Tumblrs produce some of the most specific and interesting content on the internet. General blogging sites like Blogger or WordPress tend to lend themselves best to cooking blogs, or housewives who always wanted to be photographers, or sophomoric attempts at movie reviews. But Tumblr seems to have corner on the niched humor market.
Caught Dead in That comprised solely of photos of humorous tombstones/epitaphs; Food in Space a blog that takes photos of food and superimposes them on images of astral planes and the universe; Panda Loves to Party is a Tumblr just of pictures of Pandas eating cake; What if Adele was Mrs. Doubtfire? through Photoshop thoroughly explores this possibility; Lana Del Rey Dancing takes an animated gif of Lana’s awkward SNL dance twirl move and puts it into other photos such as Jan’s square in the Brady Bunch intro (Lana Del Rey is a complete phenomenon on Tumblr by the way), are only a few examples of the hundreds of thousands of humorously specific Tumblrs. If you can think of something odd, whether it be dogs in bee costumes or pictures of Tom Selleck in front of a waterfall eating a sandwich, there is a Tumblr for it.
In a lot of ways Tumblr is defined by Limitlessness, from the layout of themes as an endless scrolling landscape of images, to Tumblr’s lack of censorship towards content. Tumblr states it is their mission to let users ‘effortlessly share anything.’ As one blogger eloquently put it, “posting porn on Tumblr is like trying to add room to outer space.” This commitment to limitlessness is a testament to the kind of freedom Tumblr wants their users to have, and the ability Tumblr want them to feel when they create. The type of blogs mentioned above and the thousands of others equally as odd are the result of this freedom.
So, with over 77 million blogs, people creating new trends, people perpetuating existing styles, people blogging pictures of Tom Selleck in front of a waterfall with a sandwich, what emerges as popular throughout ALL of Tumblr? Well, in two words, Cara Delevingne.
Cara Delevigne is a British model who was crowned Model of the Year at the 2012 British Fashion Awards and is currently number 25 on Models.com’s list of the top 50 female models in the world. She has campaigns with Burberry, Chanel, Blumarine, H&M and Zara.
But what does she have to do with Tumblr? Lots. Of the literally millions of images floating around on the site, it seems an extraordinarily high percentage of them are Ms. Delevingne. Obviously there are many images of any number of celebrities and models, especially Lana Del Rey and One Direction, but as a user they appear to be dwarfed by the amount of Cara Delevingne pictures.
However out of these three, Cara is the only one who is not a brand unto herself. Girls (and boys) blog photos of One Direction because they love One Direction. Similarly, girls and boys blogging pictures of Lana Del Rey love Lana Del Rey. They are familiar the music, the image, the lives of these people, and they want to associate themselves with it. Conversely, it seems as though many of the people blogging pictures of Cara Delevingne don’t know who she is. Many of them don’t even know her name. So why is she so popular?
Fashion moves very quickly; this is true not just for trends in clothes, but trends in the types of models en vogue as well. In the late 80’s, early 90’s ‘Glamazons’ reigned supreme. Tall women of statuesque beauty: Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, and Cindy Crawford. Soon after, Kate Moss ushered in the ‘Waif’ look. At 5’7” and a double zero, she popularized a completely different silhouette for designers. After Waif there was a shift to ‘Androgyny’, and during this time runways were characterized by looks that subverted the usual gender binary. Female models were given fuller eyebrows and slicked or pulled back hair and the clothes were also more of a streamlined look.
‘Fairy Alien’ became popular and models like Lily Cole and Daphne Groeneveld took over the catwalks. This look is a hyper-exaggeration of features: big eyes, big foreheads, big mouths, in a way that doesn’t necessarily translate into stereotypical beauty but is incredibly striking. All these cycles led us to where we are now in beauty culture-models who embody a plain, stripped beauty; Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss and Liu Wen typify this trend.
‘Stripped’ refers to the idea that all their features are weighted equally, they don’t have huge features or distinct profiles, their beauty is very mutable. The planes on their faces are so without bias, they react to the light of cameras differently at different times depending how makeup is applied. If makeup is applied with attention to one area of the face, the visual weight will shift and highlight that feature. If you look at different pictures of these women, you will start to appreciate the trait I’m speaking of; they look notably like different women from one photograph to the next.
This beauty is perfect for the culture of Tumblr. With the ever amassing number of visual aesthetics being created and the infinite number of blogs to host them, each author looks for a face to articulate their specific brand of beauty, their style, their “look.” They each want something different and in this desire they find Cara. Her image is so ubiquitous because it’s so amorphous. She looks like all the subcultures, all the styles. She looks like Denise Richards, Brigitte Bardot, or Angela Lindvall depending on the day, on the light. Of the hundreds of thousands of pictures of her on the internet depending on how she is stylized she embodies a different image, a different personality, a different look.
In interviews Cara has said she thinks of modeling as acting, and of each photo as a new role that she embodies for that moment. This strength of transformation is what allows her to fit in with all the different manifestations of ‘self’ people are trying to create in the blogosphere.
But it’s not simply that she’s beautiful. There are hundreds of models who take stunning pictures and look pretty when they wear dresses. Delevingne separates herself from the pack by the sense of humor and flippancy about fame she embodies. In her Twitter bio she describes herself as a “professional human being” and constantly uploads pictures of herself in animal costumes; gigantic onesies of loose fabric that transform her into a lion, elephant or bird. She often screws her face up, crosses her eyes, sticks her tongue to the side of her mouth and/or frowns for photos, the majority of her Tweets are silly and satirical.
In a recent ‘model advent calendar,’ which featured a different video of a model every day, while other models perform sexy strip teases, or roll around in fake snow on the floor, Delevingne skates around on roller blades shooting goofy faces at the camera and laughing, and towards the end of the video seemingly recreates her own version of Ministry of Silly Walks. This carefree humor coupled with her chameleonic beauty melds perfectly with the Tumblr community and are the jewels in her crown as reigning Queen of Tumblr.
But who cares? Who cares that a certain model is popular on Tumblr? Tumblr is one manifestation of a growing trend we have seen throughout the past few years. Technology has made culture very piecemeal; most people don’t purchase entire albums and listen to them in an uninterrupted block as they were originally intended, they download them (sometimes just certain songs or the singles) then put these songs into a playlist and listen to them however they want, usually correlating them to what they’re doing; a playlist for the gym, a playlist for sex, a playlist for driving, a playlist for going to sleep.
Tumblr is the visual version of this phenomenon. Instead of buying a single magazine and looking through the whole thing, consuming the images as some editor or art director has arranged them, now on Tumblr people look at images from literally millions of different sources, pick the ones they like, and arrange them how they want. For Delevingne to excel within this medium despite without mainstream popularity is indicative of a positive wave of change in the way popular culture is created in the the years to come; by the self-selections of millions of independent users versus “tastemakers” and larger corporations.