34: Fun With Celebrities Holding Signs

Make your favorite celebrities say anything!

So, have you seen this campaign where celebrities hold up signs encouraging everyone to get vaccinated?

Of course you haven’t seen these. I just made them!

I found photos of celebrities holding up pieces of paper, digitally removed whatever was on the paper, and then added the “Get vaccinated” messages myself.

But why are there so many photos of celebrities holding up paper? Because of Reddit.

For the uninitiated: Reddit is a website that has a huge collection of forums on pretty much every topic. There’s a popular forum called IAmA where people can volunteer to answer questions from anybody about anything. The format is typically “I am a _____, Ask Me Anything” (or AMA for short). Subjects include everyday people with interesting jobs or experiences, and often celebrities with something to promote.

But the forum moderators don’t want imposters claiming to be someone else, so they require proof that can be shared with the readers that verifies that the person is really who they claim to be. This proof is usually a photo of the person holding up a sign promoting their AMA. So, for example, Robert Downey, Jr. provided this photo for his 2014 AMA:

Several years ago I became intrigued by this new photography genre of people holding up signs to prove who they are. It reminds me of the “proof of life” photos that kidnappers in movies take of their hostages holding the newspaper to show that they’re still alive.

In fact in 2016 I had an idea for a coffee table book of Reddit AMA verification photos called “Proof of Life”. But that’s impractical for a ton of reasons. So instead of making a book, I’ve just been collecting these photos in a folder.

Then one day it occurred to me that if I used Photoshop to remove the words from the paper, they wouldn't look so much like proof of life images anymore, and more like stock photos.

And once you have stock photos of celebrities holding blank signs, the possibilities are endless! Who needs Deep Fakes? Just put whatever message you want on the blank paper, and voilà! Instant celebrity endorsement!

[Note: That would be an unscrupulous thing to do. I’m not really suggesting anyone do that. Don’t do that.]

Now, I’m naturally not the first person to think of altering some of these photos. Here, for example, are a few takes on the Harrison Ford Reddit AMA picture:

But I suspect I might be the only person with a Reddit Proof of Life collection this big. So let’s see who else I can turn into celebrity endorsers of vaccination:

My favorite way of looking at these pictures is when there is no writing on the paper at all, and it’s just a collection of famous people holding up blank pieces of paper. It’s a lovely kind of surreal silliness, these famous people proudly holding up blank paper, as though to say, “See my nice clean piece of paper?”

Wait, I was sure they were all blank, but David Tennant and Jodie Whittaker still have messages written on theirs. (That was a joke about Doctor Who’s psychic paper, which is a thing they have on that show. Yeah, anyway.)

And with that, we bring another newsletter to a close. Apologies to all the celebrities in the above photos who might feel like I was putting words in their mouths or on their papers. Hopefully they all agree with the sentiment.

Which reminds me: If you haven’t already, get vaccinated!

See you next week.


P.S. I keep thinking about Matt Groening up there. Do people know what he looks like and recognize him? Should I have drawn Bart Simpson on his paper to help make the connection? Should I have put someone else? As you looked at the pictures, were you saying to yourself, “I recognize everybody but that guy. Who’s that guy?” I have a perfectly good picture of Kyle MacLachlin that could have gone there instead. Or Lynda Carter. Why did I go with Matt Groening? D’oh!