When The Moment’s Right, An Insta-Celebrity Will Materialize

This week’s out-of-nowhere celebrity turn is that of John Tyner, the 31-year-old Oceanside, California software programmer who cautioned a Transportation Security Administration screener, “If you touch my junk, I’m gonna have you arrested.”

Tyner’s catchphrase circled the globe at light speed, his actions immediately synthesizing the volcanic tensions between the flying public and those tasked with securing passengers.

Facilitating Tyner’s hyper-speed fame was the fact that he used his cell phone to capture audio of 30 minutes worth of his interactions with TSA officials and then, within hours, posted his written version of events on his blog.

Today, everyone, everywhere, is still talking about Tyner – polarized between the majority who applaud his act of civil disobedience and the minority who view him as a prima donna who places his individual needs above those of a nation and industry seeking to deflect very real terrorist threats.

Insta-celebrity status such as that attained by Tyner gives rise to an adaptation of the old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

In this case, we might reword the aphorism thusly: “When the mood of the public is ripe, a single event or individual will come to embody it.”

Insta-celebrities can be heroes or anti-heroes. Often, as is the case with Tyner, they are both – depending upon one’s perspective.

I don’t believe viral celebrity, such as that Tyner has attained, can be reduced to a formula that can be cast by strategic promoters.  His is not the kind of packaged fame that comes from appearing on a television reality show or talent competition.  In those cases, producers have carefully pre-screened to find the personality clay that they can mold into stardom and exploit for ratings and product endorsements.

Insta-celebs such as Tyner are organic. They are living their lives – perhaps atypical lives at that – and one day, unexpectedly, just collide with destiny.

That is not to say that communications professionals can’t derive a great deal of insight from deconstructing Tyner’s success in disseminating his message.

Indeed, an examination of multiple recent insta-celebs makes it abundantly clear that marketers and publicists who can accurately gauge the public mood have a potentially limitless energy to harness.

A few other recent examples to jog your memories:




  • Reverend Terry Jones, head of a 50-member fringe church in Gainesville, Florida, who upstaged just about every other news story in early September 2010 with his unconsummated plans to burn copies of the Koran to mark the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.
  • Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who in August 2010 made a hasty emergency chute exit from a plane and his job, six-pack of beer in hand.
  • Sam J. “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, who during the 2008 Presidential campaign, on October 12th, was playing football with his son in his front yard when then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama was going door-to-door in Wurzelbacher’s Ohio neighborhood.  Wurzelbacher’s question about Obama’s proposed small business tax policy evoked Obama’s now-famous response: “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
  • Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student, who in September 2007 was heckling Massachusetts Senator John Kerry during a campus speech, when police wrestled him to the ground.  Caught on video, his futile plea, “Don’t Tase Me Bro,” became instant t-shirt and bumper sticker fodder.



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4 Responses to “When The Moment’s Right, An Insta-Celebrity Will Materialize”

  1. Lehi Drew November 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    This reminds me of YouTube viral videos. There’s no formula to making them. They just happen when the stars are right.

    I wonder if there’s a way to be prepared for that kind of fame. While we will all remember this people for a while, what usually becomes of them? Do they just disappear or do some of them take the opportunity to leverage their instant fame to further themselves in the public eye?

  2. Anonymous November 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    In order for one to know about these “instant” celebrities, one must be tuned in to what some stations consider “news”

    I think they are small fries, in the big ocean

  3. Brandon R Allen November 17, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    This reminds me of all of the people who try and sell a process that they created that worked for them as if these things can come from a box. Keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry is critical in coming up with the next wave or big idea to hit your industry with.

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