When people on social media want to react to something they see with incredulity, they normally seek out a meme known as the blinking white guy.
He has become a cornerstone of internet culture for millions – yet few people know his story, nor how he reached the dizzying heights of meme fame.
For the past two-and-a-half years, Drew Scanlon has pretty much been the official face of “what the f***?”.
Recalling the moment that would become the stuff of internet legend, he recalled: “I don’t remember doing it at all.
“It was one joke in a two-hour stream that we did every week, and a very forgettable moment for me at the time.”
That stream was a 2013 episode of Unprofessional Fridays – a show by video game website Giant Bomb.
Drew was a producer there and occasionally appeared on camera.
He made the expression when his editor, Jeff Gerstmann, remarked to colleagues that he had been “doing some farming with my hoe here” while playing a game called Starbound.
Some four years later, for whatever reason, the startled face of Drew took on a life of its own as a GIF, which travelled like wildfire across social media.
Drew told Sky News: “There were animated GIFs made of us all the time, but this was the first one that jumped species from our own little video game community to the internet at large.
“At first I didn’t see it in the wild for myself, only people who follow me on Twitter who sent it on to me. I had people saying stuff like, ‘my mum just sent this to me on Facebook, she doesn’t even know who you are’.
“The first instance I saw it myself was a tweet someone made about biology. It was a good representation of how you could use the GIF as a punchline to a joke and it was impressive to see how many retweets it got.”
Since then it has been used in a variety of contexts and it has mutated several times.
The face of Drew has been re-imagined as a Lego figure, cartoon characters and a sketch from the Take Me On music video by pop band a-ha.
“It has stuck around because it’s so versatile – I think it it’s a quick and easy way to express a feeling,” he theorises.
“Memes to me are a way to express body language over this new internet medium we have.”
Drew left Giant Bomb not long after the GIF went viral and founded Cloth Map, which sees him explore the world to make travel documentaries through the lens of gaming.
Chernobyl and Brazil are just some of the places he has visited to find out how games bring people together.
But despite his need for backers to fund his work, Drew has never sought to take advantage of being one of the most recognisable faces on the internet – until now.
He tells Sky News: “I’ve been resistant because it feels like I don’t own it. It was created by the internet and I didn’t have anything to do with it. It it would feel to me like the band wearing the band’s T-shirt – it’s just not cool.”
The reason Drew finally decided to “toot his own meme horn” and out himself as the face of our collective confusion is because he wants to raise thousands of dollars to help people with multiple sclerosis.
He used the image in a tweet for the first time this month, asking those who have ever been brought joy by the GIF to consider making a donation to the National MS Society.
“It would mean a lot to me and to those I know affected by the disease,” he added.
Hi Internet! I’m Drew and THIS IS MY FACE.
If this GIF has ever brought you joy in the past, I humbly ask you to consider making a donation to the National MS Society. It would mean a lot to me and to those I know affected by the disease!
Donate at https://t.co/vf6ItTacgR pic.twitter.com/VaFbgOKrV2
— Drew Scanlon (@drewscanlon) September 19, 2019
More than 22,000 retweets have helped Drew become the top fundraiser for the 2019 edition of Bike MS, which tasked him with tackling a 120 mile two-day cycling challenge in California.
He has raised more than $28,000 (£22,622) so far, smashing his initial goal of $10,000 (£8,089).
Drew is all too aware that every meme has a shelf life, but for now his face remains a fixture of social media.
He says: “I don’t know if the stars will align in quite the same way again, so I treat this as an opportunity.
“If I can use it to get some funding for medical research, then I should try it.”
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