Culture | October 15th, 2018

Spontaneity Makes FAMU Students Go Viral

By: Kwame Manu
Spontaneity Makes FAMU Students Go Viral

In the current Information Age, initiating a widespread conversation is easier than ever. With access to the internet, anyone with basic computer savvy can create his or her own platform. A single idea has the potential to manifest into tomorrow’s worldwide trend or hot-button issue. Many people use the web to stay updated, whether to stay on point to the White House administration’s sardonic antics or to seek out the newest Brother Nature video.

Florida A&M University students have always utilized social media to append and stay in contact with each other. However, there are some on The Hill who have inadvertently altered the internet from viral sensations. Their quick-fire ideas resonated with people globally and either sparked discussion, a haul of laughter or both. One tweet, one picture, one moment can manifest itself into adding to a culture.

Early this September, a still frame of the character Rolf from the cartoon “Ed, Edd & Eddy” was edited to resemble a perturbed black male peering into the distance. After being uploaded on Twitter, the image conjured a viral storm and has since been captioned and reposted by thousands of users to craft their own memes. Countless spinoffs were spawned, featuring photoshops of the already-edited picture to tailored memes involving cultural references or relatable predicaments.

“Next thing I know it’s got braids, bonnets, durags— somebody made one in Arabic,” said Elijah Rutland, a sophomore graphic design student.

Rutland thought his “Black Rolf” idea would provide a good laugh between him and his other artistic friends. As a lifelong artist, he has been perfecting his craft and utilizing different mediums to express his creativity. Unbeknown to him, his on-the-fly idea would generate a ripple effect felt worldwide.

Rutland’s work —which holds his e-signature— gained him thousands of followers on his social media accounts and was popular enough for BuzzFeed to reach out for an interview. For FAMU’s Spirit Week, the SGA paid homage to him by hailing that Monday as “Meme Day,” as well as using his creation in its flyer. He has even been offered work as an illustrator for a children’s book.

With the still-updating “Black Rolf” avatars, animation and adaptations, Rutland’s idea has been appropriated and evolved to an unseen level.

“I wanted him to be me,” Rutland said.

Other black people on Twitter and Instagram shared similar feelings and adopted his artwork as a template to make others laugh and connect online.

Twitter is a place where one can speak his or her mind and bring awareness to an issue. Nathan Vinson aka GreatIsNate, recalls when a student made a Twitter thread informing her followers that FAMU received $0 for the 2018-19 year determined by the Florida Board of Governors. It circulated onto hundreds of timelines and was able to break past informing only the FAMU student body. 

“It brings people to the conversation, whatever it may be,” Vinson said. “It gives people awareness of issues we’re facing.”

Vinson is a senior broadcast journalism student and music director for WANM 90.5. Students around campus recognize him from his Friday radio show or active Twitter page where he regularly posts about music, fashion and FAMU. There he runs an account that regularly receives attention from his tweets which attract over tens of thousands of retweets and favorites. Being so involved in music, it makes sense that most of his viral tweets involve hip-hop and R&B. Without FAMU Twitter, he says none of his tweets would have gotten as popular as they have.

He believes his raw honesty is what gets him the attention. Vinson says he tweets his feelings about a situation and brings facts about the topic to fortify his stance. Going viral isn’t something he strives for.

“Truth be told, my viral tweets come often,” he admitted. “I know I’ll have another viral tweet, like I had one yesterday. I don’t really think about these things.”

Nathan stands as one of FAMU’s most vocal and publicized commentators and doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon.

The majority of the most popular memes are spawned from brevity; a lightning-rod moment that can’t be recreated. FAMU socialite and rapper Justin Montgomery, aka J-Bird, is a result of such an instance. His face became common to see not only on campus, but on Twitter and Instagram when he was photographed laying down on a stained apartment floor, smiling, with a Glock pistol in his hand.

“I woke up with it,” he recalled. “It was in my hand.”

Knowing J-Bird, FAMU students and Tallahassee locals circulated the picture online enough to where even veteran Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg was making memes of him. People then spawned more pictures of J-Bird, making him a living, breathing meme. Since the incident he picked up a rap career and has managed thousands of listens on his Soundcloud account.

“I feel good seeing myself blowing up,” J-Bird said. The whole situation initially perplexed him, but he has easily adjusted to his new level of notoriety. He can still be seen on campus communing with students and asking for hugs.

The catalyst of their viral storms have roots in spontaneity. These three individuals used the skills they are known for and generated culture-defining moments from them. It also shows how supportive and close-knit the FAMU family is. The connections a Rattler makes to other students, alumni, faculty and staff make have to power to elevate an individual to a spotlight of a higher magnitude. The realm of social media FAMU inhabits propelled them, which resulted in the rest of the internet sweeping them away.