Each week in LOL INTERWEBZ, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I wonder what it’s like to wake up to find out you’re a meme.
Not just a meme, either, but an “advice animal”—one of those “stock” images of an animal or a person with a handful of all-caps words above and below the face, intended to tell a story about a character. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are some examples:
Birthed in the bowels of 4chan or Reddit, these images are quick and easy to make and even quicker and easier to enjoy, and they manage to get passed around to every corner of the Internet in almost no time at all. They feel so disposable that it’s easy to forget that the people in many such pictures actually exist somewhere.
Most (if not all) of the people depicted in these memes had their images made famous without their consent by people they didn’t know, and most of the characters are depicted in less than flattering ways. In an open letter to the real-life Annoying Facebook Girl, the real-life Scumbag Steve (whose name is Blake Boston) is surprisingly candid about the pain in discovering you’re famous for being a horrible fictional character:
You’re going to be in shock for a while, when you see what people have written. But the most important and self-preserving thing you can do is know that it’s not you. You can’t take this personally. I’ll say that again, you can’t take this personally. Hell if I did… well let’s not go there.
It’s hard not to sympathize. Internet fame is instant, random, and cruel. How do you react when you wake up one morning to find you’re world-famous for a bunch of terrible things you never actually did or said?
You could get really depressed about it. Or, alternatively, your could use your newfound fame to earn a living.One of the more recently coined advice animals is a character named Overly Attached Girlfriend, who in real life is a woman named Laina (she prefers to go by the mononym online, so I’ll honor her wishes here). She managed to associate herself with the archetype of obsessive lover by posting a rather unassuming video to YouTube in which she sang a parody of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” The singing was far from first-rate, but the lyrics (“If I was your girlfriend / I’d never let you leave / Without a small recording device / Taped under your sleeve”) were funny enough to grab the attention of the Internet.
That might have been the end of it, except someone on Reddit took a screenshot from the video and starting adding captions to it, most of which weren’t very flattering (“I was looking through your texts earlier…Who’s ‘Mom’?”; “Oh, you found someone else?…I’m pregnant”; etc.).
But instead of hiding her face until the madness blew over, she embraced the character. She produced more OAG videos, playing the character in sketches. She got gigs in other YouTube stars’ videos and even made an appearance on Jimmy Fallon. Eventually she became a YouTube partner, allowing her to share in the ad revenue from her videos (it’s evidently possible, however unlikely, to make up to six figures doing this). And she did ads for Kia and Hewlett-Packard.
Call it selling out if you want, but I call it wisdom. Those of us unlucky enough to have come of age in the 21st century have very little in terms of economic opportunity. Wages have been tanking since the ’60s, the economy has been stagnating for more than a decade, manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, artisanal skills are irrelevant, and no one is willing to pay for stuff they can get for free on the Internet (i.e., pretty much everything). We don’t have much left to sell except…ourselves.
Our faces. Our personalities. Our “brands,” if you want to be cynical about it.
And I could put some sort of depressing, dystopian spin on that if I felt like it, but I really don’t. No matter what era you find yourself in, you’ll have problems. The question is what you do with them—and making a living is a good place to start.
Evangelicals like to talk about the woman described in Proverbs 31—the “wife of noble character,” in most translations—but I’m not sure how many of us have actually paid attention to the description. The main thrust of the passage is that the woman described takes advantage of economic opportunities in order to provide for her family: “She considers a field and buys it…She perceives that her merchandise is profitable…She makes linen garments and sells them.” There’s other stuff as well (she also cares for the poor), but the essence of the passage is that she turns a profit on the opportunities God sends her way. It’s good advice for all of us, not just wives.
I don’t want to overplay the (tenuous) connection I’m drawing here. As far as I know, Laina’s not anybody’s Overly Attached Wife (unless she’s got a man tied up in her basement, or something), and it’s not like she has a family to provide for. Still, I find her an inspiring example of someone who’s seized her random luck by the horns and made it work for her. I think we all would do better to emulate the Wife of Noble Character a little more—treating each random coincidence as an opportunity and a gift from God, taking advantage of them to provide for ourselves and our families and to make the world a better place. To cast our bread upon the waters, whether that means weaving some garments or making some YouTube videos.
Unless I’m reading too much into this. Maybe the real lesson is to spy on your loved ones as much as possible.