Hipsters, Tempura Burgers, and Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves
The allure of crowd-sourced, single-topic blogs.
"Look at this fucking hipster" was a universally recognized gibe before it became a Web site. Anyone who's ever taken a stroll with a friend down Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn or accidentally veered into San Francisco's Mission District on a Saturday afternoon has had occasion to whisper these words. Look at this fucking hipster with the 1985 New England Patriots Super Bowl T-shirt and forearm tattoo of Ralph Nader. Look at that fucking hipster with the butterfly-collar paisley shirt, the sweater vest adorned with what looks like the face of Tony the Tiger, and those tie-dyed shoelaces borrowed from Zack Morris. It was no surprise, then, that when a site collecting pictures of hipsters—appended with snarky comments about their get-ups—hit the Web in April, it went viral faster than H1N1. Though Look at This Fucking Hipster's mastermind, comedian Joe Mande, initially pooh-poohed the idea of turning the site into a book, he relented last month and signed a deal with St. Martin's Press.
Inspired by Mande's success, I just started a site called Look at This Fucking Tumblr. It's still under construction, but I hope to make it the Web's definitive gallery of screenshots of LATFH and its brethren. LATFH is among the best of a new and wildly popular genre of crowd-sourced collections of pictures that aim to capture (and usually mock) some narrow slice of life. In addition to LATFH, there's This Is Why You're Fat, a visual chronicle of such epicurean abundances as the tempura burger, spam fries, and something called a churro relleno. Or check out Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves, pictures of dogs and cats deliberately posed adorably in ways that make you want to alert the Humane Society (e.g., a poodle taking a spin in a washing machine, a puppy wearing a fireman's outfit, a kitten in a Christmas stocking).
And those are just the sites with book deals. Every week, two or three new such single-themed pages seem to break into the Web's consciousness. When I put out a call for such sites on Twitter, I got back a list of more than 30, including It's Lovely! I'll Take It! (ugly photos from real estate listings), Awkward Family Photos, Owl Tattoos, Sad Guys on Trading Floors, Cake Wrecks (snaps of misguided cakes, like these hysterectomy-celebrating, uterus-shaped ones), and Asleep on the Subway ("Because seeing people fall asleep on the subway is a universal language.").
Most, but not all, of these sites were created with Tumblr, a dead-simple two-year-old blogging tool that has swung open the publishing industry for anyone with a gift for snark and lots of extra hours to kill. The term tumblelog—a blog that points to cool stuff elsewhere online—actually preceded the invention of Tumblr, but the software offers a few features that make creating such pages supereasy. Tumblr includes several stylish themes that obviate the need for designing anything yourself, and it comes prepackaged with templates for different kinds of posts—it makes your photos look different from your videos, which in turn look different from quotes you pull from other sites, etc. In other words, Tumblr lets you create a great-looking blog in two minutes flat. (As a result, it has also become one of the Web's leading outposts of porn; naturally, there is an NSFW variant of Look at This Fucking Hipster called Look at This Hipster Fucking.)
Though the taxonomy of tumblelogs is fluid, the sites I'm talking about have several defining characteristics. One important distinction is that they're composed mainly of stuff submitted by the audience—though pages like Stuff White People Like and Fuck You, Penguin are hilarious, I wouldn't add them to Look at This Fucking Tumblr, because they're largely the work of lone geniuses. What I'm looking for is more in the mold of Disgusting People I Have Made Out With or I Bang the Worst Dudes, which ask readers to send in pictures and accounts of unwise romantic decisions. (When readers fail to supply pictures, I Bang the Worst Dudes uses a box of Summer's Eve Douche for a stand-in.)
Reader input is key because it both speeds up production—Fuck You, Penguin has a new post every few days, while IBTWD puts up several items a day—and gives the sites a frisson of vérité. Indeed, many of these blogs feel like the Web analogues of reality-TV shows—their humor comes from your amazement that there are actually real people in the world who will, say, wear a too-tight clown-face sweater or who, when taking a cheesy picture at the Taj Mahal, would forget to smile (as seen on Happiest People Ever). Some of the best single-themed blogs are constructed entirely out of life online: The Yahoo Answers tumblelog features screenshots from ridiculous questions and answers posed on the online advice guide ("Q: What is a person from London called? A: My neighbor is from London and he is called Rob"), while STFU, Marrieds; STFU, Parents; and Lamebook take annoying stuff people say on Facebook as their source.
There is a subgenre of single-themed tumblelogs that aim for hagiography—they want to celebrate rather than tear down the subject at hand. These often go by the prefix "Fuck Yeah"—as in, among others, Fuck Yeah Rachel Maddow, Fuck Yeah Leonard Nimoy, Fuck Yeah Conan O'Brien, Fuck Yeah Skinny Bitch, Fuck Yeah Puppies, and Fuck Yeah Cilantro. But none of these—which are just collections of pictures of the titular subject—are much fun, and in general the best tumblelogs are also the meanest. That's why, among the Fuck Yeah blogs, Fuck Yeah Ryan Gosling and Fuck Yeah Anne Hathaway, which superimpose bizarre captions on pictures of their stars, are the most irresistible.
Given Tumblr's simplicity, it's reasonable to expect these blogs will continue to proliferate. In many ways these are just more-precise versions of earlier memes that hit it big online—LATFH, for instance, is really just a kind of fashion version of Fail Blog, while Fuck Yeah Sharks, is just Lolcats by the sea. All of which is to say: Hey, publishing industry, my Tumblr tumblelog is gonna be hot. Call me!
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.
In 2002, Kurt Andersen and Andrew Sullivan wanted to know if weblogs were changing our culture. In 2006, Jack Shafer wanted to know who all these bloggers were anyway. That same year, Daniel Gross proclaimed the death of blogs as a business. But just in case you're still trying: Farhad Manjoo rounded up blogging advice from the Web's best pundits in 2008.