You never know when your 15 minutes of fame might happen: you could star in a popular YouTube video, model for a frequently seen stock photo, or just happen to get noticed at your after school job. After Twitter user @auscalem posted a candid shot of "Alex from Target" last fall, the image went viral and the unsuspecting, 16-year-old employee became an Internet sensation. Alex's transition to the big time wasn't totally smooth sailing, but half a year later, he's embraced his newfound fame and is currently pursuing an acting career. ("I've been auditioning for movies and TV shows and stuff," he recently told J-14.) He turned out okay and so, for the most part, have the people-turned-memes below.
1. College Freshman
As a first-semester freshman, Griffin Kiritsy agreed to do an interview for Reader’s Digest, complete with a photo shoot on the UNH campus. “No big deal,” he said. “I can pose for a few snapshots.” The images ended up in other, pretty dry articles about freshman life and college finances. Then the Reddit community got their hands on the one that will forever be known as College Freshman, the inept and ill-informed young adult who is almost always killed while attempting new things on campus. In a Reddit chat, Kiritsy admitted that many of the memes mimicked his first year of college, saying “the laundry jokes, the bragging about parties I went to, and all of the dying ones happened to me.” He also reports that being a meme hasn’t had any real negative effects on his life: “I plan on being the College Freshman until ... I die.”
2. Suburban Mom
Carly Phillips is a romance novelist and mother of two kids (and a few pets). In May 2011, her author photo was appropriated for the Sheltering Suburban Mom series … a fact she only learned last year, thanks to a Redditor who posted a link on her Facebook fan page. When someone explained to her that her image was used to make jokes about uptight, hypocritical, and sometimes racist suburban mothers, Philips says her “initial reaction was horror and fury and hurt.” After she was told that the joke wasn’t about her, but about overly protective moms who don’t practice what they preach, Phillips said she felt a bit better about the whole thing. “I never want anyone who sees it to think that I, the real mom/person ... believes any of that stuff, especially the derogatory, inflammatory, prejudiced things in there.”
3. Skeptical Baby
In November 2011, Dave, Rhiannon, and their son Mason took a trip to the Museum of Natural Sciences, where they had some family photos taken by photographer Jarod Knoten. They came out so well that Dave posted one to Reddit. Within hours, Dave’s son Mason was the star of his very own meme. Skeptical Baby just can’t believe the things people with object permanence have to say about anything. The joke usually follows the “You mean to tell me…” format, but there are a few variations.
4. Sheltered College Freshman
Kerin Portillo is a model who lives in Bogota, Colombia. She was featured in a series of iStockphoto images portraying students in a library. A crop of one of these original pictures is the template for Sheltered College Freshman, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
Generally the captions are based on misunderstood slang and sexual innuendo, but occasionally they just reflect the surprise an eighteen-year-old might have at finding out how life actually works. A counter series called Sheltered No More features another shot of Portillo, this time seated at a bar in a red dress, which portray her as SCF’s polar opposite. Portillo participated in a Q and A on Reddit; she said that her Internet fame led to many more modeling opportunities in stock photos.
5. Senior Freshman
Nola Ochs graduated from Fort Hays State University at the age of 95, setting a Guinness World Record and earning herself some coverage on most major media outlets. She went on to earn a masters in Liberal Studies at the age of 98, graduating alongside her own granddaughter. A picture of Ochs in class (captioned “Raises hand / ‘As a mother…’”) appeared on Quickmeme in July 2011. Since then, the world’s oldest college graduate has been Senior Freshman, an elderly woman who’s eager to learn but also intimately familiar with the last couple hundred years of history. (Like College Freshman, she often dies while participating in class.) To date, Ochs—who is now 103—has not commented on her Internet stardom and she is (probably) not on Twitter.
6. Success Kid
Little Sammy Griner wasn’t yet a year old in August 2007 when his mother, photographer Laney Griner, snapped a picture of him on the beach with a handful of sand. She titled it “Why I oughta…” on Flickr, and by January 2008 the picture was making the rounds on MySpace with the caption I Hate Sandcastles. It traveled all the way to a Russian Photoshop thread before finding its way to Advice Animals as Success Kid in January 2011. (For Success Kid, everything goes better than expected.) The image of Sammy is so popular that Virgin Media purchased rights to use it on billboards in the UK, and it later appeared in a commerical for Vitamin Water. Here he is at age 5:
7. Too Damn High
If your rent is too damn high, Jimmy McMillan is your guy. Or he would be, if you were a voting resident of New York in 2010, when McMillan was running for governor. His appearance at the Gubernatorial Debate that year was uploaded to YouTube, and that’s when the web discovered Rent is Too Damn High, the name of McMillan’s political party and meme, based on his oft-repeated catchphrase. Captions almost always follow the “X is too damn high!” format, but variations featuring words which rhyme with “high” tend to be popular, as well—“The end is too damn nigh,” for example.
Since becoming Reddit famous and bolstered by his presidential run (sadly, he did not make it on to any of the state's ballots), McMillan has spent his time singing with Occupy protesters, hanging out on campuses, and being parodied on Saturday Night Live. Sometimes he reminds people that the rent is too damn high. He attempted to run for governor again in New York's 2014 election but did not succeed.
8. Hipster Barista
Dustin Mattson has placed in both regional and national barista competitions. He’s also the face of Hipster Barista, the haughty connoisseur of java and things that are not yet cool. Because it comes at the expense of respect for his career, Mattson isn’t exactly excited about his minor internet celebrity, as he revealed in an interview with Eater.com: “If anyone were to see me and my coworkers' work in the café, they'd see that it doesn't quite match up to most of the jokes made against the ‘Hipster Barista.’”
9. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy
Zeddie Watkins Little is a good-looking guy. But the shot taken during the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run by computer programmer and self-taught photographer Will King, was a “total fluke,” Little says. After the photo took Reddit by storm, Little chatted with readers about his status as Internet celebrity. He admitted that he didn't hate the whole thing: “I have to say, I really enjoy being part of such a good joke.” He also showed up on Good Morning America with Will King to tell the story.
10. Skateboarding Professor
“Walking sucks, so I get there on my wheels.” That’s how Dr. Thomas Winter, a professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, explains why the skateboard is his preferred mode of transportation. While he says there’s nothing remarkable about the way he gets around campus, the Internet begs to differ. After Redditor tr0llzor posted a picture of the 68-year-old rolling to class, a meme was born. Winter admits that he finds the image captions’ "contemporary slang" confusing, and is further confused by the idea of memes in general—in an interview with Mashable, the professor thought he was being asked about Richard Dawkins’ genetic memes. He retired from his position in spring 2013.
11. Angry Hipster Girl
It started a couple of years ago with a Halloween costume: “Birkenstocks with wool socks, jean shorts, tie-dye crop top, braided band in my hair and a prescription pair of glasses... It seemed only appropriate to grab a quick and silly shot of my costume before going out to party. The next day I posted it on Facebook and Flickr, and then forgot about it.” Kate Killet’s friend eventually forwarded a link to Quickmeme, asking if the picture was her. It was.
Since being branded Angry Hipster Girl, Kate says she’s been recognized by “lots of friends of friends and randoms I haven't talked to in years,” but hasn’t been approached by strangers about her memedom. Should you find yourself in the same situation, she has a bit of advice: “Enjoy your internet 5 minutes. Don't get mad or offended, the internet loves you. And turn off your Twitter and Facebook notifications, cus you'll get roughly a million.”
(Kate's official internet reveal is thanks to mental_floss reader Jenny Serwylo, who outed her friend in the comments of my earlier post.)
12. Baby Godfather
The image that started the Baby Godfather meme, which is exactly what it sounds like, was taken at a wedding in 2010. Redditor timekeepsgoing posted the picture of his son with a request to Photoshop the intimidating little guy into scenes from The Godfather. Timekeepsgoing keeps a scrapbook of the best images for his son.
13. Friendzone Johnny
Just about everyone has felt the pang of unrequited love, but almost no one has to live through it while the Internet laughs. Johnny Solis is the exception. In January 2012, he showed up at midnight to his friend Lizz’s house with flowers to wish her a happy birthday. She took a picture, posted it to Facebook with the caption “I am so blessed to have such great friends. Thank you sososoo much Jonathon!” Within hours, it was shared on Reddit and Quickmeme. The next day, Johnny identified himself on Reddit and did a Q&A in a bodybuilding forum. Later, he and Lizz changed their Facebook statuses to “married to” each other, but Johnny revealed that this was just a tactic to “get people off [their] backs.”
Though Johnny and Lizz apparently never got together, he seems to be taking the ordeal in stride, saying that becoming a meme makes him happy because “I became famous and more girls are talking to me.”
14. Vancouver Riot Kiss
Canadians are famously well-mannered, but after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, our neighbors to the north took to the streets to wreak havoc. Caught in the mayhem, Alexandra Thomas was knocked to the ground by shield-wielding riot police. Her boyfriend, Scott Jones, swooped in to comfort her; the kiss was caught by a photographer and on video from several angles, most of which included fire and riot police in the frame. The smooching couple were subsequently Photoshopped into scenes of extreme danger or inappropriateness, or in the background of other famous kissing scenes. There doesn't seem to be any information about where, or even if, the couple still kisses today.
Portions of this post appeared in 2012.