Jerry Messing is an actor. He was Pugsley Addams in Addams Family Reunion, trimethylaminuria-suffering Gordon Crisp in Freaks and Geeks and Artie Ryan in Even Stevens. He had a pretty great acting career throughout his childhood, even if he was never cast as the jock or wacky sidekick or given major, consistent parts. Today, Jerry lives an ordinary life, imprinted with the casual goings-on of Regular People™ just like us. He shops, he eats, he sleeps, he repeats. He gets recognised occasionally for his acting roles, but otherwise lives a life of normality. But that's only regarding the physical, real world. Online, and through the pipeline of trolls, forums, and websites of the internet, he's recognised as something different.
Jerry Messing is a huge meme – Jerry is Fedora Guy.
Sometime in the middle of last decade a photo of Jerry, clipping his fingers at the tip of a fedora, got into the hands of the internet. And then the internet did what it always does. It took something worth nothing and gave it purpose.
"It was taken by a photographer that does headshots at his studio," Messing told BuzzFeed News. "There was extra film left in the roll so I decided to do that one for the fun of it."
Yes, Jerry's biggest contribution to the cultural zeitgeist wasn't his acting; it was a photo taken at the end of a long day of headshots – an homage to the Belushi-Aykroyd Blues Brothers – that was then swallowed by the internet and spat out onto the desolate plains of men's rights activist forums, Reddit, 4Chan, and, eventually, pop culture.
The photo of Jerry was quickly associated with all the negative tropes of the internet: trolls, MRAs, and "neckbeards" were all unified under the umbrella of Jerry's fedora.
But he really, really, doesn't seem to care.
When asked about how he coped with the strange form of quasi-fame, Jerry says he hardly had to at all. Even though Jerry's face has been plastered onto lighters, blown up onto huge portraits, and even re-created on a pizza, he has managed to steer clear of a lot of the attention.
"It isn't something I can really do anything about – so I don't let it bother me."
"I'm certainly not thrilled with the communities the photo has come to represent," said Jerry, "but it isn't something I can really do anything about – so I don't let it bother me."
Jerry's distance from the "Fedora Guy" is admirable. Much has been written about similar cases to Jerry's, like Ghyslain Raza, the 14-year-old Canadian high school student who filmed himself practicing his Star Wars-inspired lightsaber techniques, which his classmates discovered and posted to the internet. Raza ended up being swamped with death threats – many telling him he should commit suicide. In the real world, Raza was bullied to the extent that he had to drop out of school and see a psychiatrist. In 2013, he spoke about the impact the video's virality had on his life. "No matter how hard I tried to ignore people telling me to commit suicide, I couldn't help but feel worthless," he said. "Like my life wasn't worth living."
Jerry was largely shielded from the impact of the Fedora Guy meme because of his limited internet use. "For me, internet use has been 80% gaming use and 20% socialising on a personal basis with long-distance friends." Jerry didn't know he had become a meme until a year into its growth. "There was really nothing left to combat," he said.
In November 2014, Jerry wrote on his Facebook page, addressing the growing interest in his life. Inundated with friend requests, Jerry's wall became littered with people either thanking him for accepting their requests or asking if it was really him – if he was really the "fedora guy."
"Because of the fedora meme, many people seem to be making many assumptions about me, first and foremost, my beliefs," he wrote. "No person should be judged by a measure they aren't even compliant to; a picture may be worth a thousand words, but it is not ideals." The post received some modest attention but, for the most part, Jerry left it at that. In August 2015, Jerry returned to his Facebook to declare he was ready to answer questions in a bid to stop the flood of questioning.
"If you have something you really want to ask me, it is respectful, and I feel I can properly answer it at this time, please post it as a comment and I will respond." He goes on to answer the most commonly asked question – why he took the photo – and declares that he hopes to lose enough weight that he can hopefully pull off a "semi-decent homage" to John Belushi, complete with a karaoke rendition of "Soul Man."
In 2004, Jerry tried to go to a university in Florida to study psychology. He returned to L.A. after 18 months, unable to get a scholarship. An effort to return to the acting industry resulted in the now infamous Fedora Guy photo being taken, and he hasn't really acted since – anxiety issues brought his progress in the industry to a halt. He's been working to overcome them and hopes to make a return to the screen eventually. Speaking to Hopes and Fears, Jerry recounted his short-lived return to the working world at a call centre, which collapsed after a customer asked if he was a new employee and then requested to speak to someone more senior. Jerry quit on the spot. "I got home and just started shaking."
While Messing is the face of the fedora movement, he wasn't the start of it. Back in early 2005, fedoras were associated with a rising interest in ska – the musical genre originating from 1960s reggae – made famous by bands like the Specials and Madness in the '70s and '80s and then the late ’90s. Back then, fedoras symbolised you were part of a unique and kinda-cool cultural movement.
"The fedora has transformed from an iconic piece of apparel to a gross, overly exaggerated form of ridicule."
They were associated with gangsters for a time, then Frank Sinatra started wearing them, then a moonwalking Michael Jackson. Today, the felt-brimmed hat has transformed from an iconic piece of apparel to a gross, overly exaggerated form of ridicule.
As the fedora evolved online, terms like "tips fedora" and "m'lady" became inextricably linked to the hat. According to Know Your Meme, a site that tracks the origins and lives of memes, these terms started appearing on 4chan messageboards in 2012. It was used to ridicule someone the forum believed was "white knighting" – which refers to men who defend women on the internet with the intention of initiating a romantic relationship.
"Fedora shaming" also started around 2008, with internet users mocking those who chose to adopt both the lifestyle and fashion trend that came with the hat. There's an Urban Dictionary entry that sums up the phenomenon pretty well:
Jerry Messing's image wasn't originally used to illustrate all this terminology, but eventually his Blues Brothers tribute and fedora culture came to be one and the same. Now there's no going back. But Jerry has remained stoic throughout, refusing to give in to the waves of people online giving his image to new causes – both good and bad. He says he still has the hat stored away somewhere, but he hasn't worn it since the original photo shoot. At the moment, Jerry's just living his life. "My free time I kill as I feel in the moment, and more often than not I have a lot of free time," he said. "Otherwise, I work on my weight loss as best as my limitations allow, and do my best to keep my mind active and sharp. Anything to get me back on stage again more or less."
Jerry Messing is just a guy. A guy who became a meme.
Jerry Messing did not attend Florida University as was previously stated in this article. He could not afford it. The two ska bands mentioned in this article, the Specials and Madness, were popular in the '70s and '80s as well as the ’90s. The footage of the Star Wars Kid, Ghyslain Raza, was uploaded after Raza left the tape in the recorder, not by Raza himself.