The Twitter user formally known as Darth is a “national treasure,” according to many of his fans. He is the darling of the social media and tech elite. If you regularly use Twitter to follow memes or news, and certainly if you follow any social media or tech types, you have seen his murderously clever, lightning quick work: timely GIFs of President Obama kicking down doors, visual riffs on the social media fails of brands like Barilla and faux movie posters skewering everyone from Anthony Weiner to the “300 Sandwiches” girl.
And yet, when a Buzzfeed round-up of Darth’s best work prompted an outpouring of Twitter love for the mysterious meme-maker yesterday, one of the more common responses was … bewilderment.
This @darth thing is weird, ya’ll. I don’t get it.
— s.rod (@capitolmusings) December 4, 2013
Who is Darth? The short answer, for ye uninitiated, is that he or she is an anonymous master Photoshopper who can churn out memes on a moment’s notice — a sort of conduit of the Internet zeitgeist, if you will. The account dates back to 2007, but didn’t pick up steam until roughly the time of the 2012 elections. Since then, Darth (or “Darthmaspotato,” his current nom de plume) has developed a few great shticks: mashing up movie posters with current events, for instance, and adding Christmas hats to his followers’ photos on request.
Often, Darth’s humor is obtuse. The account descends, at least in part, from a much-debated cranny of the Internet called “weird Twitter,” an eclectic, acquired-taste comedy subculture that delights in the nonsensical, satirical and surreal. Like much of the Internet, it’s one of those things you either get or you don’t. A lot of people, this author included, don’t particularly “get” the appeal of @horse_ebooks or @hell_homer. But Darth is generally more accessible — I mean, everyone gets cats.
— darthmaspotato™ (@darth) December 5, 2013
— darthmaspotato™ (@darth) June 29, 2013
— darthmaspotato™ (@darth) August 24, 2013
— darthmaspotato™ (@darth) November 14, 2013
This kind of fast-twitch meme-ery is, unsurprisingly, popular with social media and tech types, who have flocked to Darth by the thousands. If you scroll through a Twitter list of social media managers from major news organizations, you’ll notice that many of them have that telltale Darth Christmas hat on. There are even a few Washington Post reporters in the mix — Sarah Kliff got a hat and a panda.
This goes a long way toward explaining Darth’s popularity and why, on the occasion of a big Darth milestone like yesterday’s Buzzfeed post, Twitter can seem to paper over with mentions of the mysterious meme-maker. In fact, Darth’s success functions as a pretty decent case study of the diffuse way cultural information and trends seep through Twitter — bestowed less by major media organizations or other traditional authorities, and more by a scattered echelon of “influencers” who together command an audience of hundreds of thousands of followers.
None of this answers the essential question, of course — who IS Darth? At this rate, we may never know. Hints in his early tweets seem to suggest someone involved in tech, potentially tech blogging, in the San Francisco area. Darth’s followers have themselves generated dozens of theories; yesterday, a cabal of them even threatened to dox Darth, or research and expose his real-life identity, in order to end the speculation.
But as many an outraged user pointed out in the wake of that threat, much of Darth’s appeal lies in his or her anonymity. “@Darth is magic, like Santa,” Wired’s Christina Bonnington tweeted — so we’ll have to wait for him to out himself.
In the meantime, Darth, I know you’re busy — but I’d seriously love that Santa hat.