How do you make a meme viral? Just ask the guy who helped launched the first viral meme of 2016.
Yesterday, we shared this now popular photo of New Year’s Eve revelers in Manchester, United Kingdom. British freelance photographer Joel Goodman caught the debauchery just as the New Year turned, shared it with his local newspaper, The Manchester Evening News, and then didn’t expect much else. But a clever Internet aficionado happened upon the picture and mentioned its Renaissance painting-like quality. The Internet agreed and a meme was born.
Roland Hughes, the man who first pointed out the original photo’s artistic qualities, wrote an op-ed for the BBC explaining how he helped launch the world’s newest meme. Here, he describes the five stages of virality.
Hughes first reaction was that his sharing the photo would have little impact…
“The photo was initially buried deep in a gallery posted by the Manchester Evening News,” writes Hughes. “It immediately jumped out — it had so much drama in one place I couldn’t stop staring at it. My starting position whenever I post anything is to assume not many people will read it. But I underestimated a few things — it was New Year’s Day, so people are at home not doing much. There are a lot of art lovers out there. And people really, really like to laugh at other people.”
…but on a slow news day, anything can happen.
“Within minutes the tweet had gained some momentum — in the Netherlands of all places, thanks to a Dutch follower,” he continues. “At some point, the interest moved over the Channel. Soon afterwards, one follower pointed out the photo’s real aesthetic value — the fact that it complied with the so-called golden ratio rule. A meme was born.”
Before long, Hughes was caught up in his new Internet fame… “As soon as the disbelief wore off, abnormal became the new normal,” Hughes writes. “I started getting bombarded by Twitter users pointing out similarities with the paintings of Hogarth, Caravaggio, Gericault and Lowry, as well as the tapestries of Grayson Perry (I now know more about art than I did in school). Some more creative types went as far as adapting the image in the style of Van Gogh, Georges Seurat and Michelangelo — often adding the reclining man with the beer from the original photo.” …but soon realized that he’d forgotten The Golden Rule of meme-sharing: Give credit where credit is due. “My immediate pang of guilt came from the fact I hadn’t credited Joel on the initial tweet, something I tried to quickly rectify,” Hughes writes. “But it made little difference — my initial tweet didn’t say who took it, so he didn’t get all the credit he deserved. From now on, I’ll be crediting the photographer wherever I can. Joel and I have since been in touch — he is thrilled with the attention and it’s been good business for him.”
(In fact, Joel Goodman is now selling prints of the image for anyone who wants a copy of their own.)
And like all things on the Internet, Hughes is ready for the hype to be over.
“I am close to the point of fatigue now,” he writes. “My family were probably at that point at [4:00 pm] on Friday when I was pointing out in which country I was trending at that time. And yet the tweets continue.”
Read Roland Hughes’ insider’s’ look at going viral in its entirety here.
(Image via Twitter.)