I have a hard time following through on things — there are half-written short stories and a bullshit batch of standup jokes hidden in crevices of my computer, and even before I started this column I’ve amassed a ton of joke Tumblrs and Twitter accounts that I got bored of within a day.
Strangely, there’s one year-long project that I’ve become obsessed with. It might sound stupid to you, and that’s because it is absolutely, 100 percent, unspeakably stupid. Regardless, every day since January 1, 2013, I’ve changed my Facebook cover photo to include an inspirational message along with a serene image.
There are tons of sites dedicated to these sage jpegs, and my favourite is called Cover99.com. It’s the best because it allows users to upload cover photos with no editor or moderator to filter out the garbage. That’s how I’ve found typo classics like “Shit Happiness” and “YOLV” (below). They’re completely nonsensical, but close enough to reality that they still pass for something meaningful.Cover99.com
If you really think about it, Cover99.com is just a microcosm of social media. Everyone wants to communicate something profound in an effort to brighten your day, but they can’t come up with it themselves so they communicate it with someone else’s compressed pixels.
That’s why your yoga instructor posted that Marilyn Monroe quote about how you’re not ugly, society is. That’s why your uncle emailed you that crudely arranged collage comparing the Beatles to Nickelback and bemoaning the way things used to be. That’s why, when Osama bin Laden was killed, a fake Martin Luther King Jr. quote went viral.
People express themselves through other people’s quickly assembled text-covered images, and they particularly love intelligent sounding quotes. Think of Chicken Soup for the Soul pushed through Instagram filters and eventually regurgitated as a Tumblr meme. They’re about as profound as the half-baked proverbs Rev Run tweets from his bathtub each night.
I’m not sure why I’m so attracted to heartfelt inspirational quotes slapped onto shitty Photoshop jobs, but I’m reaching the halfway point of the year and haven’t stopped with my daily devotions at Cover99.com. Then I started to wonder what kind of reaction I could get if I took some of the world’s favourite musicians and made some quotes of my own.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from previous experiments, it’s that I need to be careful. Hell, One Direction fans are some of the smartest and most resourceful little jerks on the Internet, and they saw through my Let Larry Live scheme very quickly. None of the Gotye fan sites even bothered to address the Gotye! Prank Show, and Mumford fans were presumably chewing on pieces of straw and discussing On the Road so they didn’t bother to address my trolling.
My point is that it’s a fine line to tread between being too obvious and not even making a mark. With that in mind, I started off my troll job gently. It was as simple as opening two tabs: one with Google Image Search and another with Brainyquotes.com. Drop a press photo of an artist into Photoshop, use some of the filters no one should ever use (‘sup Crosshatch) and overlay a rando quote. Easy!
I registered the account inspirationalmusicians on Instagram (which meant I also had to get email@example.com) and fuckyeahinspirationalmusicians.tumblr.com. Then, once I had my initial 10 pitcures set up, I started dropping them in each of the platforms.
Here’s the classic photo of Lil Wayne blowing smoke, edited with some heavy-handed Photoshop bullshit. The quote has a nice #YOLO ring to it, but it’s actually from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It got a ton of likes on Instagram almost instantly, and only one note on Tumblr.
This shot of Taylor Swift was blurred out just enough to add some major weight to what she’s saying. Which is actually an Ian MacKaye quote. Pretty small response on both platforms, but funny to me so who cares.
There are tons of Adele jpegs floating around about how she’d rather spend her life eating donuts and drinking than be a size zero or whatever, so I knew she had to be involved in that regard. I butchered the Marilyn Monroe quote and it got a healthy response on both platforms. I’m disappointed in myself for this one because it actually looks kinda good. The writing isn’t garish enough, and I shouldn’t have spelled “you’re” properly.
I have no clue what I did to this photo of Pink, but it looks absolutely disgusting. She looks like a really bad mural. And those colours, my goodness. Disgusting. No one cared about this one on Tumblr, but it was my most successful Instagram picture by far. Which is incredible to me, because the words are clearly taken from an enormous hit from Pink’s contemporary, Kelly Clarkson.
More absolutely terrible effects on this Beyonce shot. At this point I was just clicked on filters at random until it looked meaningful. Quote look familiar? It’s taken from The Lion King, a fact that one Tumblr user pointed out with a gif. That didn’t stop many others from reblogging it, however, and it did well on Instagram too.
I wanted to appeal to the “real rock ‘n’ roll” types out there as well, so I got good ol’ real rock ‘n’ roller Jack White involved with the action. His quote, which is so wonderfully about hipsters, is actually attributed to Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger on Brainyquotes.com. Of the many people who reblogged it, one user added “This is why I love him, everyone have your own style.” Do you think Jack White has ever actually called another human being a hipster before?
This absolutely wretched Justin Bieber image has misspelled lyrics from One Direction’s biggest American hit, and not a single person called me out for it on Tumblr. In fact, as soon as I posted it two people reblogged it, and it got a great response on Instagram.
I knew it was time to revisit the wonderful One Direction fandom, so I cobbled together some pictures of Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson. I wasn’t sure how good they’d be with calling out fake quotes so I wanted to play it safe. With that in mind, I grabbed three quotes from the Fred Durst section on Brainyquotes.com and put them over the images. Overwhelmingly positive response, especially for the Harry image.
I concluded my first batch with this image of Joe Jonas looking all hunky as he squints in the sun. The generally offensive quote, which reeks of old-world gender bias, is actually taken from Mel Gibson’s eye-rolling Brainyquotes section. Not a huge response on Tumblr, but a decent batch of Instagram likes and a girl who commented “I like :P”
Stepping back for a moment, I realized that I could basically get as ridiculous as I wanted with these and no one would call me out for the inaccurate quotes. After all, I literally posted a picture of Justin Bieber with One Direction lyrics and people responded in a positive way. I tried to get more obvious and broad with my quotes.
This picture of Harry Styles has so much going wrong with it. The horribly transcribed quote originally came from Kurt Cobain, and has a lower case “i’m” at the end that already makes me cringe. It’s a pretty straightforward quote that he could have believably said, however, so I wanted to make it a bit worse. With that in mind, I credited it to “Hary Stylles,” spelling both of his names wrong. While I did get a “WHO THE FUCK WROTE HIS NAME” comment on Tumblr, it’s still the most popular image I posted, with approximately 50 notes within mere hours of it hitting the web. Half a hundred people thought this was worth sharing even though Harry’s name is spelled wrong.
I thought it’d be funny to use the iconic Jerry Maguire line “You had me at hello,” so I posted it over a picture of Demi Lovato that I had made look all murky and weird in Photoshop. No one really cared on Instagram or Tumblr. I later tried it again with an equally terrible image of Zayn Malik, and still basically nothing. But I still stand by it.
I also thought I might get under some people’s skin if I attributed something biblical to a celebrity, so I posted an actual bible verse atop a picture of Avril Lavigne where she’s also wearing a necklace that says “DrinkMe.” I even spelled her last name wrong. Again, basically no one cared.
At the end of the day, the only thing people care about in this world is Harry Styles, so I started making tons more with him. The next one was a pic where he was looking off into the distance, and I simply overlayed the phrase “Never say never.” I also spelled his name “Hary Styles.” It didn’t get the reaction I wanted, but it was also incredibly stupid and the fact that a small handful of people still liked it still blows my mind to this day.
I was deep into a Harry zone, so I kept going with his adorable stare. Next up, I fixed my previous error and bastardized the supposed Marilyn Monroe quote some more, writing “your not ugly society is.” So now we had a misspelled version of a famous (and probably fake) Marilyn Monroe quote that had already been attributed to Adele elsewhere on the same Instagram and Tumblr feeds. Aside from one “I’m sorry but YOU’RE*” (that classic One Direction fandom politeness), not a single negative interaction. One user also wrote “somewhere a girl called society is weeping bc harry styles called her ugly.”
You can basically put anything on an image of Harry Styles and people will be into it. Don’t believe me? I put the lyrics from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on a pic of him lookin’ all adorable, and everyone ate that shit up. Sure, one guy said “Umm Eminem said this!!! Lose yourself!” But that didn’t stop users with names like larry-fuck-eachother and zaynhasswag16 from spreading it all over their Tumblrs. The question was “If you had one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it?” And a nice young girl on Instagram wrote “Yes I would.” I just looked at her page and she regrammed a couple of my inspirational Harry Styles shots, and didn’t even give me credit! Fucking jerk.
I tried a few other Harry ones, but neither of them worked. There’s the Bob Marley quote, “One thing about music when it hits you feel no pain!” and an attempt to credit him with saying “started from the bottom” first in 2012. No one noticed it on Tumblr.
Sure, they both got a lot of love on Instagram. But if you use the right tags you can get likes of anything on Instagram. To prove that, I took a picture of my blank wall and tagged it with a bunch of hot hashtags that I found on some weird site that helps you get more likes.
#harrystyles #society #onedirection #1d #inspo #inspirational #beautiful #quote #yolo #love #instagood #swag #thick #inspirational #photooftheday #igers #like #vsocam #teamfollowback #funny #hot #instafreak #cool #nice #instamood #beautiful #gramfeed #amazing #party #igquotes #follow4follow
Now my phone won’t stop lighting up with notifications of people liking my photo. My photo of a blank, bare wall.
It was a sobering place to be. It wasn’t just that people weren’t getting mad — they were pretending I didn’t exist. I put all my effort into one last picture, straight up plagiarizing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” on an image of Harry Styles. In my place of desperation, I added an “aslongasyouloveme” hashtag, hoping that some eager Belieber would find it and get mad.
And they did! A wonderful Belieber found the image, then her and her friends started looking through my old work and finding the ridiculous inconsistencies. Speaking in Spanish, they had a good laugh at my pictures. I don’t really know what they said, but there was a lot of “AHAHAJAHAJAJAJA” going on along with phrases like “ESTÚPIDOS” and “doble WTF!!!!” and “denuncie por fraude” and “igborante” (which I assume meant “ignorante” which means, you guessed it, ignorant).
In my books, at the end of the day, some Spanish tweens making fun of me means a job well done. Plus, I’ve now got two social media outlets to utilize if I ever feel like attributing more quotes to the wrong people. Maybe society’s not so ugly after all.
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in Google Play and the App Store here.