negative attention and threats of violence impacted him deeply and concerned his family.

Others have taken a more light-hearted approach to addressing their meme-status. Overly Attached Girlfriend (her real name is Laina Walker) embraced her alter-ego and even has a YouTube channel featuring Overly Attached Girlfriend. A photograph of her staring creepily into the camera and looking intensely fixated is usually accompanied by phrases such as “I wish I could cut a hole in you and live inside your stomach so we would never have to be apart.” Her status on the Internet, plus her good humour and personality, has even helped her to gain some success as a television presenter.

Bad Luck Brian (his real name is Kyle) has similarly embraced his meme status with good humour, collaborating with Walker to produce an “Overly Attached Girlfriend meets Bad Luck Brian” video and subsequently launching his own YouTube channel. He’s not as ill-fated as the meme would have us think, but Kyle seems to have embraced the idea that there is a little Bad Luck Brian in all of us, and sometimes it’s good just to laugh about it.

Anyway, back to your terrible childhood photograph or dorky high school class photo. In the unlikely event that the Internet does get hold of it and dubs you “Bad Perm Stacey” or “Overly Enthusiastic Owen,” you have some options. If your meme is popular, milk that fucker for all it’s worth – play the game, say the line, and watch the adoration (and, probably, money) roll in. If not, deny, deny, deny. Refuse to admit that it is you. Do not read the comments and do not engage. Either way, just remember that your fame came from an unlikely fluke and will probably be gone again just as quickly. After all, the Internet has a short attention span. Ain’t nobody got time for old memes.
This article first appeared in Issue 26, 2013.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 6th October 2013 by Raquel Moss.