I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the picture is on hundreds of websites, either. It's been used more often than most stock photos, appearing on locksmith and tow company home pages in cities across the United States.
In 1985, an American photojournalist covering the Afghan-Soviet war snapped a quick picture of a young girl in a refugee camp. National Geographic then printed that picture on the cover of their magazine and it quickly became the single most iconic image of the entire conflict, as well as one of the most recognizable photographs of the late 20th century. All of this happened without the young girl's knowledge or consent. She just went on living the stoic life of a refugee while the rest of the world cashed in on her face.
And aspiring actresses everywhere were privately jealous that her headshot was superior to theirs.
I mention this because I may be the only person who knows exactly how that poor girl feels. Just as that "Afghan Girl" unwittingly became synonymous with human atrocity thanks to a single photograph, so too has this "American Dreamboat" unwittingly become synonymous with casual stupidity. I discovered recently that hundreds of websites all over the Western world feature my face, pressed hard against the driver's side window of a Toyota Camry (Limited Edition), staring at a set of keys locked hopelessly inside.
You and me, little Afghan girl, we get all the bad luck.
Oh, it's also jumped the pond, carrying my legendary idiocy to the countries of Western Europe. How did they account for the steering wheel being on the opposite side of the car in countries like Ireland? Cleverly, they just flipped the image. Problem solved.
Well, at least one problem is solved; there's still the pesky issue of ownership. It should come as no surprise to anyone that plagiarism and copyright infringement are rampant on the Internet. Fighting against it is like slogging through the Swamp of Sadness in The NeverEnding Story: You can head into it as optimistically as you like, but by the end you will be so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of unapologetic nastiness and disrespect that, at the very least, a horse somewhere will die from it, probably. However, every once in awhile, online thievery takes a break from being depressing and takes a stab at being hilarious instead. Point in case: my stupid face greasing up the window of a Toyota Camry (Limited Edition) and becoming more shared than anything I will ever write. Here's how it happened:
That original picture came from an article I published six years ago as a freelance writer, long before I started as a columnist for Cracked. It's a wildly boring guide to getting into a locked car.
Ironically, it is a how-to alternative to calling a locksmith.
I wrote it for $10 because I was young enough to think that was enough money to write anything, and because I used to lock my keys in the car a lot and thought I could lend some expertise.
Naturally, I wanted to dress up the article with the perfect picture so that people might mistake it for something they actually wanted to read. I hesitated to just steal some photo from a Google Image search and paste it at the top because I figured upward of 15 people might be reading the piece, and it didn't seem fair to put those devoted followers in the awkward position of rallying behind me outside the courtroom when it turned into an ugly legal battle down the road. Instead I put my camera on a tripod, set the timer and took a picture of myself, smashing my face against one of the many crises of adulthood (Limited Edition).
Now, I assume that at some point over the past five years, a little locksmith company borrowed the photo temporarily while building a website because they didn't have the money to buy a licensed photo, and then another little locksmith company borrowed it from the first one, and then another, and another. Eventually, it was so ubiquitous that everyone assumed it was license-free and they all had a big locksmith party to celebrate their good fortune of finding such a charming, attractive everyman to represent their clientele. I assume.
Sean Murphy / Getty
Of course they would party at a private pool. Locksmiths can break in anywhere.
But more than likely, it was actually a bunch of lazy website designers who just lifted it from one another because, really, who f*****g cares? In the end, it's just a picture that the original owner will probably never see on some tiny local locksmith website in Tempe, Arizona. And to their credit, they were at least partially right. It was just a picture, and it was incredibly unlikely that the original owner would work for a comedy website six years later where, one day, it would be a submission in a Photoplasty Contest for that website, "Movies About Real Problems," and he would see it. And it was even more unlikely that he would be narcissistic enough to do an image search for his own face in the picture just to see where it came from.
But I was all of those things, and now here we are.
I'm not looking for compensation or for anyone to apologize; I'm not mad at the Locksmith King of Prussia or the Syracuse blog that ran a news story about teens dining and dashing under my picture along with the keywords #a*****e and #dumbass. No, I'm not mad at anyone but myself. I should have chosen a better photograph.
Had I known that I would be the poster boy of anything, even careless blunders, I would have tried to look a little more winsome. I wouldn't have pressed my cheek against the glass so furiously, I would have picked out a nicer shirt, I would have wrestled my feathered hair down in the back. Frankly, I'm embarrassed that this was the photo that circled the Internet. So, with that in mind, I'd like to propose a trade.
I'm offering this new picture, license-free, to every locksmith company in the world. I think we can all agree that it's a little more flattering. I'm also pretty confident that the suit will help you pull in some higher profile customers because they will relate to me. Before you know it, people will refer to you as "that fancy locksmith/tow company," and then just watch the business pour in!
Plus, look: I'm clearly just as devastated by the current state of things as I was in the previous photograph, except this time my eyes are also saying, "Maybe we should turn this old lemon into lemonade and have sex on the hood to pass the time." I can guarantee right now that if you swap out the old photo for this new one, people will be locking their keys in their cars on purpose. It's really win-win.
So put my picture on your company website. If you don't own a locksmith company, look up the nearest shop and let them know I'm gifting them more business. Let's all put this ugliness behind us and move on. I'll be waiting. And also Googling myself occasionally ... you know, just to make sure it happens.
But mostly waiting.
UPDATE: Lock Works Mobile Service in Denver has already changed the photo to the new one, so I am removing their link from the article (also, it looks like all the visits are crashing their site). The metaphorical wheels are in motion.
For more from Soren, check out The 5 Stupidest Technology Questions Ever Googled and Answering The 6 Craziest Pet Questions Ever Googled.
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