"To take from the Internet and not give anything back is straight up fuckboy maneuvers," Sydney blogging outfit Brown Cardigan wrote on Facebook.
"We give credit where possible and pay homage to the meme legends."
Brown Cardigan are talking about Elliot Tebele, best known as the Instagram account Fuckjerry. Tebele shares images online. He also has 6 million Instagram followers to his name, along with a swathe of interviews and profiles in publications from Paper to Cosmopolitan.
The story from Brown Cardigan goes like this: they called out Instagram juggernaut Tebele for plagiarising material from social media. Tebele responded by repurposing one of his castoff Instagram accounts as '@BeigeCardigan' as a taunt, replicating Brown Cardigan's brand and content. And, later, attributing the account to his wife's name, Jessica Anteby.
At the time of writing, Anteby's personal account has Instagrammed a spread from Interview, presumably from the magazine's September '#ME Issue' (featuring "100 of the most powerful personalities on the internet"). The spread features Tebele (daubed with the iconic/ironic Solo Jazz cup pattern) on one page. On the other, super-producer Diplo.
If it's not already clear, we have a bona fide meme beef on our hands.
Of course, this all sits alongside fellow social media icon The Fat Jew's public flaying over the last couple of weeks. The social media heavyweight (clocking in at just under 6 million Instagram followers; real name Josh Ostrovsky) also started copping flak for joke-stealing. This culminated with Comedy Central reportedly pulling out of any involvement with a pilot for a The Fat Jew comedy show.
What's interesting here is the weird inversion of older modes of consumption. It's well established that entertainment is no longer exclusively a top-down thing (think TV, movies, music). But the profound difference these days is that content is increasingly the stuff created by people like you and and me (think Twitter, Tumblr, reddit, 4chan, KTT, and so on) but shared by celebrities – and not the other way around.
But how did we get here?
There's nothing (necessarily) wrong with curation culture
Some good things have come about thanks to diligent curators. Without A$AP Yams' successful Tumblr, we wouldn't have A$AP Rocky. A$AP Mob was pieced together, post by post, from a patchwork of streetwear, high fashion, goth, cloud rap, New York grit and Atlanta purple. It was an aesthetic that was vital, more than the sum of its parts, and it cut through the noise of the blogosphere.
Going back a bit further into pop-culture history, hip-hop itself owes a debt to curator culture. Without the broader ideas that underpin remix culture, broke kids who couldn't afford instruments never would have come up with sampling and rap music.
In fact, if you're looking for a big old co-sign for curatorship, Lawrence Lessig – the guy who invented the term 'remix culture' – is currently making a bid for the US presidency. (If 2016 doesn't work out, maybe Lessig will find a running mate in Kanye in 2020.)
There is definitely something to be said for having the freedom to find stuff on the internet and use it any way you like, without restrictions. But, unfortunately, it's not this simple. And not everything is okay in the world of internet funny. Particularly if you ask comedians their thoughts on The Fat Jew.
Like with most things on the internet, we're making it up as we go. It's hard to say exactly what the correct protocol is for a 'professional meme curator'. Sure, journalists must name their sources in most cases. And, yes, comics who rip off jokes get excommunicated. But how do content hustlers fit into this framework?
How do the principles that the internet were originally built on (anonymity, free exchange of ideas) mesh with this?
One thing we do know is this: in the wake of The Fat Jew's public trial, this has become a serious enough issue that Twitter now lets users file copyright complaints against joke-thieves.
Break bad, break the internet
People give a shit about content attribution because there's a lot of money to be made, and they'd rather that they were the ones making it. But this wasn't always the case.
Rickrolling, Bad Luck Brian, Good Guy Greg, the very first rare Pepes. A large swathe of the memes we know and love (or tolerate) come from 4Chan – a place far too depraved to properly monetise.
Despite getting big enough to spawn an activist group and place creator Christopher Poole in the 2009 TIME 100, it was a challenge to sell ads on 4Chan. The online community's reputation for gore and child pornography was enough to deter most advertisers.
But we still wanted memes. While the classical 4chan image macro, looks more outdated every day, a present-day meme is more likely to be a Vine or screenshot of a Twitter post. These formats often have a lower barrier to entry into the content creation game, which only boosts the near exponential growth of content on social media.
The popularity of the Twitter screenshot as a format for memes has also inadvertently fed into 'no-attribution, no-worries' culture that online personalities like Fuckjerry and The Fat Jew have been working in. When the only place you can post a live link on Instagram is in your bio, it gets very difficult to determine if anybody is being credited properly, or at all.
Even the agencies that are signing 'digital influencers' describe it to The Hollywood Reporter as "a little bit like the Wild West." But that doesn't necessarily stop them from signing them up. Meanwhile, The Fat Jew is commanding $2,500 for a product placement in one of his posts.
The fact even big brands (shout out to Denny's) are channeling their budgets into the off-kilter meme sensibilities of Weird Twitter tells us something about the state of affairs too. Now, some brands are good at this game, and some of them are not. Some brands engage with memes with a deft touch, others feel more like tone-deaf mimicry or straight-up cultural appropriation.
Whether your brand is personal or multinational, there's a lot of money to be made with content. And it's in large part because the rulebook is still being written.
With great power comes great responsibility
Curators have a role. Few of us have the time to sift through mounds of online trash to find a dank nugget that's actually worth sharing. And this is a service that online curators can provide.
But let's be real: not everyone can be a curator, because we still need creators. Without enough people actually making things, the internet becomes an ouroboros, forever eating its own tail made of shitposts.
Fuckjerry may be shoring up his reputation by pledging to give attribution where can, as well as "experiment[ing] with posting original content." And talent agencies eager to buy into influencers are happy to call The Fat Jew's plagiarism thing a "gray area". But I don't think we're in danger of having an overabundance of celebrity memers. Things move pretty quickly, and there's nothing to say that the superstar curator won't go the way of the MTV VJ or the celebrity blogger in the near future.