It was always hard to define exactly what Tumblr was. You could write blogs on there, but it wasn’t really good for blogging. You could link up with other people like a social network, but it wasn’t really that either. It was — and is, I guess, although the latest news about the platform banning adult content seems like a nail in the coffin — something truly unique.
Tumblr was founded by David Karp in 2007 as a method for people to post “tumblelogs” — essentially short-form blogs — featuring links, short paragraphs and a stream of consciousness style. It rapidly grew a wild and fractious user base, split into dozens if not hundreds of communities united by niche interests.
The site was acquired by Yahoo in 2013 and declined along with the rest of that corporate entity, and is now owned by Verizon’s Oath division. But in its prime, Tumblr was a hotbed for Weird Internet, generating unforgettable memes, crazy stories, and legendary posts. Here are some of the most notorious. Thanks to tumblr memedocumentation and Twitter user @3liza for research help.
Tumblr was a home for all kinds of subcultures, including religious ones. It also was a home for “call-out posts,” where one user would put another on blast for a crime whether real or imaginary.
One of the most epic call-outs of all time came in December of 2015 when user pastel-prouvaire issued a warning about a woman named Ender Darling for… wait for it… stealing human bones from a flooded cemetery in Louisiana! This was allegedly for use in witchcraft ceremonies, but the moral repercussions of just grabbing another human’s remains were very explicitly explained to them.
This whole debacle was one of the few Internet phenomena to result in actual criminal charges, with the police raiding Darling’s home and seizing bones and teeth. She was brought to court on a charge of simple burglary, which she pled guilty to.
Niche fandoms were the lifeblood of Tumblr, as the seriously dedicated followers of TV shows like Sherlock and Dr. Who used the platform for fanfic, art and roleplaying. One show that has a demonstrably outsized online fandom is the CW’s Supernatural, and in 2013 fans of that show managed to make Tumblr almost unusable for a day with a single photograph. The event was called “Mishapocalypse.”
In March of that year, a user named lokisleathersuit floated the idea of multiple people changing their user icons to a specific picture of Supernatural actor Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel on the show. The date was set for April 1st, and like many things on Tumblr it rapidly spiraled out of control. Thousands of users made the switch, and followed up by posting the picture to their feed, creating memes and more. It then spawned a wave of complaint posts as non-participating users complained that their dash was nothing but the same photo no matter how far they scrolled.
Dragonkin Eating Jewelry
The “otherkin” subculture found a home on Tumblr pretty early. If you’re not familiar, these are people who believe that their spirit is actually that of an animal or some other creature. It’s kind of like being a furry, only mentally. People go to different lengths with it, and the above post is pretty spectacular.
Dragonkin, obviously, think that they’re actually dragons, and because this poor kid has spent too much time with the old AD&D Monster Manual, they think that as a dragon they’re supposed to eat jewelry.
That was just the tip of the iceberg with otherkin on Tumblr, but it’s a great example of how even the most absurd thing somebody posted could be believable on there.
There comes a point in the life cycle of every online community when it reaches a critical mass and users make the leap into congregating online. This is always a mistake. Case in point: DashCon, created in 2014 to allow Tumblr users to meet some of their favorite content creators and enjoy special programming and performances. That… did not happen.
The event’s organizers were in way over their heads, unable to pay guests, provide them accommodations or even pay for the hotel venue itself. Things got so bad that during the first day they were frantically soliciting donations from the less than 1,000 people who showed up to try and pay the $20,000 facility fee. The iconic moment of DashCon came when they offered to reimburse people who were upset at the cancellation of the Welcome To Night Vale panel with “an extra hour” in the convention’s tiny ball pit. It was classic Tumblr – earnest, inept and completely unable to see how ridiculous it was being.
The Severed Toe Necklace
One thing that Tumblr did very well is allow people to form surprisingly deep bonds with each other. Bonds deep enough to, say, send amputated body parts through the mail. In 2017, a Tumblr user named cummy-eyelids posted a pair of pictures of a severed pinky toe in a medical waste container that had been mailed to her by another user named royallyoily. The plan was to drain the fluid out, put the toe in a different housing and then send it back to her to wear as a pendant.
This… is wild. The toe had been cut off all the way back in 2011 and royallyoily (a young woman named Hayley) had just sort of kept it around for sentimental reasons before meeting cummy-eyelids on Tumblr, seeing her other sculptural work that used bones, skulls and “wet specimens” and approaching her about mailing her a severed body part. Completely normal and sanitary thing to do in every way.
Homestuck Skin Dye
Of all the fandoms that ravaged the trenches of Tumblr, Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck might have been the most intense and disorienting. The convoluted tale of an online game leaking into the real world, human kids and trolls, and a million billion in-jokes sprawls to 8,000 pages and inspired slavish devotion both on Tumblr and in the real world. There are plenty of shipping battles and canon wars, but the 100% best Homestuck-related Tumblr post came in 2012, when a user shared a story from Anime Expo that will blow your mind.
Room with friends for Anime Expo. They have a few stragglers to makeup for last minute drop outs in the room. They don’t know one of the girls to well but they need the money. Girl IS probably where the term Hambeast originated as well as a few other words. (See: Weeaboo, japanophile, fucking retard) We’ll call her Tarry. We get to the con Friday night and Tarry is 3 hours late. (This wouldn’t have mattered but we had to pay at check in and she hadn’t paid yet).
Get settled in. She throws her stuff all over the room and proceeds to start yaking about her new favorite thing. Homestuck. (A forward, I don’t mind homestuck itself, but I hate the fandom.) Saturday rolls around. Tarry is cosplaying a troll from homestuck. (The one with the red eyes and the Libra symbol.) She locks herself in the bathroom. “I need to get into my troll makeup! Don’t come in!” 2 Hours later she still isn’t done. There are 2 people in the room with Trinity Blood costumes, and my self and my friend have makeup that takes at least an hour to apply. Plus we all still need to shower. (Not that our costumes automatically take priority but 2 hours, really?) We notice a funny smell coming from the bathroom. Door is locked, and she wont let us in.
15 minutes later we start to get really suspicious. Friend decides to shimmy open the door. Her purse and valuables are in there and she needs to go. Get door open. Tarry is sitting in the bathtub, naked. The bathtub is filled almost half way with what we later found out was 70% alchohol and sharpie dye. Bottles and sharpies everywhere. It’s all over the walls. On the tile. On almost all the towels. On several articles of clothing and bags in the bathroom. What she says?
“I was going to clean it up!”
BITCH YOU TRIED TO DYE YOURSELF GREY IN A BATHTUB. We kick her out of the room. She pays the $700 dollars in damage fees. She gets skin poisoning/damage from her stupid stunt. Fucking Homestuck fans.
The story’s subject crashed a room at Anime Expo and to prepare for her cosplaying as the troll Terezi attempted to dye her skin gray by submerging herself in a bathtub filled with sharpies dissolved in denatured alcohol. Needless to say, she not only trashed the bathroom but also gave herself a serious skin condition in the process. The post about it went mega-viral and colored (no pun intended) the Homestuck fandom as irrational lunatics for years.
The HIV+ Hamilton Fanfic Fracas
One of the most purely, truly Tumblr things of all time came with the blog hivliving, run by a pair of HIV-positive female writers, Israa and Naj. The duo were known for their 170,000 word fanfic of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Hamilton that recast the Founding Father as a high school student in the 1980s, also with HIV.
Pretty normal (for Tumblr) so far, until the whole thing came crashing down in 2017. Israa and Naj, both of whom claimed to live in India, were exposed as a white American college student who had been faking the whole thing to get attention for the fanfic.
Now for the bigger twist: the user who exposed them, digoxin-purpurpea, didn’t do so out of any great desire for social justice. Instead, it turned out that the person behind Israa and Naj had reported on their own Hamilton fanfic, this time about Hamilton as a cannibal mermaid, and they were just out for revenge. Of course.
Female Presenting Nipples
It’s only appropriate that Tumblr’s latest meme came as a consequence of the company’s own actions. When they released their new content policy prohibiting adult or sexually explicit images, it contained a turn of phrase so awkward that it instantly rocketed into the memeosphere. That phrase? “Female presenting nipples.”
The general intent is to include men who identify as women as women — even if it’s to say “you can’t be nude on this website” — it’s just such a bizarre, faux-woke use of the English language to set a policy that has no real basis in the world. What makes a male presenting nipple as opposed to a female presenting one? How can you tell by looking at the nipple itself? Posts started to fly hot and heavy mocking the concept, which might end up being the last truly great meme Tumblr ever makes.