My 15 Minutes of Microfame


Clive Thompson recently wrote a piece for called The Age of Microcelebrity: Why Everyone’s a Little Brad Pitt.

“Microcelebrity,” Thompson explains, “is the phenomenon of being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group — a thousand people, or maybe only a few dozen. As DIY media reach ever deeper into our lives, it’s happening to more and more of us. Got a Facebook account? A whackload of pictures on Flickr? Odds are there are complete strangers who know about you — and maybe even talk about you.”

I recently had my own brush with microcelebrity.

I got an email from a blogger at the Guardian of London, one of England’s biggest newspapers. They have a food blog called Word of Mouth, and wanted to use one of my Flickr photos to illustrate a story. “We’re going to be doing a piece on bad restaurant names and this pic would illustrate it brilliantly,” the email said.

The photo in question was one I had taken while on a July 1992 trip through Alaska and the Canadian Northwest. In the Yukon town of Watson Lake, we came upon a fast-food restaurant called “McWank’s.” I took a photo and only recently scanned it and put it on my Flickr page.
A few days after I got the email from London, the blog piece, What’s in a Name? by Graeme Allister, came out on the Guardian food blog, and there, featured prominently at the top of the piece, was the photo I had taken of McWank’s 15 years earlier, linked to my Flickr page. Underneath the photo was my photo credit, and a caption I wish I’d thought of — “You want a shake with that?”

There are few things that Brits like better than a good wank joke.

Prior to its appearance on the Guardian blog, the McWank’s photo had languished on my Flickr page with double digit views. But on the first day it was featured on the Guardian, McWank’s racked up over 1400 views, shooting to the top of my Flickr photos, with more than twice as many views as my second most viewed photo. And that just counts the folks who clicked through to my Flickr page. Because I gave the Guardian permission to upload a copy of my photo to their site, there is little doubt that thousands more viewers simply enjoyed the full-size photo on the Guardian site, without clicking through to my Flicker page.

At this writing, the McWank’s photo is approaching 1700 views.

Back in 1992, when I took the McWank’s photo with my manual Pentax film camera, I figured I’d share it with a few friends who might get a chuckle out of it. And considering that “wank” is largely a British expression, unfamiliar to many Yanks (we have our own equally colorful and charming phrases), my audience for this particular print back in 1992 was indeed limited.

There is no way I could have imagined that 15 years after I took the photo of the fast-food restaurant with the funny name, it would be featured on a British newspaper blog and be viewed by thousands of readers. In 1992, most of us were just starting to hear about the Internet. None of us knew what the online landscape would look like in 2008, with Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, blogs and whatever else has been invented in the last 30 seconds.

And that’s how I became a microcelebrity in 2008 for a photo I took over 15 years ago of a take-out restaurant with the unappetizing name “McWank’s.”

I’ve never been more proud.

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