This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Elspeth Reeve over at TNR, as she takes a look at teenagers who ruled kingdoms and empires on the photo blog Tumblr, made serious bank, and watched it all burn.
When Pizza reached 100,000 followers on Tumblr, she posted a picture of a pizza box, takeout chicken wings, and an orange soda spread out on her bed: “pizza and chicken wings 2 celebrate.” One fan replied, “CONGRATULATIONS GIRL! YOU DESERVE IT!” Another: “MOTHER OF GOD 100K?!?!” An anonymous user was unimpressed: “you only have 100k because of ur url.” But Pizza shot that down: “uh no i had 93k before i got this url so excuse u.”
It had taken Pizza more than two years to reach this milestone. In late 2010 she had signed up for Tumblr, the then-three-year-old social network, and secured the URL IWantMyFairyTaleEnding.tumblr.com. At first, she mostly posted photos of party outfits—hipster photos, she thought. They were the kind of images you might find under the “summery” Tumblr tag: poolside drinks, sunsets, sundresses, palm trees, tiny succulents; a shopping list of the things she wanted to buy, if only she had the money. Pizza also wrote some funny one-liners, but otherwise she reblogged jokes, switching back and forth between fashion and comedy. She tried out new names, new personas, changing her URL a few times; after a couple of years, she went all-joke. By the end of 2012, she had amassed 90,000 followers, a respectable number for a Tumblr, a sign she’d earned a certain amount of fame in her circle—the teens who reblogged her jokes. She then changed her domain to pizza.tumblr.com, her followers started to call her Pizza, and her numbers began to climb. That same year, she turned 15.
Pizza’s strategy was brilliant: When a random Tumblr would write about “pizza”—either the food or herself—she’d reblog the post to her huge audience. Once, when a user wrote “so is tumblr user pizza god or beyonce,” she dug up the post and reblogged it with the comment “I’d like to confirm that i am both.” Users marveled at how quickly she responded, how you could “summon Pizza.” It made her seem all-knowing, but not superior. After Ellen DeGeneres ordered 20 large pies at the 2014 Academy Awards, Pizza dashed off the line “did u guys see me at the Oscars.” The post received almost 500,000 notes and was reblogged by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, with the comment “You looked great, pizza. Congrats on everything. I love you.”
One of Pizza’s most successful posts was “josh hutcherson’s parents are probably called josh hutcherdad and josh hutchermom.” It received over 419,000 notes. The joke was copied like crazy by humor accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. @RelatableQuotes’s version gathered 2,958 retweets and 4,425 favorites. @SoDamnTrue tweeted it for 1,630 retweets and 2,879 favorites. In June 2014, Pizza had more than 1 million followers and was the biggest star of the Tumblr teen comedy world. Two months later, her blog was gone.
Type in pizza.tumblr.com today and you’ll get a simple, haunting message: “There’s nothing here.” The 1 million left behind began to buzz: Where was Pizza? Why did Pizza go? Who killed Pizza? Tumblr users began to piece together the mystery of her disappearance. They wrote mournful posts: “i miss tumblr user pizza *insert titanic ‘come back’ gif*.” A fake conspiracy blog joked she quit after leaving the illuminati because of a fight with Beyoncé over “how to wittily answer anonymous hate mail.” A rumor spread her blog was terminated for being racist. A Reddit user called her blog’s death “one of the biggest scandals to have ever happened on Tumblr.” Last fall, OfficialUnitedStates, another humor blog with a large following, wrote, “i miss pizza.tumblr.com … sometimes late at night i wonder what tumblr would be like if she hadnt disappeared into the night one year ago today.”
As someone who's been blogging on the net for more than seven years now, I can definitely relate to Pizza and why she quit, burnt out, depressed, obsessed. It's a fascinating story, and there are a lot of folks out there like Pizza who all have stories of their own.
Definitely a good read this week.