By Michael James Adams
On Tuesday morning, I posted a little quip to my Facebook page about the new Spielberg-directed Abraham Lincoln film. I had a moment of clarity wherein a thought came to me, errant and wild, urging me to cherry-pick just the right words to complete it. It went like this:
“Evidently Lincoln is doing well in theaters despite historical evidence to the contrary.”
Pretty good, yeah? I thought so. And so did a lot of my friends. In fact, so many of my friends liked the joke that the shares started piling up, and I started to see it pop up in my news feed. Most were good enough to attribute!
It took off so well that I thought, “Well, let’s just see how this does on Tumblr.” I readied my text post and hit the Publish button, and then went on with the rest of my evening. Ten minutes later I checked back (we have a few faithful followers that seem to ‘like’ most everything we post) and was shocked at the number of notes that had gathered on the post: 100.
I was catching up on video games at the time – I had forgotten how much I loved Half-Life 2 – so I had my computer handy over the next 15 minutes, during which time the notes had climbed to around 300. This was unusual, as our most reblogged photo slowed down around 200 after a period of just over a week. Still, I remained vigilant until I had to pick up my actor-wife from rehearsal. When I returned half an hour later, the total had doubled.
That night I stayed up to continue fighting against the Combine, and before I went to bed I took this screen shot:
Now, bear in mind that this is our first post that ever reached so many different people. I was thrilled, and starting to see our follower count rise as well. That felt nice, as if I accomplished something, and as a small business owner it’s always good to have people become aware of your shop. I went to bed with the satisfaction of having said something both funny and fairly original fluttering in my mind.
When I woke up the next day, I was shocked. 10,000. 10,000. Ten thousand… That’s an insane number, larger than I could imagine. By the time I got to work, it was up to 13,000, which if you’re good at math, is more than the previously stated number.
By mid-day the quote had amassed over 20,000 hits. Around this time, I started getting messages from friends, telling me that they had friends using the joke on them in conversation. One friend even stated that 100% of the interactions he’d had with people featured the joke. Seriously. That’s insane.
Out of nowhere, the now-infamous Lincoln joke had taken on a life of its own, making the rounds on the front page of Reddit.com twice, on Imgur, and it’s being copied to Facebook status bars all across the globe. That’s insane.
On Thursday it became a featured post in the #LOL category, gaining the signature blue tag somewhere in the 30,000s. Each time I log in, our dashboard is riddled with reposts and replies. By far the most common response to the post is “TOO SOON!”
Even now, the post is continuing to gain momentum on Tumblr, now having over 50,000 notes. It’s graced humor blogs and Facebook aggregates by the dozens. It’s even become a questionably effective meme, which is perhaps not as elegant as the plain text version. All in all, I’m really impressed.
I’ve read comment after comment in response to this joke, ranging from the hilarious (“You owe me a keyboard!” and, “I laughed so hard I spit coffee all over my screen!”) and congratulatory (“You got a shit-ton of notes on that post!”) to the defensive (“This came from Tumblr!”) to the accusatory (“This was stolen from Letterman.” and, “Learn to spell ‘theatre’, stupid Americans!”) and what really moves me is that people are actually taking the time to comment. Think about how crazy that is: people have busy lives, full of work and busy bodied goings-on, and yet they take time to write something. That’s awesome. And, for the record, people are saying that Letterman did a joke similar to this on Monday night, but I don’t have cable. I am, however, happy to share the limelight with Dave.
So, why write about this? Am I that full of myself that I want to brag about being funny on the internet? Not really. I’m writing out of a deep fascination of how all of this works; I’ve never had something like this happen to me, and so I’m able to satisfy my curiosity. I’ve watched this little quote grow and grow, and it’s grown so large that it’s being repurposed and reused at light speed. It’s freaking everywhere. Plus, I’ve not updated the site in well over a week, and I have to write about something!
My other reason for writing is to share my own response to this surprisingly popular joke, as I’ve not had a forum to comment on the internet buzz at large. I’ve been looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the subject!
1) I’m amazed and humbled that something I said has reached so many people. The internet truly has the power to reach more people than I could have ever imagined, and it’s a powerful message on the weight of words. Every day, I read countless words of hate and ignorance on any number of websites, sometimes even on my own Facebook feed. Some days, that negative voice seems overwhelming, overpowering… but in this fun experiment, it’s encouraging to learn that hate is not the only loud voice in the world, and that even something as eye-rollingly silly as my little joke can also have an influence.
2) I realize that 50,000 likes and reblogs doesn’t amount to much in the real world. As excited as I was watching the numbers escalate, I never thought for a moment that they would be anything more than numbers. I highly doubt that I’ll be fielding calls for writing jobs or taking interviews as “the guy who made up that Lincoln joke”. (Wouldn’t all of that be fun, though?) As it stands, the numbers are simply numbers, not an indication of my personal worth or popularity. But Tina Fey, I’m available.
3) Again I’m humbled by all of this fanfare surrounding this joke. Aside from Tumblr‘s ability to track back the quote to our mmguitarbar page, there’s really nothing connecting my name to this quote. And although I’m thankful for the back-tracking, credit isn’t really what makes me happy. What really thrills me is the idea of something I’ve said floating around the globe, appearing on innumerable screens, being reposted on Timelines, reused as Facebook status updates and mentioned as a zinger in thousands of unique conversations between unique individuals. That’s amazing to me.
It’s a huge honor to have this quote floating out there in the ether, causing laughter and broken computers world wide. It’s a thought that reminds me just how big this world really is, and also paradoxically small. That a joke can be so widespread is nothing short of a miracle of nature, culture and like-minded humor.
I also realize that aside from someone doing some research, it’s not likely the quote will ever been officially attributed to me, nor will I receive any personal accolades or acknowledgement for it. And that’s fine with me, really. It doesn’t really belong to me anyway, given its broad reach and appeal. I’m just glad it’s out there, bringing joy to someone. That’s the greatest gift I ever could have hope for. At the end of my life, if I have one really good joke to look back on, one that has done this much traveling, that’s a huge honor. Seriously! This is good for everyone!
And in the end, all that really matters is that my joke made someone smile. Tell you what: from now on, it’s not just my joke; it is our joke.
The joke appears to have gotten a second wind, thanks to the illustrious George Takei, who just posted it on his Facebook page. That’s even cooler than any of the other things I mentioned! I love that guy! And check out the fresh likes! Again, this is insane.
UPDATE 2: 11/24/12
I’m as famous as I’ll ever be, as the Honey Boo Boo Child parody twitter account has tweeted a version of the infamous joke. Amazeballs.