then and now The Real People Behind Memes Describe How They Felt When Their Image Went Viral  

Donn Saylor
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It's easy to forget that the memes we see everyday actually feature real people. They have families, friends, and careers to protect. Most of the time, meme subjects don't even plan to take a hilarious picture; it just happens. They're not looking for fame or celebrity status, they just want to live comfortably. Social media is ever-evolving, though. Once a meme goes viral, nothing can stop it. The people who those memes vilify, mock, and sometimes applaud become legends. They're added to the to museum of pop culture history.

Some people tolerate their new statuses; other people loathe fame and visibility. But at least the people behind the memes have an opportunity to share their stories with the world. They were unwillingly thrust into the spotlight, but they've left indelible impressions. In fact, these meme subjects have made the interweb a much more hilarious place. 

College Freshman Didn't Mind His Fame


College Freshman Didn't Mind H... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Real People Behind Memes Describe How They Felt When Their Image Went Viral
Photo: Imgur

Griffin Kiritsy was an average college freshman when he was asked to do a Reader's Digest interview and photo shoot about his college experiences. Reddit users found one of the resulting photos and deemed Kiritsy the quintessential college freshman - hopelessly lost and terminally naive. Kiritsy wasn't horrified by the experience, though. He noted:

"It’s a weird experience. At first it wasn't a big deal, but now people are coming up to me and are like, 'Hey, you're that guy.' It's really awkward [but] I plan on being the College Freshman until I die."

Hipster Barista Wasn't Thrilled About Those Coffee Jokes


Hipster Barista Wasn't Thrille... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Real People Behind Memes Describe How They Felt When Their Image Went Viral
Photo: Imgur

The Hipster Barista, Dustin Mattson, really was a barista. He was an incredibly talented barista, too, placing incredibly well at multiple nationwide barista competitions. Given his serious approach to the job, it wasn't terribly surprising that Mattson didn't find much humor in the meme that made him famous. He said:

"I do find it discouraging and disappointing that there was so much exposure brought to an attempt at making a joke of a culinary industry and the professional barista. To me, it's very telling on how we laud farm-to-table food, craft beer, cocktail mixology, but it's ok to have no respect for the specialty coffee world and the people who are committed to it."

Sheltering Suburban Mom Wasn't Cool With The Bigotry In Her Memes


Sheltering Suburban Mom Wasn&#... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Real People Behind Memes Describe How They Felt When Their Image Went Viral
Photo: Imgur

Romance novel author Carly Phillips became a meme and she did not appreciate it one bit. One of her photographs was appropriated and made into the Sheltering Suburban Mom meme. She was portrayed as a stern, overprotective, and sometimes racist soccer mom. Understandably, Phillips challenged the racist remarks, noting:

"I never want anyone who sees it to think that I, the real mom/person… believes any of that stuff, especially the derogatory, inflammatory, prejudiced things in there."

The Skateboarding Professor Was Confused


The Skateboarding Professor Wa... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Real People Behind Memes Describe How They Felt When Their Image Went Viral
Photo: via Tumblr

When college professor Dr. Thomas Winter was photographed riding his skateboard to class, the image went viral. Winter became a certified meme star. The professor, who retired in 2013, didn't really understand the meme phenomenon or the slang language used online, though. Winter thought that the term "meme" came "from the book The Selfish Gene by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins."