When Andy Warhol predicted that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, he got the idea right, but his time frame was way off. For the past decade, we’ve seen a democratization of celebrity; fame has become more attainable, and yet more powerful, than ever. The internet operates under a village mindset, one in which formerly isolated niches can grow into hyper-specialized global phenomena. There are pop culture deities for singing, dancing, and acting, but also for mastication, gory makeup, and even the soothing sounds of Silly Putty. But who are these everyday people-turned-blue-chip-mega-influencers? And how does this happen? We tracked a few of them down to find out.
Sandra Lee, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist, skin-cancer surgeon, and cosmetic surgeon who has cornered the market on dermatological extraction videos. What started as a YouTube channel devoted to her many TV appearances has become a one-stop shop for lovers of pimples, cysts, blackheads, and their ilk. She now has a television show on TLC.
“I have been a dermatologist in practice since about 2004. About four years ago, I started an Instagram page. At the time, there were pictures of food and travel and some makeup tutorials. I thought I’d show a little window into my world, as my field is very visual. One day I posted a blackhead extraction video, and I noticed that it got a marked uptick. People were saying that this was so satisfying and relaxing, and they would tag their friends. I thought, ‘This is really weird.’ I went to Reddit and discovered that there was a subculture of people — I think it was 40,000 or 50,000 proud — that were watching and sharing popping videos. On one hand, I thought, ‘This is insane.’ On the other hand, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I could be, like, their queen.’ In April of 2015, BuzzFeed picked it up and my following went from 2,000 to 20,000 within the day. This happened at a time on social media when you could grow really quickly if you created content that caused a strong reaction, whether it was love or complete distaste. Either way, people would tag their friends. At this point, it’s not hard to find people to pop. They come to me actually wanting to be filmed. We have Pops, Mr. Wilson, Rainbow Squishy, Rainbow Steatocystoma, Skittle. I think Momma Squishy is the biggest. We’ve become really good friends. It’s never been my intention to make fun of my patients. It’s about being calm and peaceful. I feel like I can convert 90 percent of the world into a popaholic, if they would just give me a chance. I feel like if more leaders in the world were popaholics, that we would have world peace. Truly.”