I have a serious question: Did anyone actually think @thefatjewish created original content? Show of hands? Wow, that many. Well, he doesn’t — as far as his Instagram account is concerned — and he most certainly doesn’t deserve merit for recycling content created by more clever people.
The internet is strange; it’s a cesspool where we often feel obliged to do whatever we want. When a riot breaks out in a city, looters trash bodegas to pilfer anything tasty, colorful or appealing. Nobody’s looking. It’s free. Just take it.
In 2011, I started a website called Honest Slogans. I was lucky (sad?) enough to call it a semi-success, and seeing how it spread online was an acerbic lesson in how many people cared very little about where content originated.
The first time I heard about @thefatjewish was when he was credited for one of my Honest Slogans.
Having no context as to who this person was, I found it strange when a friend texted me a screenshot of @drjakedeutsch’s Instagram account: “Regram from @thefatjewish #hilarious”.
When I checked @thefatjewish, the post had no accreditation to my website; that wasn’t very surprising after seeing the rest of his feed. Almost every post was something I had already seen on Reddit. He was recycling online content for views/likes and probably money. That was it. It was painfully obvious (to me, at least) that he wasn’t even trying to pass it off as original content. And yet this guy had a massive following. Having my work ‘featured’ on his Instagram was apparently a milestone in internet popularity. Even my friends were congratulating me like I had won some Internet Award.
I soon learned about @fuckjerry, which seemed to be the Pepsi to @thefatjewish’s Coca-Cola. Actually, that’s too much; Coke and Pepsi are original. Rather, @fuckjerry was the Sam’s Cola to @thefatjewish’s Bubba Cola. Both accounts were essentially doing the same thing: posting funny stuff to millions of Instagram followers that other people came up with. The two would regularly post the exact same posts. Even further, they would repost their own reposts (the @thefatjewish screenshot above, oddly enough, is a repost he did of the Honest Slogans one. I don’t have a screenshot of the original and I think he ended up deleting it). Since I hadn’t seen an Honest Slogan post on @fuckjerry yet — and as it seemed inevitable to happen and would probably be the same one @thefatjewish used — I sent him an email about the proper source, just in case.
Less than two months later the inevitable happened. The only problem: the source was credited to @beigecardigan (I seem to recall an old website/tumblr-or-whatever of this name, so not sure what happened there). After emailing @fuckjerry about the incorrect source, he responded with an apology and amended the post. Unfortunately, the initial surge of exposure to his post was already seen with @beigecardigan as the source. All the same, I was relieved to see his willingness to correct the source at all. When I tried contacting the other account owner about the proper source, I got no response. It became obvious enough that these two accounts were somehow connected. @fuckjerry was leveraging his massive Instagram following to boost @beigecardigan, who in turn was also just posting other people’s work. Credit wasn’t necessarily given where credit was due, rather only when it was convenient for both parties.
Frustration meshed with flattery — humbled that people thought something I made was funny enough to share and yet powerless to something that was steamrolling into a colossal compilation of internet content with incorrect sources, if any at all. I soon realized that people really thought this content was rooted to these mediocre Instagram accounts, each doing what anyone with internet access could do. The grunt work was being done by a slew of other individuals, separate personalities creating a tiny part of themselves into some digital humor that was being cherry-picked by The Select Few to reap unjust praise. Of these, @thefatjewish seemed to reign supreme.
“OMG, he’s so funny!”
“Did you see his post about Kim Kardashian?”
“I heard he’s getting a show on Comedy Central or something.”
The guy might be funny, but I wouldn’t know since I haven’t seen anything he’s actually created. His account is like my childhood bedroom where I would hang posters and other neat stuff I liked. I wanted it to be a reflection of myself and my interests, but none of my friends would be duped into believing I had photographed Bob Dylan and Elton John, or came up with the “Got Milk?” ads that decorated an entire wall (I was weird); that would be ridiculous. Those things existed because of more talented people from various backgrounds, not some kid with wall space.
I remember how tricked I felt when I learned that Jim Carrey didn’t write all the funny stuff he did in movies. This wouldn’t come as a shock at all to any adult, since it takes a large team of people to create a feature length film — even one with a character who talks out of his butt. But his magnetic, cartoonish insanity seemed all his own — which meant he was really good at acting, learning lines, working with a film crew and actually being pretty much insane. But the ignorance was on me; those other people involved were credited for their work. Not that any human would take the time to read the credits at the end of a movie, but they are there: that’s the point.
Enter: The Internet. A thing that is not a physical thing. Instant gratification any time we want: We Never Close. Please Come Again. It is terrifying, yet exciting. Useful, yet distracting. Funny, yet hurtful. A constant, intangible connection to everybody else. When content is shared (an interesting euphemism since so much is greedily used by unoriginal people to post as their own) and “goes viral” as we love to say, it is so weightless and not therethat we don’t seem to mind not knowing where the hell it came from. For those that do care, a simple BuzzFeed, Tosh.O or @thefatjewish will suffice since they’ve become ubiquitous hubs of funny stuff (Reddit differs by encouraging users to post original content [OC] or to source anything posted otherwise. It truly isn’t that difficult to find out who made something on the internet). We like to fit stuff into categories so things such as the breadth of the internet are easier to comprehend. Once @thefatjewish posts something that somebody else created, @thefatjewish becomes the source — unless he’s a) promoting another account for assumed monetary gain, or b) backpedaling to credit his posts given the recent backlash he’s gotten for not sourcing content. That’s usually enough for people, since it fits nicely into Pile #3 and honestly, who even has the time to read deeper into it? and like who even cares? we’re all so crazy busy lol and it doesn’t even matter anyway it’s just a photo on the internet OMG seriously get a life and move on he’s just posting harmless stuff on his instagram for fun it’s no big deal.
Seriously, who does care? I do, for one. Not because I want praise for some website I created on my couch, but because it is my instinct to help fix something when I know it to be wrong. Sure, I’ve posted content I didn’t create on my personal Instagram: screenshots from movies, quotes I like, Chandler from Friends in a bathtub. Most of us have, because most of us aren’t followed by 5.9 million people that view us as some comic mastermind with an incessant supply of material — a stand-up act where the comic never runs out of material. Something created by somebody else is not less important just because it’s digital. Living, breathing, physical human beings are still the reason they exist. It may be easier to not think about this when we’re constantly bombarded with content every second of every day, but just because there’s a lot of it doesn’t mean it is ours for the taking. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. Who cares, right? Just like everything else, this has become another thing on the internet. It’s free. Just take it.