There was a point in my life when I wanted nothing more than to be an Internet Phenomenon. Time has proven this to be somewhat antithetical to the way I go about my business; I don’t even like taking the garbage out in the same 15-second window as my neighbor in the event I will be forced to make small talk.
Over the years, I never wrote essays to strictly capitalize on traffic (or tried particularly hard to bolster my popularity), but I do admit that I silently wondered what it would be like to write something, someday, that resonated with a million people at once. As a writer, you want to maintain some sort of control over your words and their intent, but it’s also silly to never want something you write to explode and essentially venture into the Public Domain. To create something so universal that it no longer has an author. It…just sort of belongs to the Internet. That seemed like a fun thing to aspire toward.
I now know what that feels like, and I’ll tell you all about it.
In July of 2011, I wrote an essay titled ‘Somebody Must Have Stepped On A Butterfly.‘ It was about the Berenstain Bears and their popular series of books, specifically about how almost everyone from a certain generation remembered them as the ‘Berenstein’ Bears, and how that false remembrance may cause us to rethink everything we know about Time Travel and Alternate Realities. I also touched upon how this may be the first ‘Glitch in the Matrix’ that we’ve noticed so far, and we may discover more as blah BLAH BLOO BLEE BLAH…you get it. Read it if you want to.
You heard about this. You probably read about this sometime last year on some other website or message board. You sure as shit didn’t read about it when I originally wrote it in 2011, because nobody read that essay at the time. I thought it was interesting and funny, and I workshopped it to nearly everyone I knew at the time, but nobody seemed to be as interested in the theory as I was. Eventually I gave up on it. I walked away from the 2011 essay and decided that it was just another of the thousand dumb things I’ve said on the Internet that more or less amount to nothing. I’ve been blogging for 13 years as of this very day; I can tell you that most stuff on the Internet is read by no one. That’s how this works more often than not.
Then, a few years later…something happened.
It was slow at first. A few sci-fi and Physics-based websites took the (spooky) skeleton of my idea and reshaped it into new theories. Parallel Dimensions were discussed. People started making YouTube clips discussing the false memory (or nefarious explanation thereof). Mostly, a lot of people at once began to realize that, heeeeyyyyy….I remembered it as ‘Berenstein’ too! Weird! I personally noticed the slight spike in interest, and quietly fistpumped over a job well done. I managed to get a little satisfaction and redemption over something I had relegated to the mothballs years ago. It was all good.
Then all hell broke loose.
It literally happened overnight. An editor at Vice wrote about it, and was kind enough to link back to my 2011 essay. It became one of the most popular posts in the history of the page. Reddit then followed suit in conversation. MTV, Yahoo! and The AV Club wrote articles about the theory. Nerdist devoted a podcast episode to it. The idea hit a bunch of mainstream pages within hours of each other, and that was all she wrote. A bazillion minds were blown in unison. Even Seventeen Magazine wrote about it, which bizarrely fulfilled my lifelong fantasy of being mentioned in Seventeen Magazine, although not in a heartthrob-related fashion as I had hoped.
By the end of the week, it had invaded every aspect of online discussion. There were Facebook groups devoted to the theory. Subreddits such as The Mandella Effect and Glitch In The Matrix exploded. There was a Kickstarter page for a documentary someone wanted to make. T-shirts were printed. Twitter was fragmented into #TeamBerenstain and #TeamBerenstein. It was a theory that had legs and enough vagueness for people to pick it up and turn it into whatever they wanted. The result of the Presidential Election played into it, too, in that we wanted more than ever to believe there was a better version of Earth somewhere out there, and perhaps we could visit if we found a way to wormhole ourselves over to the opposite side of the mirror.
Let me know if you figure it out, by the way. My bags are already packed.
Over the last year, I’ve completely and utterly lost track of where the story has gone. The Angry Video Game Nerd did an episode inspired by the theory. Some of my favorite podcasts such as How Stuff Works have taken the time to discuss it. There’s even a reference to a ‘Project Berenstain‘ on Mr Robot, for Christ’s sake. And these are just the things I’ve noticed without trying. Just a cursory Internet search went from a handful of hits in 2011 (prior to my essay), to millions in 2017.
Something very important I want to articulate, here. The Berenstain Bears Theory of Everything is not, in my opinion, a CDP essay or Ryan Zeinert brainchild. It’s an idea that took root thanks (only in part) to something funny I wrote a long time ago and bloomed in a million different directions. I’m extremely happy as a writer to be part of something that entered any semblance of mainstream discussion, but I’m also glad my name isn’t attached to it all that much. I don’t really want to be known as ‘The Time Travel Guy,’ I just like writing stuff, and the fact that I got to see the story evolve through the web without being hitched to it was the perfect outcome for me. It’s kind of a goofy thing to be proud of; it’s just been fun to watch.
People are probably making money off of it. I am not. I do not care (my wife absolutely cares). This worked out exactly how I wanted it to, but couldn’t have ever predicted. Furthermore, there are hundreds of people who put far more work into this theory than I have. Watch some YouTube clips; it’s friggin’ insanity out there. I’m perfectly content peering through the boarded-up windows of my tar paper shack and pissing into old soup cans. Don’t tell them where I am!
As it stands, the original essay from 2011 brings in over 20,000 unique hits a month. It has been viewed well over a million times, all stats considered. There’s a personal beauty for me in having the Berenstain bears, such a huge reading influence for me as a kid, be the reason so many people read something I wrote almost 30 years later. Even if my theory is false (and it definitely is), they definitely changed the future for me in one way or another. And if this also means that someone new shows up to the CDP and sticks around because they like my other stuff, then hey, all the better.
Today is the 13th Anniversary of the Communist Dance Party, today is our first post on WordPress and today represents the finale of the ‘Most Popular Posts In CDP History‘ list started way back in September of 2016 (sorry it took so long). If there’s anything valuable I can take away from this experience, it’s that humorous personal essays are all fine and good, but if you want to hit that next-level traffic, you gotta get clickbaity with a list or keyword. Or you just gotta stumble upon some dumb luck and propose an idea so ridiculous that the Internet explodes for an entire week. I prefer the latter to the former.
I’m also being cynical and obviously joking. I will continue to write stupid shit that amuses me, probably for another 13 years, with no endgame or logical goal in site. It’s what I do.
Two quick things before we’re done. First, I recorded my first (and so far, only) podcast with the wonderful folks over at the Mark & Toddcast a few months ago. We talked about this very Berenstain/Berenstein phenomenon, and I strongly encourage you to check it out and comment on my buttery-smooth voice. This ain’t no Skype shit, either; I literally flew out to Portland and sat down with them. It was dope; check it out!
Finally, I wanted to do something I’ve never done before and dedicate today’s post to Bruce Daniel Kiesling, AKA Wallrock, who passed away on February 10 following a battle with pneumonia. Wallrock was a frequent CDP commenter and Mix-Tape Trade participant over the years (you may have received a Mix from him at some point in the last decade), and I was lucky enough to share a beer and good conversation with him in person on a few occasions. He will be missed, and I offer my sincere condolences to his friends and family.
Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week.