For those of you lucky enough not to spend your life on Reddit and Imgur, (unlike me), let’s take a sec to go over what we mean by “Internet memes.” These are photos accompanied by text that Internet users to share jokes, life insights, good news, bad news, and practically anything else you can think of.
You can turn any photo into a meme, but some have become quite popular. Many memes use images from movies and TV shows, like this Star Trek meme people use to express outraged disbelief:
But other memes use photos of real life people, like this Success Kid meme I just made about myself:
Who are the people in these photos? What’s their background? What do they think about their Internet fame? And, most importantly, are they really “like that”?
1. Success Kid
Let’s start with a happy one: Success Kid, a fist-pumping toddler who people use to share their own victories, both big and small.
Success Kid’s real name is Sammy Griner, and he was just 11 months old when his mother Laney Griner took the photo and shared it on Flickr. Whoever then found the photo and used it to make the first Success Kid meme is unknown, but that’s true for pretty much any meme.
Here’s Sammy and Laney today:
Being an Internet celebrity, Sammy still gets recognized in public, but usually prefers not to sign autographs or pose for pictures. In an interview with The New Statesman, Sammy and Laney say they’ve been contacted with several opportunities to make money off Success Kid, but they prefer to do that sparingly. Like in 2015, when Sammy’s dad Justin needed kidney surgery, Sammy took to the Internet to solicit donations and the people of Reddit raised over $100,000. Nice.
2. Overly Attached Girlfriend
Ah, Overly Attached Girlfriend, the convenient straw man (straw woman? straw girlfriend?) that countless teenage guys use to vent their frustrations over perceived female neediness. Fun!
In reality, her name is Laina Morris and she’s anything but an Overly Attached Girlfriend. The story begins in 2012, with Justin Bieber of all people. Justin Bieber had debuted a popular music video called “Boyfriend,” and challenged his fans to makea “Girlfriend.” Morris decided to send up the original by performing in character as a needy girlfriend who stalks her boyfriend on Facebook. Her video went viral, and she continues to run a popular Youtube channel here.
3. Scumbag Steve
Nobody likes a scumbag, and in January 2011 the Internet found a punching bag in Scumbag Steve, a teenager standing in a doorway wearing a fur coat and some kind of Red Sox hat. There’s just something about his getup and his attitude that says “I do terrible things all day long and don’t give them a second thought.”
Once again, the real Scumbag Steve, whose name is Blake Boston, is completely unlike the online persona others have created for him. The photo was taken in 2006, when Boston was a 16-year-old aspiring rapper from Boston, Massachusetts. Boston’s mother needed a model for her photography class, so he agreed to pose. Later, he used the photo for the Myspace page of his rap group, BeanTownMafia. And that was that, until 2011 when someone posted it on Reddit and Scumbag Steve was born.
Boston quickly experienced the downside of Internet fame. As he said in an interview with KnowYourMeme.com, strangers got a hold of his personal information and harassed him, his girlfriend, and his then-unborn son. Apparently some people took the “scumbag” thing way too seriously.
Today, he’s a father pursuing a music career. Check out his Youtube channel.
4. Hipster Barista
For a hack wannabe comedian, there’s no safer target than hipsters. And for a hack meme creator, there’s Hipster Barista, a scarf-wearing, arms-crossed snob who judges you for your enjoyment of pop music and red meat.
If you ever meet Hipster Barista in real life, it’s best not to bring it up. His name is Dustin Mattson, he actually is a barista, and no, he doesn’t find the meme funny. For starters, he’s not a “hipster” with a hipper-than-thou attitude. But also, he doesn’t appreciate his profession being belittled. As he said in an interview with Eater.com, being a good barista takes lots of training and it’s hard work, and the meme completely ignores that.
Here he is today looking much less hipstery:
5. Sheltering Suburban Mom
I promise not all of these are a downer!
Sheltering Suburban Mom represents everything angsty teenagers hate about their parents: she’s overprotective to a ludicrous degree, and she’s a big ol’ hypocrite about her rules.
Unlike the other folks on this list, SSM was famous before she became a meme. Her name’s Carly Phillips, and she’s a best-selling author of the romance novels your horny aunt buys at CVS. The photo used for the SSM meme is actually from one of her book jacket covers.
When Phillips found out she had been made into a meme, her initial reaction was “Horror and fury and hurt,” since she thought people were specifically making fun of her. But after fans of the meme explained it was nothing personal, she let it go, and she continues to kick ass on the romance novel circuit.