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Going Viral: A Barstool Tale

Going Viral: A Barstool Tale

Image source Barstool Sports Instagram

Recently I helped propel a 63-year-old man to internet fame. Does he have any idea? Nope.

Sunday night I sat reflecting on the end of a record weekend, having returned from my 5-year college reunion. Having so much fun often proportionately makes me that much sadder when it’s over. So alas, I sat looking through my photographs and videos, reliving the 48-hours with my tight-knit group of classmates who I see so often that the word “reunion” bodes little meaning. As I scrolled through my phone, in a simultaneous state of bliss and depression, I stumbled upon a video I took on my Snapchat account of the weekend’s uncontested celebrity – a 63-year-old man we referred to as “Philbe.” There celebrating his 30th class reunion, Philbe partied with us all weekend long, staying up until the wee hours, defying his age and societal expectations. From keg stands, to lawn games, to limbo, wherever we were, there he was. With his energy and enthusiasm, he was an enigma to us all; however everyone, including him, seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

Needless to say, one of my videos from the weekend captured his lively predisposition, very, very, well. In a “having too much fun” type of moment, my friends thought it would be a good idea to lineup a bunch of tables and turn them into a pseudo slip and slide. Smart idea? Probably not. Funny at the time? Yes. After a few rounds of semi-successful gliding across a beer soaked table, Philbe naturally wanted to get in on the action. And I, wanting to capture this moment of cinematic gold, recorded it. After re-watching this moment, (in my weird Sunday night mood mind you) I decided to submit it to the website, Barstool Sports. After a quick email later, I assumed it’d never see the light of day. Boy was I wrong.

A half hour later, the notifications started rolling in. And then the panic. The video was actually posted on the website’s Instagram account, which has a cool 1.1 million followers. It all seemed too easy. The views started to rise and rise – 5,000 to 15,000 to 40,000 to 100,000. With my school tagged and my Instagram handle posted, the lines between celebration and remorse started to blur. What did I do?

Obviously, I knew this video was hilarious, and it was kind of cool I had propelled my school into a fleeting notoriety; however, I started to question what right I had to exploit someone else – especially without their consent. Given my interaction with Philbe this weekend, I’m almost positive 10 out of 10 people who were around him would wholeheartedly agree he’d be immensely proud of this video given his demeanor; nevertheless, I still didn’t feel entirely OK about it.

It made me take a discerning look at our culture, the concept of “internet fame,” and how my career in public relations stands against the “viral” nature of things. With the video currently at 426,000 views and counting, a small U.S. city has now seen a 5-second video I recorded on my iPhone. In this job, we live for these types of impression numbers. We work for months and months, and sometimes years, to score a coveted hit in a publication that is going to garner such high views and likes. However, I was able to do it with little thought, and minimal time. It doesn’t seem right. The truth of the matter is though, that this video was a speck in the short attention span of my peers. A video on their newsfeed that they scrolled through and laughed at – a video they may even forget about entirely in a week.

Brands like Barstool live off of these short clips, that satisfy a transitory shock value to entertain its readers, a superficial type of content value. So while I can rest assured that my video is yesterday’s news, that video will still live on the internet forever. I do want to note, that while my video had a short lifespan, some viral videos achieve astronomical success before floating into relative oblivion. Take Chewbacca lady for instance, she recorded a video in her car about her love for Star Wars, and the next thing you know, she’s made almost $500,000 since her video was posted a few weeks ago. She’s been showered with free gifts and television appearances, all because she was an over-the-top fan with a hilarious Chewbacca impression that people couldn’t help but laugh at. Once again, this video took her no time to film and minimal effort, yet she’s been overwhelmingly rewarded.

Obviously, I could write a much longer essay on the cultural implications for this type of societal incentive system and the effects of the “camera phone society,” but I’ll spare you (for now). Bottom line is, while I’ll definitely check off “going viral” from my bucket list, it allowed me to reflect on myself, my values, and the overall state of culture as we know it – and for that I’m thankful. More importantly, it made me hope I’m still cool enough to be slip and sliding on tables for my 30th. Philbe, we love you, you’re a star (oops).


Posted by Anne.