My Life As A Secret Tumblr Star
Nobody knows who I am, but they buy me stuff, anyway.
I am in no way one of the biggest or most popular Tumblr users. As of writing this, I only have 30k followers, which, compared to legendary bloggers like Pizza or Macleod Sawyer, is basically nothing. I never made money off of Tumblr (which some teenagers used to do), or became a meme like those Viners, or got any movie deals like a YouTube star.
I’m just a girl who liked anime and Harry Potter in high school. My friend got me on the site. (Thanks, Alyssa — YOU MADE THIS MONSTER). Now I have a username that I’m ashamed to utter in public because it’s the Tumblr equivalent of your 7th grade Yahoo email address, but I can’t change it because, apparently, I’m a little bit famous.
Meet elphabaforpresidentofgallifrey, the blog that changed my life.
Tumblr isn’t about “blogging” as you might know it. It combines traditional blogging with the interactivity of Twitter, to create a space unlike any other. To survive there, you must embrace the entropy of the internet and give of yourself wholeheartedly. It’s half reblogging others’ content, and half adding your own two cents.
How did I get this popular? The answer frustrates me every day: I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. On Tumblr, as elsewhere on the internet, there are things that “work” and things that don’t, but a lot of it comes down to chance. My follower count started to grow when I had a few posts that got really popular, which circulated my username and presence beyond just my immediate followers. To be honest, most of those early popular posts were just screenshots of funny things I found on other sites, which always makes me mad because they’re not something I created.
It started small. I realized my follower count was growing steadily and that I’d have to turn off email notifications. (Tumblr is a terribly coded and non-user-friendly site, so notifications consist of a hodgepodge of emails and Chrome extensions and constant checking.) In the days when “Sherlock” was still cool, I got into a fight with some other fans about “Elementary” versus “Sherlock,” and my fangirly rants went semi-viral.
I knew I’d hit gold when I started getting anon hate. “Anon hate,” or anonymous hate messages sent through Tumblr’s “Ask” feature, is a classic Tumblr scourge. But for a teen who cared only about how hot the guys in “Supernatural” are, getting anon hate was a blessing. It meant someone took time out of their day to read what I said on my stupid blog AND respond. It meant I was relevant.
As a teenager, and then a young adult in college, this meant everything. As anyone going through an identity crisis at that age knows, receiving validation of any kind feels like a miracle. It’s really nice when people recognize you for what you’re saying even if you don’t know what you’re doing.
With hate (and even a bit of praise) came confidence. If people actually paid attention to my shitposting and “Doctor Who” gifs, then maybe I could take myself a little less seriously. I started to post more about myself, share my opinions on politics and feminism, and share things from other sites. I wasn’t a teen worried about my follower count or hiding from my classmates — I was just having fun reading and reblogging memes.
Tumblr’s culture changed, and so did my life, but my follower count continued to grow. Other nerdy girls in college would recognize me, or my family would be surprised to learn someone they met was one of my followers. People would ask, “But what do you blog ABOUT?” and I wouldn’t know how to answer. Relatable depression memes? “Star Wars”? Pepe the frog? Intersectional feminism? I usually just said, “Oh it’s just a dumb Tumblr about TV shows, lol” and left it at that.
I didn’t realize my impact until people started messaging me saying they “saw” me on other parts of the internet. I was shocked when close friends, family and followers sent me screenshots of my posts (or comments on posts) that had ended up on “Best of Tumblr” Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and Imgur feeds. I had to face the weird idea that teenage fangirls weren’t the only ones who liked what I had to say.
This might sound cheesy, but the blog’s success gave me the confidence to power through some tough times. My depression was at its worst in college, and I didn’t know where to turn. I wasn’t interested in my previous career goals, but I was at an Ivy League school and everyone around me was getting their asses in gear. I had been a high-achieving, multitalented teenager, and now I was a depressed mess who could barely get off the floor to go to class.
Meanwhile, my blog continued to grow. I decided that if my brain wouldn’t let me even get out of bed some days, I would at least give the outward appearance of being engaged. I knew I was still good at one thing: the internet. Even if I couldn’t go to club meetings, I could still be on the executive board as the webmaster, so I taught myself how to make websites with the skills I had learned from editing my own Tumblr blog. I created and grew Facebook pages for clubs and departments. Over time, I realized college was just like Tumblr: an insular community full of insecure and contentious people. Even as I struggled academically, I was teaching myself marketable skills without even knowing it.
As I looked beyond college, I realized that almost every kind of organization needs social media help from a certified #memelord. I offered my expertise to nonprofits and startups with only my stupid blog about TV shows as a credential. I got internships and professional training just because I offered to help people learn how to tweet. It didn’t really hit me until I was graduating early, with a job, that I had taught myself how to do it — all because Tumblr made me feel I could do it.
And this was just the impact on MY life. As I branched out professionally and took my voice beyond Tumblr, I realized I had Tumblr followers who didn’t just follow me for my content, but for ME. They knew my name, and sent me messages, and made excited posts when I followed them back. Once I was an adult who’d left college behind, I realized I was a lot older than most of my followers. I often describe myself as the Tumblr mom to a bunch of gay teens who love Captain America. People inexplicably ask me for advice about their crushes, about coming out to their families and about my opinions on complex issues. I may have come to value my skills on social media, but I had no idea how much others valued what I had to say.
I knew my stupid blog meant something when I got an anonymous message from a teen confessing how much they loved it and how it made them a feminist. They told me they followed me for my fandoms and funny posts, and came away from it better informed. When I started to talk about my own mental illness, I began receiving messages from people who said they went to my blog when they were feeling bad. Someone asked out (and then started dating!) their crush because I nonchalantly told them “why not?” I actually cried when I realized I had literally changed some people’s lives.
Meanwhile, I had friends who got Vine-famous and became YouTubers, or created podcasts or web shows. Some people became memes themselves, but I was just that elphabaforpresidentofgallifrey girl on Tumblr. I’m not making anything new or cool, and I often feel like I’m just piggybacking on the amazing ideas of others. I didn’t think of a funny idea and make a blog about it, like user alrightanakin did with Incorrect Harry Potter Quotes. I don’t make amazing gifsets, or draw cute fanart, or curate the best of the internet.
I’m just a woman who made a blog as a teenager, who sometimes has interesting things to say, and sometimes just reblogs Sailor Moon fanart. Sometimes I post a selfie and people buy me electronics off my Amazon wishlist. Sometimes I just rant about how I actually like the “Star Wars” prequels. Sometimes my inbox gets carpet-bombed with racist Pepe memes because I’ve been labeled a “liberal sjw” by alt-right crazy people. Sometimes I hit the post limit (yes, there is one) because I just can’t shut up about why Captain America should kiss the Winter Soldier.
Apparently, for 30,000 people, that’s enough.
And that’s ok with me.