There’s something magical about the brief period spanning 2004-2009 when digital cameras finally reached a mass appeal price point. Suddenly, people were taking more photos than ever before, but hadn’t mastered the concept of “how to look good in pictures” that came once smartphone cameras took over, ushering in the era of selfiemania.
These 5 short years of shitty digital photography are my favorite genre of art, and this photo is an exquisite specimen. This image has all the perfect elements: the composition captures both parties in full, the red-eye effect from using a flash in a dark bar, the ridiculous hat juxtaposed with khakis. The dangling cigarette and face of steely concentration. Perfection. This is the Cartier-Bresson of mid-aughts shitty Nikon Coolpix drunken bar pics.
But what makes this image incredible important to the Canon of Funny Internet Pix is not JUST that it’s a funny looking photo, it’s that it appears on the Wikipedia “Grinding (dancing)” page.
The Wikipedia page became something of a meme that crested earlier this year when it appeared on a highly-trafficed BuzzFeed list of “36 White People Who Need To Be Stopped”, a collection of awkward photos.
This is truly an important piece of Internet History worthy of deep scrutiny. Below is the story behind the meme.
Dave Stopera, BuzzFeed senior editor and co-author of “36 White People That Must Be Stopped”: I think I found the screenshot of the “grinding” Wikipedia page on Tumblr. Then I checked to see if the photo was there and sure enough it was. Wikipedia has a lot of pages which have some pretty amazing pictures. The photo for sadness has (or used to have) this photo on it:
Jason Rollins, amateur photographer: The infamous photo was taken in 2008 during “Le Tour De Bars”, a bar crawl my friends and I do every year in our small town near Pittsburgh. 12 bars in 12 hours is the goal. Much like the Tour de France, we have yellow jerseys (worn by the heaviest drinkers at each stop), and a lack of testicles (figuratively speaking).
If memory serves, this was during the last stop, so everyone was pretty well gone at that point. It was our absolute favorite bar, the kind of place where all the people are aware of your name. The kind of place you never pay your tabs, and you can leave your own 52oz mug for “bring your own mug night” in the kitchen, and just walk back and get it.
And, obviously, the kind of place where you can hop up on the bar and dance.
The photo lay dormant on Flickr for 4 years; its potential to thrill and delight untapped. On August 8th, 2012, a Wikipedia editor added the photo to the grinding page.
“Guerillero”, Wikipedia editor: At the time, the page on grinding was on my to-fix list because the article was, and still is, really bad. Since there isn’t much textual informational about the dance in the article, I went to Flickr. The photo in question was the least awkward photo that popped up. I think
I was searching for grinding and dance and narrowed it down to Creative Commons photos only. I figured that some sort of a photo was better than none, so I uploaded it.
After that, I sorta lost interest with the topic and moved onto other things. I don’t think I made a single edit to the text of the article.
Dave Stopera: I always remembered it after I saw it, and when I got around to making the post I had to put it in. It is just so, so awkward and terrible. The man is eating a cigarette. Everyone looks slightly wet. He’s wearing a hat he won at Six Flags earlier that day. New Balance shoes shining like a beacon of hope. It really is the whole package.
Jason Rollison: The “lady” in question is a friend, Lisa. Lisa is (or at least was) a hard partier who would have no qualms about posing for this pic. But lets be real, you aren’t here to hear about her. No. The guy in the pic is my best friend Joe. Joe had an extreme boom in popularity during this time due to his ABSOLUTELY UNCANNY resemblance to McLovin from Superbad. This led to many free shots, ripped up bar tabs, and laughs for his less-than-noble friends like me.
The DJ at the bar this pic was taken at was one of those DJs who had props for some damn reason. I freaking hate that. What’s the point? It must be because you can’t dance to the latest Pitbull song until you have a funny hat, obvbiously. So we all grabbed some props, because we are sheep, and the hat stayed with Joe all night. After a surprisingly small amount of convincing, they got on the bar and history was made. They were up there for at least 2 minutes, collecting dollar bills while losing a bit of dignity. Of course i had to take a pic, because it was my duty to embarrass them with it later.
This Wikipedia entry has not been without controversy. The edit history reveals repeated attempts at vandalism on the text and caption for the photo. A different editor removing vandalism on the article blames increased traffic from the BuzzFeed list as part of the problem (most of the vandalism is inserting someone’s name, e.g. “Grinding is something Todd Smith loves doing in chem class”).
“Guerillero”: I don’t remember my 18 year-old-self, thinking anything beyond that the photo was awkward and strange.
Jason Rollison: 6 years later someone sends me a link to Buzzfeed’s 36 White People That Need To Be Stopped that includes the photo. Followed by some other link to some research study about grinding, a wikihow article on how to grind (surprisingly helpful), and then some other sites I forget about right now. We would see one…then another…then another…and then the Buzzfeed article just blew it up even more.
For his part, Joe has taken this all in stride. Which doesn’t surprise me. The guy is the most loyal and fun friend i’ve ever had. The guy is always up for a good time and I’ve shared many laughs with him. Even though this picture may seem epic to you, it’s just another night with Joe for us.
Dave Stopera: It makes me physically uncomfortable to look at the picture.
BuzzFeed attempted to contact the photo’s two subjects but it appears, after years of internet fame, they’re not interested in the spotlight. Sometimes in a quiet moment my mind will wander and I will think of them, grinding into eternity in that musky Pittsburgh bar. Tendrils of cigarette smoke hanging thick in the humid air. ESPN 2 flickering in the background. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve ever been back, hoping to recapture the booze soaked memories of that night in 2008. Sometimes, I wonder if they ever even left.
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