Fall arrives on the Internet when the outside world is still lava hot. Months before the Northern Hemisphere is ready for it, people start posting about the coming onslaught of pumpkins, cold weather and specific hot beverages.
“Pumpkin spice candles soon, pumpkin lattes soon, pumpkin everything,” wrote one Tumblr user. The original post is from early August 2013, and it’s reblogged around the site every year. This year, people started reblogging it in July. It has about 960,000 notes.
Autumn on the Internet is the equivalent of a holy season for many, a celebration of a bunch of things beloved by a wide swath of online communities. Do you like beautiful nature pictures? Fall is there for you. How about recipes? Fall has some of the most popular. Arguing with near-strangers? Here come the online fights about candy corn and pumpkin spice lattes.
Why? For one thing, fall is “the perfect storm of cozy and creepy,” Tumblr’s meme librarian Amanda Brennan told the Intersect in an interview this week. Fall topics — and Halloween in particular — have been trending on the site on and off since August this year.
According to Brennan, fall somehow seems to be the ultimate crossover season for the disparate communities she watches on Tumblr. For most of the year, people tend to really drill down into the communities they’re already a part of: their fandoms, their friends, their identity groups.
That changes during fall. “Fall is when people find blogs that are outside their ecosystem,” she said. The weird unity lasts through Christmas, but come New Year’s, everyone’s pretty much back to doing their own thing.
For those who are really into it, the celebration of fall on the Internet is so ritualized that it’s pretty easy to identify its recurring themes. Here are a few of the more popular:
In 2014, someone tried to fight back against online autumn creep: “Please no Halloween posts just yet. there’s still 2 months left,” wrote Tumblr user emkaymlp that August. Her plea for seasonal sanity went over about as well as you’d expect:
Two years later, the post has nearly 1 million notes, and has become a long, delightfully chaotic mess of skeleton GIFs …
… mixed in with a few feeble protests about it still being August and absolutely not the time for an onslaught of celebrating skeletons.
It’s honestly going to be very difficult for dancing skeleton enthusiasts to top what happened to the meme last year, though, after the Twitter account @skeletontunes started mixing a short clip of a dancing skeleton puppet with a ton of different songs. It’s pretty much perfect:
DANCING: Pumpkin Man
This is the KXVO Dancing Pumpkin Man, who first danced a decade ago on a local news program in Omaha.
The mysterious Dancing Pumpkin Man was so beloved that the station brought him back two more times, one for a Christmas dance, and another for Valentine’s Day (yes, the pumpkin mask stays; it’s his face).
But the Halloween dance has become, in GIF form, one of the most recognizable signs of the approach of fall on the Internet. Every year, he grows in power:
If you’re curious, the identity of the mysterious man is Matt Geiler, who was hired by the station during a short-lived attempt to turn the 10 p.m. newscast into an “edgier,” hipper thing that Kids Today would watch. The Daily Dot has a great piece on why Pumpkin Man happened, and why it rose to the position it has in the pantheon of the Internet’s Halloween GIFs.
Oh, and yes, there’s a Twitter account remixing the Dancing Pumpkin Man with different songs, too:
All Star – Smash Mouth pic.twitter.com/d7WVECoNvd
— pumpkin dancing to (@dancingpmkin) September 3, 2016
Sweaters started trending on Tumblr a few weeks ago, around Sept. 1, Brennan said. It was generally not sweater weather on Sept. 1 this year. Still, the arrival of September was a cue for many to do the virtual equivalent of a Superman quick-change. They stepped into a phone booth wearing a sun dress and flip-flops, emerging seconds later in a knit sweater, cupping a hot beverage in a large, pumpkin-colored mug with both hands.
“These users really want to be in this space,” Brennan said. “Coziness is just a thread here that really sticks out.”
Cute stuff, usually mini pumpkins
Or … this mini face on a normal pumpkin, which really just speaks for itself.
Arguing about fall stuff
Candy corn is a mostly harmless sugar vehicle that is kind of shaped like a giant kernel of corn. And for some reason, it starts a war every Halloween, one that quickly bubbles up into the media:
- Explaining the Logic Behind Candy Corn Hatred
- Candy Corn Is Garbage
- Candy corn: Halloween’s most contentious sweet, explained
- In Defense of Candy Corn
And is one of the mainstays of inane things people endlessly argue about on Twitter. Here is a recent demonstration, from The Washington Post’s own opinion section:
— Adam B. Kushner (@AdamBKushner) September 21, 2016
The other main food opinion of contention in the fall is the pumpkin spice latte. But the argument here is as much about whether the drink is good or bad; a fall staple or a “basic” girl stereotype (personally, I believe it is too sweet; wake up, sheeple), as it is about when the “season” for the drink begins.
Starbucks knows this and has done its best to turn the seasonal availability of the beverage into a hyped-up event. The fact that the company was able to get away with launching a dumb, hokey social media account for the beverage without a mass boycott of the drink should speak to its staying power.
For those keeping track of the early start to fall: This year, the beverage started showing up in stores in late August.