Obie Anonymous: An Interview with Founder of ‘What Should We Call Oberlin’

Obie Anonymous, creator of the “What Should We Call Me” spin-off Tumblr “What Should We Call Oberlin,” sat down with the Review to talk about GIFs, social media and the peculiarities of Harkness pizza night.

Julia Herbst, News Editor

How did you come up with the idea for the website?

My other friends at different colleges posted links to their [Tumblrs] on Facebook and I remember that someone at Oberlin posted one to Carnegie Mellon’s [Tumblr] and I was thinking, “Hey, this is pretty funny. Oberlin could use one of these.”

How do you come up with the ideas for specific GIFs?

I try to make them as universally applicable to people as possible. What are people complaining about? What are people happy about? And a lot of them I get from submissions. At the beginning it was pretty much all me, but once you get past the fourth or fifth page, the volume of submissions just grew and grew and now I get a lot of submissions. Unless they’re attacking someone or a group that is affiliated with the College, then I’ll post it.

Currently, what proportion are submissions and what proportion are your own GIFs?

Right now it stands at about half. I’m really amazed by how much traffic the site’s getting.

How many followers do you have?

Two hundred sixty-six at last check! I see people post on Facebook links to “What Should We Call Oberlin,” and I just think, “Hey, I know who submitted that,” or, “Hey, that’s my joke.”

So the student response has been pretty unexpected?

Yeah, it was pretty unexpected. I thought that maybe I would get around 50 followers, but I didn’t expect it would take off the way it has. … I know some of the people who follow it are graduates, but I guess probably about eight percent of the Oberlin [student] population follows it, if you consider that there are about 3,000 [students] here, and maybe there are currently 20 grads following.

What’s your goal for the future of this site?

I really don’t know. I took a hiatus over the summer because I said I’d rather have it completely stop for a while than have the jokes go stale. And if the jokes start getting stale, [or] I stop getting submissions, then I’ll put a stop to the site. But as long as things keep happening at Oberlin, I doubt that I’ll ever run out of material. Although with the turnover of social media sites — how they wax and wane in popularity — who knows? Tumblr could be obsolete by the time I graduate. … But I’ve had a personal Tumblr account for over three years, so I could easily keep it going until I graduate. If I go abroad I might go on hiatus.

How much time does it take each week to manage the site?

Not very much. I’ll check the submissions box pretty much once every day and I’ll cue the posts. If I see a funny GIF somewhere on the Internet, I’ll say, “Is this applicable?” or if something big happen[s] at Oberlin, I’ll think, “What from pop culture can be applicable to this?”

Do you have a favorite post? Something that you just thought was perfect in the way that it described Oberlin?

Well now I can’t say one of my own because that will make me look bad. … Well, I remember what my actual favorite is, even though this one didn’t get very popular [because] it was an early post: [“When Oberlin Comes Up In Conversation at Ivy League Schools”] and the GIF is of Tina Fey saying,“Nope. Hipster nonsense.” That is my favorite.

Is there one GIF that’s been extremely popular [among your followers]?

Pizza night at Harkness. It’s probably the most reblogged post. [It’s a] GIF of guinea pigs trying to get through a cardboard box. And Hark-mob can be like that.

Why do you feel it’s important to remain anonymous?

I initially decided to stay anonymous because I wanted to be able to post things critical of the administration without being silenced or questioned as to why I think those things. Then I realized once I’d been running [the Tumblr] for a while that once a face is put with something like this — an age, a gender, an identity with its set of associated boxes — it automatically becomes less relatable. It’s like knowing the answer to a logic puzzle before you try to solve it; you can’t stop thinking about it through the filter of the solution.

Also, I, like almost every other person on the planet, know people that like me and people that don’t like me very much. Because I’m anonymous, personal bias doesn’t play into who likes the site and who doesn’t. Some of my friends, who don’t know I run it, have said publicly they don’t think the site’s funny, and I don’t try to defend it. On the flip side, some people … who I sometimes think don’t like me have sent in a bunch of submissions. I laugh every time that happens.

Is there anything you want to add about the site?

I would say that Lena Dunham is not the voice of my generation.