"It's not the size of the face, it's the boom of the bass."
"Unsettling Pictures of Mitt Romney With a Very Tiny Face" was a project by Wisconsin humorist Reuben Glaser that involved taking Mitt Romney's face and then making it very tiny. The idea of "Little Face Mitt" was to get people to involuntarily forever see Mitt Romney with a tiny face.
The above is the current description on the still live Little Face Mitt Tumblr where Little Face Mitt first blew up and where most of these images were curated and posted.
Of all of the weird things I have produced, I am confident that Little Face Mitt is the project that came closest to having a measurable impact on pop culture writ large before it receded back into obscurity. I'm not saying it was Gangnam Style or anything, but to this day every now and then I still see what appears to be remnants of its influence online.
I am able to say this because the reach of this thing was absolutely massive and no matter how you slice it there is no doubt that millions of people saw Mitt Romney with a tiny face after I launched this. That guy Alphacat used images I edited in a video that has over 4,000,000 views alone. At its height it had a dedicated audience, was receiving global press coverage online and on television and in newspapers, and was ultimately embraced by the team of Barack Obama, the sitting President of the United States of America at the time, who apparently used the images as desktop backgrounds on the computers in the Obama 2012 campaign headquarters in Chicago. Ten years out, I remain permanently namechecked on the Wikipedia page for the Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
Hey, if you don't believe me then check it yourself!
Little Face Mitt had a very real moment during the last few months leading up to the 2012 presidential election and it's the only thing I have done that truly went "viral." Even my Youtube video about it has the most views of any video I ever made.
For posterity, here are a few of the other greatest hits of Little Face Mitt:
The Young Turks:
NBC (via Alex Wagner):
The Washington Examiner:
The Daily Dot:
(This one also features an interview with me.)
And that's just what's still online. One of the many things I learned from LFM is that the internet sure isn't forever. At one point it was also covered by a French newspaper and a German newspaper, both of which no longer exist. And I am 100% positive that The International Business Times referred to it as one of the "best memes of all time." I wish I had catalogued everything a little better at the time because much of it has vanished. The Washington Post also did a lengthy interview with me but nothing came of it, probably because the interviewer learned early on that I was merely a pretentious college kid who thought he was a bigger deal than he really was just because he did a lousy shop job with Mitt Romney's face and it caught on.
This thing got huge and I mean that. There is a while where just so much as Googling "Mitt Romney" put you one click away from the results for "Little Face Mitt Romney." It was everywhere. I even got into a copyright battle with some asshole named "Will Smitt" or something who legally trademarked "Little Face Mitt" under my nose so he could capitalize on it.
There was (and still is) merchandise that I actually made a fair amount of money from:
Print newspaper articles:
And other weird things found in colleges and parties and bedrooms and out in public that I don't even really understand:
But the size of how big this got is hard to prove now as Little Face Mitt was also merely another example of the fleeting nature of internet memedom and the meat grinder that is virality. Memes are part of a bubble economy. A real boom/bust thing. I'm not saying anything that everybody doesn't already know, or that I didn't already know at the time even, but goodness gracious did the whole thing still leave me reeling.
Boy, did I have a fun time while it lasted, and boy, did it sting when the election was over and it became irrelevant over night. I still have whiplash. And like all of my other (too) earliest hits, I don't think I was emotionally mature enough to properly navigate the gauntlet. This stuff really gives you a swollen head. This was the second time in as many years (Kurt 4 Klerk being the first) that I suddenly had national journalists writing articles and literally calling me a genius. Cenk Uyger, who I regularly watched, and Alex Wagner, a television journalist who I openly had a crush on, were talking about my work and name dropping me and discussing me. And, once again, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, who was already a deeply significant historical figure, was most likely familiar with my work because it was featured on computer screens in his reelection campaign headquarters. The PRESIDENT. Gawker.com (before the Hulk Hogan stuff) called me, with a straight face, a humorist. I felt like Will fucking Rogers or Mark fucking Twain. And once again, I had that internet echo chamber phenomenon going on. The people who loved Little Face Mitt, and the Tumblr and the Facebook, were really active and they really loved it. The most observant fans seemed to enjoy the pointless lore I added to the whole thing, which was kind of a very slightly altered version of reality with the only key difference being that Mitt Romney had a small face and that this by itself was significant and political and the topic of many think pieces and articles on the subject. "Little Face Mitt" himself became a sort of individual character who was separate from actual Mitt Romney, and was slightly esoteric and paranormal and he trafficked in cute little rhyming puns (i.e. "the face is small, that's ALL" or "Vote for the Littlest Face in the race," etc.) and whose sole focus seemed to be his face size. For a while I started making his face smaller and smaller until it disappeared completely. A popular topic of discussion was "why is Little Face Mitt's face so small?" which is the debate the contributors of "The Young Turks" legitimately had on air. It was an active community overall that loved every post and they made that very known, which definitely contributed to me being unable to adequately keep my ego in check as the months went on and we got closer to the election.
Like I always did, I eventually couldn't accept that even though I had made something, the something I had made wasn't about me, and I lost the plot. These were funny pictures of Mitt Romney looking weird. That's all. Nothing more complicated than that. Though I did invent the meme, in a broad sense, whoever "invented" giving Mitt Romney a small face really, truly, and I cannot emphasize this enough now, did not matter and does not matter. But like the immature narcissist I was, I let my arrogance take over and began to believe I was in fact doing some really important and sophisticated satire and social commentary work for the betterment of the USA. This is why Ben Mankiewicz made fun of me live on TV. He wasn't picking up what I was putting down and he made that clear - though, to my credit, Cenk Uyger kinda tried to defend me because, I guess, he's a nice guy? But I came across to Ben Mankiewicz how I am coming across to myself reviewing all of this years later - as a pretentious college hipster "Obama Zombie" with no self-awareness. I have reason to believe that many people probably privately felt this way and soured on the whole thing when near the end I tried to make it out to be way more than it really was and that took the fun out of it. I clung onto the tiniest shred of notoriety and ran with it as far as I could, to cringe-inducing results.
I was still young and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what I wanted to get out of this sudden attention so in all of my efforts to make the most of it I just came across as smug and insufferable. I am not ashamed to say I deleted some of the stuff I did and said because I cannot bare to have that public now. It gives me a stomachache that I was so full of myself and convinced I was actually doing some sort of historic activist work or whatever. Even my "going away" post featured a picture of me and my punchable face with this multi-paragraph tome that reads like I am some sort of benevolent and noble prince riding my steed into the sunset. And it STILL had over 400 likes!
However, since this is my own website, I am allowed to make this about me again, so I will. I find great personal value in reflecting on this at length. "Creating a viral meme" is, I think, a very unique experience. I know there are many people who have also shared this experience and I wonder how much their experience mirrored mine. It really presents to you a skewed reality for an indeterminate amount of time, and a lot of ultimately false hope. I remember thinking I was going to be set. I had discussions with political campaigns and a news channel in Ireland and even NBC at one point about employment. I figured it was a foregone conclusion, given the undeniable reach of LFM, that I was bound for a high-flying social media job or something just because of the strength of this one thing and the people I was talking to when it was at its height. But none of that panned out and nowadays, being the "guy who created Little Face Mitt" only raises eyebrows and makes people scratch their heads and it carries absolutely no stock. It was fool's gold. Only a decade removed from it can one begin to sincerely question "what was really what, then?" I still don't know. It did nothing for my career and that aspect alone really fucked me up because ever since I have felt at odds with all of my generic, soulless 9-5 rat race day jobs. I always feel deep inside that I deserve better and that I shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of them because I was supposed to land a dream job by now. But I also know that it's bullshit for me to feel that way. I am not actually exempt from this, because Little Face Mitt wasn't as much of a phenomenon as I thought it was. But then I remind myself that I still see its influence online and that if you asked enough people, millions would remember it. So the truth exists in the middle. I amused a lot of people for a handful of months, and that also isn't that big of a deal after all.
I do, however, want to let you in on my wildest conspiracy theory about it all. In my opinion, I have reason to believe that as a result of Little Face Mitt I was lampooned on the cover of The New Yorker. Now, I know what you are thinking, but it's not as far-fetched as it seems. Hear me out. The timeline checks out.
The New Yorker at one point published the following cover featuring Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. As this coincided with what was potentially the height of LFM, more than a few people wrote to me saying that the cartoonist, Barry Blitt, had now given Mitt Romney a small face.
I looked at it and sort of saw where they were coming from, but such a thing is hard to determine when Mitt Romney is in cartoon form. I wanted to believe it, though, because it would have been such a big deal to me if a dumb joke I had created had actually been thrust into the mainstream enough that it appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in some form. It would've been the cherry on top, really.
All of his Mitt Romney faces in those months of Mitt relevance looked the same and the question persisted, so eventually, in my infinite arrogance, I reached out to Barry Blitt directly to ask him if he had been inspired by Little Face Mitt and given his cartoon Romney a little face. I found his personal email. Don't know how. I also don't know why I thought it was okay to email him.
I did not, of course, receive a reply. If I was Barry Blitt, I know I certainly wouldn't have responded to that. I would have read it once and said to myself "Of course I didn't give him a little face. I don't know what "Little Face Mitt" is. This is just my caricature of Mitt Romney. Who is this idiot who sent me this stupid question?"
To begin with, I had a picture of my face associated with my email address at the time which he would have seen. And from there he was one Google search away from seeing other examples of me and how I looked at the time. This was happening at the same time I was doing Friday Night Weekly, where I looked like this.
The smoking gun and the central fulcrum of my hypothesis, however, is a picture I posted to the Little Face Mitt social medias in a post where I - and get ready to grimace - publicly endorsed Barack Obama. Oooooh booooooy. Booooooo. That sucks. In my defense, this was the first election I would be old enough to legally vote in and I was thrilled and eager to cast my first ballot for Barack Obama. On the other hand, though...that some wimpy little doofus dumbass in college really thought he had a platform because of a cheap meme that authorized him to endorse a presidential candidate sucks. It's hideous. The only thing more hideous and tonedeaf is the picture I posted...
I haaaaaaate that for me. I just want to grab that kid by the shoulders and throttle him and scream GET OVER YOURSELF, GODDAMMIT. This GIF is my reaction to it now:
And I am sure others reacted the same, as they should have. Including Barry Blitt, probably, if he did in fact see it. Just look at that scrawny, self-satisfied little Obama weasel with the audacity to tell people who they should vote for. Bad look. Bad Reuben. Yuck.
Anyway, I have now established how I posit I entered Barry Blitt's radar and how once on his radar he might have seen what I looked like and tied me in his head to Barack Obama as a little bitch errand boy sycophant lackey type of his. You're still with me, right?
Obama wins reelection, Mitt Romney disappears, and life moves on. Then within a year comes the Obamacare chapter of American politics. With that comes this New Yorker cover from Barry Blitt.
You have to at least see where I am coming from. It looks exactly like me, from the glasses to the hair color to the sideburns to the swoop of the bangs.
Okay, I had a lot of fun with that but realistically I am willing to concede that it was most likely a coincidence. I am like 90% certain it was just serendipity. But note that I only said 90% and not 100%. I want to believe. Either way, I have a framed copy and will tell my kids that it was definitely me, I don't give a fuck.
The other theory I have, and I have really tried vetting this and I still believe it, is that I pioneered this particular "small face" photoshop method. Try to prove me wrong. You will see that the "Woll Smoth" method was prevalent prior to Little Face Mitt, but up until LFM you won't see any examples of the entire face being shrunken proportionately and placed in the direct middle of the face. I wasn't inspired by any existing photoshopped images when I first did Little Face Mitt either. I think, at MOST, I was inspired by some picture of Spongebob Squarepants. Only after I first did it did I start seeing it anywhere else.
While Little Face Mitt has died, that type of photo manipulation endures. For a long time you could see it as a small faced Jozef Stalin picture used as the profile picture of a very popular Twitter account about "historical memes" though I think they have since replaced it with a picture of Stalin with Sylvester Stallone's face.
I recently noticed it is still used on the KnowYourMeme page for "No Chill."
While that's really nitpicky and tiny, if that is true then I am glad that something about LFM lived on. Because I didn't feel that way after the election came and the bubble popped. It was alive and well on November 1st, and then one week later it seemed completely cold and dead.
Back in 2012, that inertia came for me hard and I had difficulty coping with it. It felt like I had clambered onto a higher ledge and wanted to keep climbing, but the wind blew me back to where I had began and I fell with a thud. I was a nobody again and everybody stopped paying attention.
The most pathetic thing about this whole saga is how desperately and unsuccessfully I then tried to recapture the magic of the "[POLITICIAN] with [ADJECTIVE][NOUN]" concept for a second time. Never happened. I tried the following, each with further diminishing returns:
"Bashar Al-Assad With an Impossibly Long Neck:"
"Paul Ryan Wearing Oven Mitts and Wincing:"
"Small Face Skippy:"
"Kim Jong-Un With Very Bulbous Lips and One Small Eye:"
This one had a modestly 'liked' Facebook page and Tumblr and got a little bit of press, at least.
"Tiny Face Trump:"
I will admit this one achieved modest success. That last picture in particular has 129,893 likes on Tumblr as of this writing, and the Tumblr itself has almost 11,000 followers, and an okay Facebook page, though the engagement rate is (was?) next to nothing on both. I was interviewed by my old friend and former boss Matt Wild about it for The Milwaukee Record. They used to always build me up like that before I moved to Chicago. I could have kept with this Trump stuff some more but I just fucking hate that guy so much it wasn't fun for me and it felt lazy and uninspired so I stopped. I never liked doing this one.
"Little Face Musk:"
My last blatant grab for relevancy through photoshop was Little Face Musk which is the one I hate the most and which was the last time I will ever try something like this. I did a Tumblr and a Facebook page but it didn't last long. Elon Musk sucks and this whole thing sucked and I already hated myself for making it five minutes after I did it. I think I kept going with it for less than a week and I still feel dirty. I was playing off of the drama about Elon Musk paying that kid money to take down the Twitter account that tracks his private jet and I said I would stop making them if Elon Musk gave me money. He is insecure and thin-skin enough that I thought it seemed POSSIBLE he would see these and take offense. But, alas, Elon Musk is the world's least funniest and least cool and least amusing individual and no amount of photoshop could change that. Total misfire. No thanks. No more of this shit from me.
As the years go by, it more and more feels like this was my peak, which doesn't make me happy to say. I hope that doesn't prove true. I have no regrets about any of it, though. I rode a rocket ship and had a lot of fun and I met strangers from this who are now life long friends. It changed my life, so it was worth it.