One of Mwinga's Facebook profile pictures // Mwinga's blog description/icon box on his tumblr page (Note: at the time this screenshot was taken, 66 different Tumblr users had Mwinga's blog page open in their browsers)
I sat down with seventeen year-old Tumblr sensation Mwinga Sin and his best friend Nabila Wirakusumah over a DiGiorno’s pizza to talk about his Tumblr blog. Currently titled unsuccessfulmetalbenders, Mwinga’s page is one of the most visited on all of Tumblr. Gifs, memes, videos, text posts, and funny answers to ridiculous ask questions are the dominant form of media on his page. Witty commentary and user generated artwork on comic books, cartoons, and pop music culture—particularly that of black female and gay artists, Mwinga is obsessed with Beyoncé—take center stage. In sum, Mwinga’s blog is a digitized version of his sense of humor, taste in music, and aesthetic preferences.
Born in New York City but raised in Geneva by diplomat parents, Mwinga is now a first-year student here at Sarah Lawrence College studying film, psychology, and screen-writing. Though still figuring out exactly how he wants manifest his comedy talent in a career, his dream is to be a staff writer for Saturday Night Live.
In order to provide context for the tone of our interview, let me begin by saying that Mwinga is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Many a night I have left hanging out with him and his group of whacky, diverse friends with my abdominal muscles aching from laughing. During our interview alone he brought Nabila and myself to the verge of tears numerous times. It is this infectious sense of humor, combined with his ability to translate that into digital content that matches the technical and social structure of Tumblr, that is what allowed him to develop his incredibly successful blog.
Mwinga’s rise to widespread Internet popularity was pretty unintentional. “I didn’t actually make my Tumblr,” he admitted. “My friend made it for me in like my sophomore year. And at first, I only posted pictures. I blogged about Harry Potter and dumb stuff like that.” It wasn’t until 2012 that Mwinga started to regularly use Tumblr. Once he started, he rose in popularity very rapidly. Now, Mwinga’s main Tumblr page boasts 64, 446 followers officially making him bona fide Tumblr royalty. In the past two days alone, his page has accrued 92, 402 notes, or user interactions with his content.
“As far as my schoolwork goes, I tend to bring things that I think are funny or weird that I’ve found online into the things that I’m writing about for my classes. All day long I’m online, and I’m always finding something to laugh about,” Mwinga said. Since becoming a regular user, Mwinga has integrated Tumblr into his daily routine. Each morning, he checks Tumblr first before all of this other social media accounts. As his day progresses, there are few times when Tumblr is ever far from his mind.
“Comedy is one of the most important things in my life,” Mwinga said. Beyond Tumblr, he tries to bring humor into all aspects of his life. While Mwinga chewed his pizza, Nabila chimed in: “yeah, even the random statuses that you make on Facebook and Twitter are so fuckin’ funny!”
For Mwinga, comedy is a way to relieve stress, and social media is where his sense of humor thrives. “Comedy is an outlet for me,” Mwinga explained, “for anything negative in my life, really.” Mwinga cracks jokes to a close network of friends on Facebook and Twitter, but Tumblr as a platform for him to express his funny side to a much, much wider audience. “I use Tumblr and Twitter whenever, all day long, really. I don’t go online to make specific posts, I’ll log on out of boredom and then post random bursts of thought,” he said. Mwinga also uses Instagram, but said, “I’ll only post photos when I’m not lookin’ ugly!”
As discussed in Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson’s lecture, ‘Gettng a Digital Life: Autobiography Online,’ digital spaces within Web 2.0 environments are increasingly allowing users to curate representations of themselves. Social media accounts serve as extensions of personal identities. To quote Smith, “Anyone with a social media account has already changed their self, whether they know it or not.” As Mwinga integrates his sense of humor with social interaction online, he is crafting a virtual identity that not only divides, but also immortalizes, his self.
The kinds of content that users post are indicative of identity formation. Mwinga’s Tumblr is a mixture of reblogged content, content that he finds on other sites and reposts on his own page, and original content—usually in the form of gif or edited videos. “My original content depends,” Mwinga clarified. “I’ll repost funny videos or vines from others accounts on my blog. Other times I’ll reblog funny things and add my own commentary to them. Sometimes I do, but I don’t usually make my own content. I used to make a lot, but I don’t really anymore.” On a daily basis, Mwinga posts an average of 70-150 posts. “I’ve never hit the Tumblr post limit [500 posts]!” He laughed.
It is this interconnection of content between networks that is what has allowed Mwinga’s blog to rise in popularity so quickly. While this is a classic technique that microcelebrities use to gain followerships from many different networks and increase their exposure, for Mwinga, this multi-network exposure was unintentional. This shows that his content, and his online persona, speak for themselves in that they connect with his audience base. It’s a somewhat random and distributed process of reblogging, reposting, and content-ripping that spreads images and jokes around the internet, based on the quality of content and command of technology on the part of the user.
The first time that Mwinga had a viral post was a defining moment in his self exploration and representation through social media. “It was the first time that I saw that people were actually looking at the stuff I was posting, it wasn’t just there, you know what I mean?” he said. What Mwinga didn’t realize was that this was a moment in which his self was further extended, divided, blended and ingrained his identity into digital space.
Since then, Mwinga’s posts have never been ‘just there.’ “One day, I was in the library listening to Katy Perry’s new song Dark Horse dancing in my seat and I thought, oh, I should film myself. So I did,” he explained. “My friends love to torture me online, so I made the video and put it up kind of as a joke making fun of myself to make them laugh. They all reblogged it from me, and it spread and got almost 300,000 notes again.” Not only was this video incredibly popular on Tumblr, but it was picked up by Reddit, Vine, and a particular Facebook account called “SnapChat Fails” which pulled the video up to over 500,000 views.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE
Tumblr is a very unique, and often self-contained community. So, how did Mwinga’s content end up on someone else’s account on a completely different social network? “A lot of my posts end up on places like Facebook or Reddit or Imgur,” he explained.
“It’s weird sometimes because my face will be on a post and people from other countries, my friends from back home in Geneva and around the world, will see them on third party sites and be like ‘Mwinga, is that you?’” he continued, “which is so weird cause like, what do I say? These people have known me since I was in diapers and they’re like ‘why are you shaking your ass in a library?’”
Mwinga’s online life has officially bled into the physical world—a somewhat jarring experience. While digitization of the self is an intimately divisive process, at the same it combines online and offline identities together in new ways that further augment identity. Liam Bullingham and Ana C. Vasconcelos paraphrase Baker, who “introduces an alternative perspective, through the concept of ‘blended identity’, whereby the offline self informs the creation of a new, online self, which then re-informs the offline self in further interaction with those the individual first met online.” As Mwinga continues to document his life and conduct social interactions online, his online and offline identity become ever more inextricable.
While this phenomenon manifests in many different ways (many of which we still do not understand or even recognize yet), the sense of humor that Mwinga develops on his Tumblr page affects his sense of humor/humorous interactions with friends offline, and vice versa. For example, it is common on Tumblr to write “I can’t,” “I’m crying,” “omg stop,” and other overly-dramatic statements if a user finds something particularly amusing. Mwinga has adapted this hyperbolic sense of humor and vocabulary, which he uses regularly online, to regular colloquial use.
Furthermore, it is common on Tumblr to sexualize things and situations completely out of context; a humorous practice that Mwinga has also integrated into his offline social interactions. In most offline contexts, this would be considered inappropriate, which is why when Mwinga does crack jokes in this way it is sparingly and in a more tasteful, reserved way than online. Though an ‘identity blending’ does occur, the divide between online and offline remains. This makes sense, as the Tumblr world is a completely different environment than Mwinga’s offline world.
Though he is undeniably pervasive all over the Internet (google Mwinga and see what comes up), he remains humble. “I don’t expect to get notes or anything. I don’t do it because I like notes and want notes, I do it because it’s fun for me,” he clarified. While many microcelebrities use social media as platforms for self-promotion and ultimately professional endeavors (see my blog posts on Jennifer Wang), for many such as Mwinga social media remains a source of entertainment, an outlet for creative and social energy. At the end of the day, Mwinga is committed to staying as true to himself, his own sense of humor, and the community that he has become a part of as possible. Authenticity reigns supreme, and Mwinga strives to maintain authenticity for himself and for his following—the sheer volume of his followers is testament to the fact that he succeeds in this.
“I enjoy the attention sometimes, but sometimes I don’t. It’s 50/50 really, and depends on the mood that I’m in. Sometimes I just want to reblog stuff and not have it questioned and scrutinized by 50 different people,” Mwinga explained. In his piece “Virtual Closets: Strategic Identity Construction and Social Media,” Bruce E. Drushel describes the effects of a lack of physical identification in interaction on social dynamics and inter-user interactions. In online environments, “neither social cues, such as nonverbal behaviors, nor the physical environments are available. The absence of such cues…can lead to more uninhibited behavior, such as verbal aggression, blunt disclosure, and nonconforming behavior.” With a massive following comes a lot of microscopic attention, which has beneficial as well as disagreeable results. Tumblr users, usually shrouded in anonymity but oftentimes not, are notorious for uninhibited behaviors like this online.
Mwinga, like most other popular Tumblr users and microcelebrities in general, is often the target of these behaviors. What frustrates Mwinga the most is when his posts are taken the wrong way by his passionate following. In any online interaction, intonations and subtleties can be lost in the digital medium. When Mwinga receives the most negative feedback is when what he says is taken out of context. “The hate came all in the way that they [his following] took it [his commentary],” he explained. “I don’t like the attention when people take every little thing that I say and misconstrue it. I don’t like feeling like I have to wordcheck everything, like I’m walking on eggshells. If one person finds something that they don’t agree with, they light a spark and all of a sudden if I acknowledge that person that said something then EVERYONE says something.”