One of the weirder things that can happen to someone is to become the basis of a meme. A photograph of that person is taken out of context, remade and repurposed into something else, and a novel’s worth of captions rewrite who that person is, and what he or she is like.
Sometimes, memes are built on stock photos, using models who have agreed to let their images be used in ways they might not like. But many others come from regular non-models, from photographs of adults and children that have been offered up – almost universally by someone else – for lulz.
Vanity Fair did a deep dive this week into one of those memes – the Ermahgerd Goosebumps girl, whose real name is Maggie Goldenberger, and whose story isn’t quite what you assumed.
Below, we’ve compiled the deepest dives into the some of the lives of people who have been through something similar.
Who: Ermahgerd girl
As in: ERMAHGERD GERSBERMS MAH FRAVRIT BERKS
Excuse me?: Okay fine: “Oh my God, Goosebumps my favorite books”
Really who, though: Maggie Goldenberger
Why: A random Redditor found the photo online, thought it was funny, and put it on the site.
What you need to read: Ermahgerddon: The Untold Story of the Ermahgerd Girl in Vanity Fair, October 2015.
“For her part, Goldenberger never felt unduly embarrassed about her sudden and unexpected celebrity. If the photo had been an authentic depiction of an authentic moment—an actual artifact from her awkward tween years—she may have felt different. To her, though, it was clearly fiction: just a picture of a kooky made-up character.
Speaking to Goldenberger now, it seems clear that she always felt that the Internet was laughing with her at the obviously ridiculous character she was playing—not at her.”
Who: Bad Luck Brian
As in: “Takes Driving Test; Gets First DUI” and every other sort of unfortunate stroke of luck that Alanis Morrisette might call ironic (but really isn’t).
Really who, though: Kyle Craven
Why: One of Craven’s friends uploaded his (intentionally) hilarious school photo to Reddit.
What you need to read: “Being Bad Luck Brian: When the meme that made you famous starts to fade away” in (ahem ahem) THE WASHINGTON POST. January, 2015.
“Today, he looks different from those school photos. His hair is shorter, and he has long since been rid of braces. The most recognizable and entertaining aspect of the meme — the goofy smirk on Bad Luck Brian’s face — isn’t how Kyle normally smiles. That’s why it doesn’t bother him that all of the Internet is making fun of his face. The awkwardness of the photo was intentional. Without contorting his jawline and his eyes, he’s just Kyle. He rarely gets recognized by strangers.”
Who: Overly Attached Girlfriend
As in: “I read something interesting today… your emails.”
Really who, though: Laina Morris
Why: Morris made a viral Justin Beiber parody video, where she was intentionally creepy.
What you need to
read listen to: Nerdist Podcast: Laina Morris. [Warning: there are lots of swears in this podcast]. December, 2013.
A lot of short articles have been written about Laina, who has embraced her meme-ness and tried to leverage it into a career as a YouTube vlogger. This Nerdist podcast appears to be the most in-depth conversation with Morris over how this all happened, with a bonus section where Chris Hardwick gives Morris advice on entering into stand up comedy.
(PS: I’m sorry that I abandoned the “reading” premise two items into this article but please, you can handle this, we will get through it together. If you really want an article about her, here is one.)
Who: Scumbag Steve
As in: Ugh
Really who, though: Blake Boston
Why: His mom took this photo of him, he put it on MySpace.
What you need to read: KnowYourMeme interviewed Boston four years ago, where he revealed that he was going to night school and working all day in order to better himself and care for his infant son.
“Oh the specific picture that’s really the original meme was taken when I was 16 looking into at my mom cuz she was torturing me for photos. Was I wrecked at the time? I don’t remember, but I sure as s*** thought I was a balla. Man, that coat was given to me in a swap for some s***. And yeah, I’m still in touch with the photographer. Hahahaha…and she’s coolin’ it on the pics now.”
Who: Alex from Target
As in: A Target cashier who looks like he belongs in One Direction.
Really who, though: Alex Lee
Why: The origins of the meme are kind of random. However, Alex from Target grew into an even bigger thing when the origins of the photo were questioned. Was he a marketing scheme!?! A hoax?!?! No. It turns out he is Alex from Target.
What you need to read: “Alex from Target: The Other Side of Fame” in the New York Times. November, 2014.
“While Alex is clearly enjoying some of the attention, he and his family have also had to deal with more serious consequences of web fame. A craftymarketing firm, Breakr, tried to take credit for Alex’s rise. (Everyone the company claims it worked with, including Alex’s family and @auscalum, has denied ever hearing of Breakr. In a report, BuzzFeed said that the company’s claims simply don’t add up.)
Thousands have taken to social media to call Alex names (including vulgarities) or fabricate stories about him being fired. Twitter is littered with posts that denigrate his looks (e.g., “Alex from Target is so damn ugly”) or spew envy at him (“Alex from Target is a nobody who doesn’t deserve fame”).”
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