Once upon a time (we're talking late '90s/early '00s), I was an admin for a little slice of URL time-wasting heaven called The Hollerboard. It was a music-based message board created by Wesley "Diplo" Pentz and his Hollertronix partner Mike "Lowbudget" McGuire, and also founded and run by Fool's Gold Records owner Nick "Catchdubs" Barat. Before the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Soundcloud, it was a vibrant and relevant online community that quickly developed into a full-fledged scene.
The Hollerboard membership was a who's who of folks who were then (and especially now) major players in the music, writing, and art scenes, and its influence can be felt today in almost every aspect of popular culture. Of all of the Hollerboard alumni though, none made a bigger splash than Joshua "The Fat Jew" a.k.a. "The Fat Jewish" a.k.a. "Jew Diamond Phillips" Ostrovsky. The Fat Jew made his Hollerboard mark recounting an amazing (yet sadly fictional) tale of his nightmare experiences with a Russian mail order bride. He would post these tales once a week until we were all hooked on the ridiculous stories about the trials and tribulations of a man married to an abusive woman who hated his guts. It was through these tales that the Fat Jew persona was starting to become clear. He continued to delight us with hilarious stories about terrible sexual experiences with mediocre women, self-effacing small penis jokes, and a legendary thread about "oven mitt hand jobs."
He has since become perhaps the world's most accomplished URL Performance Artist. A quick Google search leads to a plethora of Ostrovsky's over the top stunts, outrageous photo shoots, and celebrity interviews through the years. The clip of him leading a group of homeless New Yorkers through an exercise class on stationary public Citibikes is especially rich.
However, it's on Instagram where @thefatjewish started to become a household name. It's also the source of why he's currently taking heat for so-called "internet plagiarism." He (along with fellow Insta-comic @fuckjerry) are the top dogs in the practice of "meme aggregation," with both of them rapidly approaching six million IG followers each. What does it mean to aggregate memes? It means that the Fat Jew posts funny memes for his followers to enjoy, memes that more often than not he did not create. Some of these memes he's posted have not sourced or credited all the way back to the original creators, and this has a lot of people angry.
A meme is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." It acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as culturally analogous to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.
Meme curators are a lot like DJs. Most memes are sourced from a number of places with the most popular among them being imgur, Reddit, tumblr and of course Instagram accounts. Meme-sourcing is a pretty sticky situation to begin with, especially when the original source is a Twitter or Facebook quote. Quite often, these jokes have already been made into memes with the same quotes posted with an appropriate photo or all black text against a white background before an account like @thefatjewish even sees them. This notion that Ostrovsky and his team are singlehandedly stealing and appropriating jokes is preposterous. I've seen almost every one of the memes cited by the Fat Jew's critics posted dozens of times before the Fat Jew even got to them—he's not exactly the only one re-appropriating someone else's words. He's just the most famous one.
And that's probably because the Fat Jew is a caption Rembrandt. A great caption is often just as responsible for a meme's success as the meme itself. The truth is that most people surfing Instagram do not care whether or not a meme is "100% original content." Curation is the name of the game in this new media era. While consumers now have unlimited access to various forms of online entertainment, the results of that freedom can be overwhelming. Folks in need of a good meme fix rely on accounts like @thefatjewish to sift through the infinite internet wasteland, and to mine the URL gold. They don't follow because of original content—they follow because of the relevance, timeliness and consistent brand of humor that a respective account provides. There's still plenty of room for content creators to shine, but a premium has now been placed in the marketplace on presentation and packaging. Today's new media consumer wants their feed to represent their interests, and they want this need filled with as little effort on their end as possible. Aggregators are the new tastemakers.
What's missing in this conversation is that @thefatjewish is actually somewhat diligent about crediting his meme sources. A quick look at his Instagram will prove that point. He credits his sources in parenthesis after his captions, a standard practice amongst Insta-comics. A credited repost from @thefatjewish or @fuckjerry can lead to hundreds of new followers for the original poster.
I personally got into the Instagram meme comic game a little over a year ago. Ironically, it was being credited by Fat Jew that inspired my conversion to full-time meme-farming. My old IG account (@dsjoe—I got kicked off for multiple postings that violated IG's "community standards") was your typical DJ account: "Here are some pics from the DJ booth at the party...here are some pics of the crowd...here is my new mixtape...here is my dog/what I ate today etc." A couple of reposts from Fat Jew of "my" memes though and my follower count started to blow up. When I started my new account, @dsjoedeux, I put the focus on memes and jokes full-time, and while I still post about my personal life, I learned quickly that most people simply want DANK MEMES over everything.
The Fat Jew has parlayed the success of his brand into multiple corporate sponsorships, and he even recently signed to celebrity super agency CAA. He and @fuckjerry basically created this lane and these new revenue sources for what is essentially a new comedic art form. He represents URL comedy, and the old school IRL comics are simply hating on that success. The meme game is revolutionizing jokes the same way that the iPhone camera changed the photography business, and Fat Jew is our Diplo... our Tiesto. Anyone who wants to break the guy's talent down to "he steals jokes and reposts them online" most likely has no idea how memes work and spread in the first place. The guy isn't taking money out of anyone's pockets with his Instagram account. If anything, he's doing the exact opposite.