This is the story of a Tumblr post. It’s the story of a picture that only became popular because of another picture that also shouldn’t have been popular. And it’s the (honestly, kinda stupid) story of the only post I’ve ever had on there that truly went viral.
It began when I found what was a pretty benign but slightly odd picture of a kid in a Kermit the Frog mask standing in a pumpkin patch. I thought it looked goofy and maybe a touch awkward. Here:
Not much to it. But the pumpkin patch seemed sparse, the tiny camper in the background gave the thing a downtrodden vibe, and I thought it’d be funny to put an incongruous caption on it like “This is straight up terrifying.” Your basic shitpost before going back to the cards. (And if you came here for the explanation, I collect/share weird old vintage holiday cards and other random things. Stick around. It’s fun stuff.) I didn’t even think about it after I put it in the queue.
But the next morning while checking Tumblr during a break at work, my entire dashboard-notes-thing was filled with likes and reblogs. It hit over 10,000 notes in less than 12 hours. Now, I’ve got just under 10,000 Tumblr followers as I write this (with the usual portion being pr0n accounts…Yay Tumblr!). And I’ve had a few cards go nuts and get over 1k likes/reposts. But this was different. Those happen over a whole season. Nothing like this.
The reason why has nothing to do with me, with Halloween, or my caption. It was one of those random circumstances where a few things got crossed, people got confused, and the jokes started to become so meta that it entered that weird world of meme culture that occupies so much of the internet right now. (And if you’re old, read this. It may explain a bit about what those young people think is so funny.)
It started when one random person put a second identical copy of the picture right under the first and said, “Find the 6 differences.” Funny enough. But then someone started having fun with the idea and did a longer deal where they used Photoshop to show that there were no differences.
And I should probably point out here that the way Tumblr does reblogs is a bit weird. Unless you actually click on the notes, you don’t see the whole train of comments on a picture. You only see what the initial person posted and the specific comments of people who directly reposted it in the chain that gets to you.
But the way Tumblr works, each post and reblog can make a branching train of posts. So a post could have a million comments on it, but if you only see one that someone reposted from the original post, you don’t see those comments on your main page. You have to click the little “Notes” button and troll through a record of all the comments. It’s not hard, but most people don’t seem to do it.
The upshot is that tons of people would see the “Find the 6 differences” post but not the one where the guy pointed out that it was obviously a joke. And they started reposting it all confused.
At the same time, though, people staring making jokes about “Him.” And this is where I think it really took off. The “him” is a meme. The “I had to do it to em” guy. This guy:
If you don’t know that, then you don’t spend much time on Instagram or Tumblr or, I guess, with people under 25. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a stupid image that people found funny. And it became a “thing” to photoshop the guy into other pictures and then do a kind of “Where’s Waldo” when looking for him. (Again, part of meme culture jokes.)
But…with this picture, the kid had something like the same pose. And that’s where peoples’ wires started getting crossed. Because some people were convinced the “Had to do it to em” guy was somewhere in the original picture. Other people just kept joking that the kid looked like he was striking the pose. And other people didn’t know what the hell either group was talking about.
But all three of these little sub-jokes started to cross each other, and it kept getting shared on a huge number of peoples’ regular sites and meme collector accounts. At that point, I guess we can call it “viral.”
And remember, too, that most people weren’t reading the ever-growing train of comments. So some people were seeing the two pictures with the “Find the 6 differences” while other people were making jokes about “Him.” But, of course, there was no “Him.” And there were no differences. But by that time, it had been reposted so many times that people were convinced this was some kind of ongoing puzzle.
At one point, there was a small conspiracy that someone had actually gone back into one of the images and retroactively put the guy in it somewhere, and people started looking back through the treads trying to find when the pictures might have changed, convinced that they couldn’t find him because they hadn’t gotten the actually altered pictures. I got a kick out of one guy who used image analysis sites to point out places where the images were potentially altered, but he was still miffed:
Sometime during the day, someone did add to one of the images, putting a tiny, pixelated version of a reasonably well endowed old man having his way with a pumpkin. I’ll let you search back if you’re curious, but no links from me.
By the evening, I had also gotten at least 20 Tumblr messages from people asking me who the “He” or “Him” was that people were talking about. And they were really perturbed, because by that point, the thing was getting over 1k reposts each hour and was showing up all over the place. So you had a huge contingency of people just not getting the joke(s), or people getting one of the jokes but not the other threads.
In the end, that’s what I find the strangest about the post. I think it really got popular because, for people who got the joke, it was a way to go meta with it and to joke about knowing the joke, even when the joke itself isn’t all that funny. And that’s fine. It’s just being part of the in crowd.
But it was the people who didn’t get it that were the most interesting. They seriously wanted to know what was going on. They tracked me down as the original poster and insisted I explain it to them. Or they reposted it on their own site asking their friends and followers to explain it to them, which just made anyone who get it start saying even crazier things about how “he’d had to do it” to them again.
And on it goes. Since I’ve started writing this post, it’s gotten 800 new hits. And now my dashboard constantly looks like this:
So if you leave a comment on a card and I don’t respond, I apologize. I have to do everything manually now because my notifications are all about this dumb picture. That part actually kinda sucks.
So, there. I wanted to write this so I’d have something to just link to every time I get someone asking me to explain it, which I still do. This has nothing to do with the holidays by this point, but it’s still really frickin’ weird.
Eventually I had to play along, too. Because you know I had to do it to em.
[Edit: got my first complaint. Someone didn’t want me to explain the joke. WHY AM I A BUZZKILL!?!?!? heh heh]
[Edit 2: Since I wrote this, someone put out a version where the “He had to do it to em” guy is in the kid’s shadow: