Ben is joined by producer Quincy Walters to discuss an obscure government agency with a cult following on YouTube bigger even than the Department of Defense and the music mish-mash Instagram account that brought Ben back to the platform after a 3-year hiatus.
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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Ben Brock Johnson: So Quincy.
Quincy Walters: Yes.
Ben: As I understand it, we both have stories this week that are about surprising social media presences. That's all I can, I feel like that's the most general thing I can say.
Quincy: Yes, that's the common thread, I guess, of this Endless Thread episode.
Ben: That's right. And am I accurate in describing your story, not really knowing anything about it? Does that fit under this theme, shall we say?
Quincy: Yes, it fits under under that umbrella to where even the the folks who I talked to ar surprised themselves. So. Yeah.
Ben: Quincy, I'm going to tell you about the account that got me back onto Instagram.
Quincy: Okay. Well, how long were you off of Instagram?
Ben: I've been off of Instagram, I want to say for like maybe three years.
Quincy: Oh, okay. I'm intrigued.
Quincy: So the reason I got off, and I was on Instagram a fair bit and I think it was like, you know, it makes sense that Instagram is owned by META now, because of like my sort of entrance to Instagram was very similar to my entrance to Facebook, which is like, oh, like I have friends here. I will follow my friends on this platform. And as we are all geographically separated, I will understand and know what they're doing and that will give me great joy to watch what they are doing and what's happening in their lives and stay connected. Sort of a normal, maybe slightly old fashioned, but normal social media instinct. Right. And I'll say that like so when I had my kids. Instagram all of a sudden got somehow very sad for me.
Quincy: In what way?
Ben: So I decided not to put my kids on social media. That was a decision I made because I want them to have control over their own data. But what I did, you know, when you when you have kids, you go into this kind of baby bunker sometimes, which is kind of what I felt like I was in. You know, I was really focused. You know, I stopped seeing a lot of my friends is often I stopped traveling as often. And as I was sort of focusing on my young family, I started to find that Instagram was not that fun for me to look at, because what, what kept happening to me is I kept feeling kind of bad about myself because I was watching all of these amazing things that my friends were doing. And I feel like, you know, we've over time, we've kind of learned, obviously, about how Instagram and, you know, visual social media can do this kind of thing or have an impact in this way of...
Ben: Validation and self-worth, those kinds of things.
Quincy: Yeah. And for me, it was like this, like effective, like, oh, my life sucks because look at these beautiful lives. So I got off Instagram. But plot twist of some kind: the way that I stay in contact with a lot of my friends now is through group chats. And one of my group chats is like of all my close friends who I used to follow on Instagram. Right. And one of those friends who I should give credit to, his name is Rory Panagotopulos, he's from Massachusetts. He has been posting in our group chat these Instagram posts from a user named Eggs Tyrone. Does Eggs Tyrone ring a bell to you at all?
Quincy: No, but it does remind me of like Eggs benedict. Or is that... I don't know. I'm not a fan of eggs, but is it? Are there eggs involved and is there a person named Tyrone involved? If not....
Ben: Well. Quincy, you're a smart man, because I think the answer is yes and yes. I actually only discovered this today because I never questioned who Eggs Tyrone was, why he was named Eggs Tyrone. I never questioned any of that because what I immediately saw was Eggs Tyrone's content, which is... I'm going to suggest you pull Eggs Tyrone up on Instagram if you have your phone handy.
Quincy: Okay. I see a lot of like the like it looks like a lot of people dancing in various regions of the planet.
Ben: Yes. So like when you look at the what I would describe as the first one.
Quincy: Okay. It looks like there is some kind of Jewish gathering.
Ben: Yeah. What are you seeing?
Quincy: It looks like a band. I don't. I don't know. Should I play it?
Ben: Yes. So if you look at this video, you might assume I mean, these are I think they're Hasidic Jews, perhaps.
Quincy: And one is in front of a keyboard and the other one is wearing a microphone.
Ben: Yeah, but this is the music.
Quincy: Oh, is it. Is it like hip hop?
Ben: Yeah. So these are, like, super hyped, super hype, and it looks like, you know, banquets. And they to me, it looks like what's actually happening is they're performing music that is traditional, but the music has been swapped out for very energetic rap music, and that's what we're seeing in this first one. So now if you look at the second sort of pinned post there, do you see what that is? Yeah, you should describe it.
Quincy: I am watching this video of this man in a blue shirt and jeans. He's doing like this thing with his feet.
Ben: Middle America.
Quincy: Where he's... it's like a shuffle, kind of. I'm not, you know, "dance-ifically" inclined, but he's moving really, really smoothly.
Ben: And it almost looks like, Western, maybe?
Quincy: Maybe all the men are dressed in the same kind of... and the women in the video or have like very like traditional look dresses.
Ben: But the song is Trick Daddy, I'm a thug. So Eggs Tyrone basically creates these videos in which people are joyfully, happily dancing. But Eggs Tyrone is making them dance, shall we say, to music that was not in the original video.
Ben: In these, like, perfect juxtapositions.
Quincy: On beat and everything.
Ben: On beat and everything that that sort of like, flipped the script on your assumptions about what people would dance to. And what specific kinds of people would dance to what? Does that make sense?
Ben: There's this other one that looks like it's from a country, maybe in the Middle East, maybe Iran. And the music is Boosie Webby, Webby Boosie? I don't actually don't know this artist. And it's called Watch My Shoes.
Ben: But it's these guys who are all sort of dressed up in Semi-formal Wear and they're all dancing together joyfully. But again, too, like a song that like is not the original song or dancing to. And for some reason, I just like, I love this account. And I will I will actually tweet out some examples from my Twitter account.
Ben: I don't know anything about Eggs Tyrone, except what I learned today, which is the origin of Eggs Tyrone is a television show called Workaholics?
Quincy: Yes. It's the comedian Lavelle Crawford.
Ben: I don't know. I don't know this man. But I did discover that he was on the show Workaholics. And he slept over the house of these kind of like, these like, you know, early, young twenties guys in the show who are kind of like, worthless and always getting into trouble. They work in an office and this guy stays over at their house and his name is Tyrone, maybe in real life and in the show. And they wake up after this crazy party and Tyrone is making eggs, and so he's making "Eggs Tyrone."
[CLIP FROM WORKAHOLICS]
Hey, what's up, fellas? Now, I know your bill is ready for some of these Tyrones. It's off the chain, baby.
Ben: So right now, this account has 615,000 followers, I think, at this point, and I really don't know who's behind it. The bio on the account says, Welcome to Gumpville and has a Link Tree where you can buy a T-shirt that says Gumpville.No idea what that is about. But it also links to an organization that supports unhoused kids called Stand Up for Kids, which is cool, obviously. And some playlists of all the Eggs Tyrone songs. No contact info, though. That's it. Eggs Tyrone is a mysterious, hilarious joy-creating Instagrammer. That's all I can really say. And I think that for me, the moral of the story is it's like, you know, no dig on my friends, but like, it's all about who you follow, right? You know, it's it's who you follow, why you follow them, and what they mean to you. And my friend Rory Panagotopulos has taught me that, like, if I just go out and find some users like Eggs Tyrone, I can be on Instagram and be happy. I don't need to be jealous of the lives of others. I can just enjoy some incredibly funny music and dance juxtaposition videos and just enjoy them.
Quincy: Interesting. Wow. That's a that's a very profound sentiment.
Ben: Yeah. Thanks, Quincy. All right, Quincy, I know you got a story for me. We'll come right back to that.
Ben: All right, Quincy, I know you got a story for me.
Quincy: So, Ben, when I say the United States Chemical Safety Board, what comes to mind? Do you know what it is?
Ben: What comes to mind for me is my sixth grade DARE class. And things like "just say no," don't do drugs.
Quincy: It's not that. It's it's a federal agency that. Well, I think I'll just let somebody who works there explain it.
Shauna Lawhorne: We're an independent, non-regulatory federal agency that investigates root causes of major chemical incidents. And our mission is to drive chemical safety change, to protect people and the environment.
Quincy:I spoke to Shawna Lawhorne.
Shauna: And I write, produce and edit our safety videos.
Quincy: Essentially, these videos look at catastrophic events. Shauna calls them "low-frequency, high-impact events. So think explosions, think the the Deepwater Horizon spill. So they will take these events, these, you know, catastrophic events, and they work with investigators in the department. This is a very, very small government agency.
Shawna: At any one time between like 30 and 40 employees and our budget is $13 million. So we're considered a micro agency of the federal government. We're tiny.
Ben: Small, but important, it sounds like.
Quincy: Exactly. And so starting in 2015, though, they noticed a sort of them garnering a cult following to their YouTube channel. And their YouTube channel has over 200-something thousand subscribers. When Shauna got on board, I think she said they had maybe about 100, but they have more subscribers than the Department of Defense, which I don't know what that is saying, I don't know how popular they are and they have more than...
Ben: They certainly have enough funding to to get some marketing, the Department of Defense.
Quincy: That's true. That's for sure. That's true. And and they have more more subscribers on YouTube than the Department of Education.
Shauna: Homeland Security doesn't have that many subscribers. You know, Commerce, Education. We're this tiny agency that's making this huge impact now. NASA, we're coming for you. But we're really far from there.
Quincy: So I came across them probably years ago because, as you know, and maybe listeners might remember that sort of my YouTube algorithm kind of curates things of, you know, where things go wrong, accidents. And so I've seen these videos, but you ever, you know, consume media online, but you don't know, I guess the source? I guess this is kind of like, you know, your story with Eggs Tyrone where you kind of consume the content but, you know, don't think about where it comes from. And so the other day I was on Reddit because Reddit... I'm not subscribed to it. But the subreddit Catastrophic Failure often gives me alerts on my phone. And I guess a few days ago there was an explosion at a factory or plant in a place called Medford, Oklahoma.
[News Anchor: ... in Medford shortly after flames sparked.
Reporter: That's right, Andrea. We still do not know what caused this fire, but we do know it has been burning since about two this afternoon. There are currently no injuries at this time and there still are crews out on scene containing the fire.]
Quincy: Video of of the smoke was on Reddit and and somebody said "I look forward to seeing the CSB video of of this" and someone commented the question I had, which was what is CSB? And so, you know, I went to the YouTube page and realized that I have been here before. And so it kind of does animations of catastrophic events. And it's been sort of like, you know, contentious within this very small government entity, whether or not to include sound effects or whether that was sensational, sensationalizing it.
Shauna: And at the end of the day, I mean, these arguments were a long time ago, but at the end of the day, we realized if there's anything we can do to pull people in, to make them realize that those animated figures that you're seeing on the screen are real people, that we're making decisions on probably the most stressful day of their lives.
Quincy: But they came to the conclusion that they've found this formula of, you know, what works that will garner attention to their videos. And and the folks who make these videos like Shawna didn't realize it was popular on the Internet until, you know, somebody I think an investigator told her, hey, you know, you got a shout out or, you know, the team got a shout out on on Reddit.
Ben: It's like the PSA company blowing up.
Quincy: Exactly. And she said that, you know, she they found out recently that M.I.T. uses their safety videos.
Ben: What's the most popular one?
Quincy: The most popular one? Should I send it to you? It's an animation from 2015. So this is like this is the video that sort of like launched them in popularity of an Exxon Mobil refinery in California.
[Clip audio: The heavy liquid hydrocarbons are converted into lighter hydrocarbon vapors as they travel up the reactor.]
Ben: And all of a sudden you can see inside some of the tanks at this oil refinery. Wow. And you can like see what's happening inside the plant. Wow. This is very professional. Their titles are, like, both funny, but also, like, kind of like, eye catching. Yeah, like one is one is "Incompatible Chemicals: Explosion at AB Specialty Silicones" or something like that. And the other one is it just this says "Simultaneous Tragedy Fire at Evergreen Packaging."
Quincy: I would I would click on that.
Ben: What about what about this one, Quincy? Silent Killer: Hydrogen Sulfide Releases in Odessa, Texas.
Quincy: I actually might have watched that one. But there's also sort of a balance to strike where you want to have people watch the videos, but also, you know, having sort of respect for for the people who were involved in the incident that the video is about. Um, but, but, yeah, it's, it's, it's very the sort of little engine that could.
Ben: All right, I like it. All right, well, I feel like Quincy, this has inspired me. At the very least, to rethink and, you know, repopulate my follows on social media.
Quincy: Yeah. You got Eggs Tyrone and the Chemical Safety Board.
Ben: It's a start. It's a start.
Quincy: It is. It is. Not only will, you know, you feel good with Eggs Tyrone, but, you know, maybe you'll be even more vigilant in your workplace. Even if you work from home. But still there, there hazards there, too.
Ben: So if I start refining any oil.
Ben: Our podcasting refinery, which almost never has explosions, for today's episode was myself, Quincy Walters, Kristin Torres, and it was sound designed by Paul. Vaitkus. Our podcasts also includes Amory Sivertson, Grace Tatter, Dean Russell, Nora Saks, Emily Jankowski, Megan Cattel and Matt Reed. We'll be back with a full episode next week. Stay cool forever, especially right now.