10 years ago, according to The New York Times, Allen Rout posted an adorable photograph of his baby son, Stephen, on his personal web site and then promptly forgot all about it.
The NYT continues: “The photo had faded from memory until last July, when Mr. Rout, curious about his online reputation, did a Google search of himself. Deep within the results pages, he found the picture of Stephen. Only, it wasn’t exactly the same picture.
He was surrounded by cartoonish word bubbles filled with Japanese writing: “Don’t call me baby!” they read. “Call me Mr. Baby!” And there were other images in which the photo was transformed further: Stephen has a pompadour in one, a head full of snakes in another. His face was pasted onto Kurt Cobain’s head, carved into Mount Rushmore and tattooed onto David Beckham’s torso. He was an eight-bit video game character. He became a three-dimensional sculpture.”
While Stephen was otherwise engaged (er, growing up) the whole of Japan had appropriated the image and made him (“Call me Mr Baby!”) a massive internet meme.
But how did his meme-ification happen? Again, according to the NYT: ”
So how did an innocent baby photo become a Japanese meme? That’s a question for KnowYourMeme.com, a Web site that catalogs Internet memes and produces funny videos that explain how certain memes came into existence. When a reporter asked about the Stephen Rout meme in August, KnowYourMeme sprang into action, creating a page for what it dubbed “Aka-San” (“Mr. Baby” in Japanese).
With the help of its multilingual readers and Google Insights, a tool that tracks Web searches by time and location, KnowYourMeme pieced together a timeline: It started in 2004, on 2chan.net, a so-called imageboard in Japan that allows users to post images anonymously — essentially a petri dish for meme manipulators.
Who first found Stephen’s picture is not known, nor how it was found. What’s known is that a 2chan user superimposed Stephen’s face over an illustration from a manga comic book, and turned it into an image macro — a simple Web form that allowed users to put words into a cartoon-like thought bubble. The meme-ification of Stephen began.”
But what’s coolest of all?
Alan Rout’s response to his discovery: ““Everybody says, ‘There’s got to be money in this.’ But gosh, what a vile response, I don’t want to use this as an opportunity to squeeze some money out of somebody for some purpose. It’s an amusement.”
Strangely and co-incidentally, The Routs are friends with the DeVore family, who have made hundreds of thousands out of their video, “David after the dentist,” which went viral a few years ago.
(Gosh. Rout’s money comment must make for interesting discussion over the barbecue!)
And as for Stephen, who is now 10?
He is “Surprised and really amazed and really weirded out”
Which is how most of this stuff should make most of us feel, if we were ever stop to consider it.