It’s a phrase said about a kitten who does something particularly cute. Or a dog who can count. Or a baby who can moonwalk. Or a man stuck in a hammock. “It’s going viral,” people say. You don’t expect to hear it about yourself. But there it was. Websites and radio stations saying, “a Waterford man named Michael is going viral.” The most bizarre week of my life was now in progress.
Things were pretty normal until the morning of Friday, July 3rd. That’s when things took a turn for the bizarre. Joe.ie did an article about the A4 sheet of paper that will probably feature in my obituary (“He was the karate wedding guy. He probably did some other stuff too, we’re not sure”).
That was picked up by some other sites and by the afternoon, my phone was sounding almost constantly with notifications. And not just the usual ones telling me it’s my turn to play a move in Words With Friends. My Twitter notifications were going crazy, friends were messaging to ask if I knew about it and people I hadn’t heard from in years were getting in touch to tell me they’d seen it and knew immediately it was me despite the ambiguity of it being a character known only as Michael. It was a strange day.
Things quietened down over the weekend but then came Monday morning. And holy fuck, Monday morning was insane. The other ads I’d done had now been picked up by news sites and the story was no longer just about an unhinged request for a wedding partner, it was about the person who was writing that and the five ads that accompanied it. We all know that things must always be personalised for the sake of narrative in modern media and The Daily Mail – that most reductive and hateful of publications – wanted my contact details. That allowed me to fulfil a long-held ambition.
Then it was in The Telegraph and on Mashable and The Daily Edge and The Poke and Lovin’ Dublin and The Lad Bible and other sites I can’t remember. And, most bizarrely of all, it was a small item on an American TV news show. Radio stations at home and abroad wanted to interview me, including one I used to work for and who were reading the ads out on air to much hilarity and intrigue. That was cool. I turned them down, though. I turned all of them down. I can’t add anything to the joke verbally. It has its own voice. It stands on its own and I like that.
People have asked if I read the comments underneath the articles and on Facebook. I did. Quite a few of them anyway. I couldn’t resist. It’s a strange thing to see people who don’t know you decide that they know what you’re like and why you’ve chosen to do something. The overwhelming majority were really positive and it meant a lot to me but negative ones stick in your mind too. Off the top of my head, I saw, “Michael sounds like a loser”, “what a freak”, “any1 going on this date gonna get raped”, “Michael is a W-anchor” and “sad twat” (more amusingly, there was also, “he should learn a real martial art, karate is for kids” under the Daily Mail article, naturally). I’m 35 years old, relatively self-assured and comfortable in my own skin. If I wasn’t and if I’d seen those things said about me when I was younger, I’m sure I’d have struggled and taken them to heart. I can see how unpleasantness and vitriol from anonymous commenters would affect people who go viral in other, much bigger ways. You have no control over how you’re perceived by thousands of strangers and it’s incredibly unnerving.
I’m a natural introvert. This kind of attention was a little too much for my brain to comfortably cope with. By Wednesday, I withdrew from most online activities that didn’t involve reading Guardian articles and playing strategically excellent moves in online Scrabble. Wild, I know. But I needed calmness and ordinariness. And that’s the great thing about being temporarily internet famous. As soon as you turn your phone and laptop off, it’s exactly like being not famous. Life just carries on. You’re still you. Your family still pester you to solve their computer problems. Your friends still make fun of you for being an idiot. Your life is the same. But you appreciate quietness and normality a little more than you did previously.
So yeah, this week’s useless thing I know about is what it’s like to go viral. It’s been one of the weirdest, most exhilarating, occasionally unnerving weeks of my life. As a friend pointed out, I’ve written plenty of things over the years that were clever, well-researched, thought-provoking and I hope of intellectual merit but hardly anyone read them (thank you to those who did and who are still with me). But they read this absurd, frivolous joke. And I know that probably doesn’t say anything great about us on a sociological level but it was a fuckload of fun. It’s weird the way things work out.