Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
In our 'Me, My Selfie and I Series', V Magazine talks to individuals who are finding themselves (and their massive followings) online.
The advent of social media has ignited a democratization of content creation and sharing, giving rise to certain new stars. One such newcomer is twenty-year-old David Olshanetsky, the creator and face of 'The Shitney Spears', a Tumblr-based blog. The site has become the most popular male Tumblr account in Europe, the most popular LGBT+ blog in the world, and Europe's most popular Tumblr-based blog. That is to say that his pop-culture-laden content has captured the eyes of millions upon millions of regular visitors who are in search for Olshanetsky's humor, as well as the attention he brings to the queer community. As a part of our "Me, My Selfie and I" series, Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig sat down with Olshanetsky to talk about coming out as gay online, how Tumblr reinvents itself, and that one time Lena Dunham replied to his email.
Mathias Rosenzweig: Can you talk to me about when you started blogging and how you got into it?
David Olshanetsky: Yeah! I was 14, and while I was using other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it wasn’t in the same capacity that I was able to start Tumblr. It felt like with Facebook and Twitter, I had to...it felt like because I was able to have friends and family follow me, or so easily find me, I had to be a lot more censored with myself. But, because Tumblr felt so much more open, I was able to just share anything and everything and put some private things out or some interests that I wouldn’t talk about in school. It was able to just really become a part of me in a way that Facebook and Twitter never did.
MR: On Tumblr, were you starting off by making original content or were you re-sharing things that caught your eye?
DO: So for the first year, it was just entirely resharing. It was never something that I would expect to go viral, or for people to find. I wasn’t even tagging posts. I was a public blog, so anyone could follow, but I wasn’t really using it in the same way I am now. So people were not really finding my posts. I was sharing a lot more than I was really putting out. It was only around when I hit 17 really — a couple years later — when I really thought, “Oh, let me see what happens if I add like a tag,” or, “Let me see what happens if, you know, tomorrow is the Super Bowl...I know people are going to start talking about the Super Bowl...if I add #Superbowl to a post.” Things like that. I started seeing more and more people engaging, and it was was just like a mountain of people compared to what I would normally get, suddenly engaging with my posts and following. And that really changed the way I treated Tumblr.
MR: And what kind of people are you seeing who are regularly interacting with the posts? Like all the way from the beginning until now. Who would you say the audience is?
DO: My audience is pretty much the same kinds of people. I have a few followers that I can tell have grown up with me. And I feel like some of those followers from when I was like 15, 16, 17, and just starting out, are in this 19-21 university students bracket. I feel like every couple of years, Tumblr goes through a new aesthetic or a new type of resurgence. So, it started out as people like Lorde joining and having an aesthetic, like Instagram stuff where it was mostly just photo pieces. And then, a couple of years later, there was a lot of humor, but it was very like Cartoon Network. Like child humor. And then lately, we’ve seen that because the audience has grown up so much, the original audience, it’s a lot more, you know, things like more crude humor, or just a little bit more taboo or referencing more adult television shows. And it’s regular to see things like RuPaul’s Drag Race trending, whereas, a couple of years ago, you would have seen a children’s show, like Degrassi trending.
MR: I also think it’s interesting to be in the LGBTQ blogging space because a lot of us have to live these secret lives online before we can come out IRL. The Internet is an important space for the queer community.
DO: Well, I came out first online before I ever came out to anyone in real life. And it was because at this point, I had a couple hundred thousand followers, and I felt that if I could come out to these people online, and they continued to talk to me, continued to engage with my content, continued to just like me for me, then I’d be more comfortable in real life. In a weird convoluted way, some of these followers knew me better than my friends because I was moving around schools so much. So, I came out on Tumblr. Not in any dramatic way, but I remember because of my interests stereotypically being those of a queer person, I remember often getting messages from anonymous accounts being like, “Hey, are you gay?” I was just ignoring them, and one day someone finally asked, and they weren’t on anonymous as well. So, it felt a little bit more genuine. Like, they really wanted to know. And, so, I replied with, “Yeah, I am,” and then that was just the really easy way of doing it. But then because overnight I didn’t see somebody unfollow me or like seeing mean comments — I’ve never seen mean comments — it felt like, “Oh, maybe I could do this in real life.” And, I’m pretty sure that the gap between me first saying it online and me telling a friend was only like three months.
MR: When did your blog really switch over from being something private, sort of like a diary or mood board, into something you were aware that thousands of people were looking at?
DO: So there are two moments that first come to mind. I can’t remember the exact post, but I remember it was a couple of months before I came out. I remember doing those posts with those tags and then it got something like, I don’t know, 15,000 shares. Like, a number that back then was crazy to me but that now seems like a normal number. I remember showing it to a friend and I remember her being like, “Okay, when you get something with over 100,000, let me know.” And only a month later when I posted, I got over 300,000 shares. And the thing is so many of my posts are based in pop culture or making fun of pop culture and reacting to it. I remember when I was recently at a music festival, it was really fun and cool for me to go backstage into the artist area. Everyone else was being so chill and calm, but for me, the members of Little Mix were there, and I wanted to get a photo with them. And then there was Kaya Scodelario, who was in Skins, and I wanted to get a photo with her. I invited my sister to come with me and she was like, “You need to be a little more chill and calm because, you know, if they’ve invited you to be back here, it’s because they see you on the same level as these other people.”
So, another example would be the Red Sparrow premiere with Jennifer Lawrence. I got to go to that and that was my first real red carpet walk experience and I remember me and my friend taking photos on the carpet and not knowing how to walk or stand. And then we walked inside, we were the only ones who wanted to get popcorn. So it’s small things like that. But they helped me realize that not only am I making fun of pop culture, and this might sound super cocky, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one day someone made fun of me that way.
MR: You’re currently a student. How do you plan on incorporating all of this into your career?
DO: So I’m studying for a dual degree. I’m doing two degrees at once of Media and English, and it’s a really intensive course. But because media and English are so similar to, I guess, the concept of writing on Tumblr, it doesn’t feel that far fetched for me. And my dream job has always been television writing and to sell a series. Tumblr sort of helped me get a launchpad because a lot of these brands or production companies see this following as a potential audience and it’s not just an up-and-coming writer. It’s an up and coming writer that has an audience that would be interested in their product.
MR: Right, yeah, which is like a massive plus for them.
DO: Yeah, because I remember—no joke—you know how J.K Rowling and other authors, they have those stories like, “Oh, well she sent her book to 12 publishers and even the 12th rejected it,” right? But to me, sending it out to 12 people is nothing. I remember before I got my current agent and everything, I was sending out scripts to hundreds. And then the first company that ever bought it was the one that reached out to me and my agent, and that was the other way around. It was one of those crazy things. I fully made an iCloud email account just for sending out scripts and, you know, pitches, and I probably have hundreds of emails. Like, if you’re someone who’s in the industry, you probably have poorly written scripts from like 16-year-old me. I remember the first person that ever replied, I was 14 actually at the time and on my way to class, was Lena Dunham.
MR: No way
DO: And this was before she really blew up. She had just done season 1 of Girls. She tweeted about her email address to a friend like a year earlier and so I remember being like, “Let me send her this script,”having written it on like a Word document and not formatting it correctly at all, but sending it to her anyway. And she was like, “Hey, I can’t read this, but this is really fun and you should keep working and submitting for our team. We take so much stuff,” and she followed me on Twitter. She’s since unfollowed me, but whatever!