What Happens to You When You Become a Meme?

December 4, 2023
David Sunnyside

When an Estee Lauder employee reposted an image of Sesame Street character Mr. Snuffleupagus wearing a polka-dot head wrap on his bed, he probably wasn’t expecting it to turn into a modern morality play. But that’s exactly what happened when the meme exploded online.

Almost immediately, people started using the image to make comments about racism, sexism, and other issues, and Mr. Snuffleupagus quickly became one of the most talked-about figures on social media. The company’s executive, who’d been working for the cosmetics giant since 1991, told CNN that he didn’t intend to cause offence and quickly removed the post. But the damage had already been done.

The incident has highlighted how much harder it is to control what happens to you when you become a meme. Some celebrities and public figures choose to seek out their viral moment, but others find themselves thrust into the limelight by accident – and that can have serious consequences.

Luckily, there are tools available to help people take control of their online reputation, but it’s not always easy. We spoke to people who have found themselves in the spotlight for good — and bad — to see what life is like after you become a meme.

Ten-year-old Sammy Griner is known to the internet as Success Kid – not because he’s arrogant or vain, but because his mum took a picture of him holding a fistful of sand when he was 11 months old. Success Kid now spends a lot of his time travelling to meet fans and is considered something of an internet celebrity, but it hasn’t changed his attitude towards the memes that made him famous.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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