CAMBRIDGE, Mass — Not everyone knows of ROFLCon, but if you had known, you would’ve been there this past weekend.
You would’ve gotten the chance to meet your favorite Internet celebrities, to hear the powers-that-be at websites like YouTube and Reddit speak, to ask questions during panels about the Internet’s relationship to fame or power or identity or ethics, to spend 48 hours in the company of proudly self-proclaimed nerds.
But maybe that’s not your ideal weekend.
No matter — because the lessons I came away with from this year’s ROFLCon provide a little quality advice for everyone.
Note: The memes below are linked to detailed Know Your Meme explanations, some of which include really fun and informative video tutorials. I highly recommend you check them out.
Lesson #1: Give up fear.
You may not recognize Paul Vasquez’s face because you don’t ever see it in the video (now with over 33 million YouTube views) which made him famous. Experience the Double Rainbow magic:
During our walk down to the Charles River, Vasquez told me about the time when, as a cage fighter, he was pitted against a giant — a man who stood six feet, eight inches tall and weighed 425 pounds. But that didn’t stop Vasquez:
“When you face your fears,” Vasquez concluded, “you find it’s not that big of a deal.”
Lesson #2: If you can’t give up fear, embrace it.
Sammy Griner is a so cute you just want to pinch his five-year-old cheeks. He’s the grown version of Success Kid, which is an Internet meme that grew out of a photo his mother took of him when he was a toddler.
Sammy told me about his favorite dinosaurs and movies, and what surprised me is that he really likes scary stuff. And I mean really.
Here’s Sammy describing werewolves:
And now zombies:
From Sammy, I learned that fear doesn’t need to be paralyzing. Granted, werewolves and zombies (and killer clowns, which Sammy’s mom says he loves to draw) are different from existential life crises, but the underlying concept is the same: That which scares you most can also be a source of unexpected delight.
Lesson #3: Plant seeds for yourself and be patient.
It took two decades before Charlie Schmidt’s Keyboard Cat went from creation to YouTube sensation.
Look at those paws go:
When I asked Schmidt if he remembered what he was thinking the day he made the video, it was like he got transported back in time:
“You can be planting good seeds anytime,” Schmidt reassured me. “Just because you don’t, when and where they’ll come up doesn’t mean they won’t.”
Lesson #4: If you care about it, make sure it lives on.
Is that Chuck Norris? NOPE! It’s Chuck Testa.
You probably didn’t laugh at that last sentence if you weren’t already familiar with the commercial that put this small town taxidermist on the map:
During our chat at ROFLCon’s kickoff party, Testa showed me his cell phone — his first cell phone ever. He’d gotten it just for his trip to the conference. He admitted that he wasn’t “electronically apt,” but he was eager to learn more, especially with social media.
While having fun with his new Internet celebrity, Testa had bigger plans for how technology could help taxidermy — which he’s been practicing for 30 years — continue to stay alive:
“We have to pass it down,” he emphasized.
Lesson #5: People will judge, but you just gotta keep going.
Antoine Dodson went from a spot on the local news to Internet stardom, thanks to The Bed Intruder Song by The Gregory Brothers:
But with rising celebrity came some community backlash:
Dodson’s story reminded me of Andy Carvin piece, ‘Bed Intruder’ Meme: A Perfect Storm of Race, Music, Comedy And Celebrity, from 2010 when Dodson first appeared on the scene. When it comes to group identity and portrayal in the media, things can get highly politicized — a storm indeed.
But Dodson spoke confidently about the support of his inner circle:
And so the final lesson is one of strength. Whatever criticism you may face, may you always have your loved ones by your side and the resolve to, as Dodson said, “brush your shoulders off and keep it moving.”More: