JP Sears And How Not To Make Something Go Viral
by James Dyde
Do you ever dream of shamelessly publicizing something?
Or how about wishing to exploit some local event or occurrence for your own benefit? In the hope that it will go viral and thus give you and your website some publicity?
If so, read on.
This is a new website. So thank you for being here. The reason why you are here is nothing to do with our failed campaign to make JP Sears walk the Romeria in Costa Rica. As much as we want it to be, it isn’t. And the reason for that is because our campaign to make JP Sears walk the Romeria was a total flop.
It’s our own fault. Well, to be specific, it’s my fault.
I took something that caused a lot of outrage here in Costa Rica and tried to manipulate it for my own goals. Cynical? You bet. It should have gone viral. It didn’t.
JP Sears And The Backstory
Before I go into the reasons for this epic failure, I should back up a little.
At the end of June 2017, an American comedian called JP Sears published a video. JP Sears publishes a lot of videos. Most of them making fun of the kind of people who believe that gluten intolerance is more serious than cancer. He’s actually a very funny guy and his videos are great.
But on June 28th, 2017, JP Sears went too far. On June 28th, he published a video about Costa Rica.
Now, anybody who knows Costa Rica knows many people here are thin skinned. It doesn’t take much to insult them. JP’s video, where he poked fun at the architecture, the wildlife, the food, and a certain type of hippy-dippy expat who comes to Costa Rica, was too much for many. A shitstorm ensued. People, you see, can’t say anything negative about Costa Rica at all, even if it’s in jest. It is unthinkable to do so.
In 1999 the cartoon South Park tried it. There was an episode called “Rainforest Shmainforest” where they went to Costa Rica. They hated it. In this episode, they portrayed San Jose as a dump full of prostitutes. Oh, and the rainforest sucked. It was a funny episode and it came with a certain ring of truth to it. Which is what made it funny. The shitstorm never subsided and still resonates to this day.
In 2007, eight years after “Rainforest Shmainforest”, Costa Rica’s then-tourism minister said this:
“We should look at it [South Park] as the trash that it is. It’s a program of that nature on a network designed for people with a lowly upbringing and bad customs.”
And that was one of the nicer comments.
Ticos never forget if someone jokes about their country. South Park suffered in Costa Rica. You would think that JP Sears would have learned from this. But no.
The New Scandal
The video that JP Sears made this year made Costa Rica forget all about South Park at last. It only took 18 years, but the Great South Park Butthurt of 1999 was laid to rest at last by a soft-spoken ginger Youtube sensation who never knew what hit him.
Costa Ricans from all walks of life united in outrage against this gringo who dared to insult them.
People called him every name in the book and demanded his death, imprisonment, and deportation (not necessarily in that order).
People who found the video funny – i.e., anyone with a modicum of self-depreciation and humor – were also rounded upon. They were traitors to the noble Costa Rican nation and worse, wannabe gringos. It was very messy.
After two days of unrelenting butthurt-ness and no small amounts of threats, JP Sears did something that he’s never done before. He capitulated and apologized. Many times, as one apology, of course, was not enough. Not for the terminally butthurt. The main apology went out live on his Facebook page on June 30, and for many of us Costa Rica watchers, it was a sad day indeed.
I was genuinely angry, myself. People shutting down free speech always annoys me. I remember saying this:
“It’s disgraceful that this guy was forced into an apology over this. This was an innocuous – and totally accurate – observation on life down here in CR.
The threats of violence and the name calling over this have been unreal. Costa Ricans, who have zero problems disparaging Nicaraguans every day of their lives, getting so upset about a couple of jokes about being late and gallo pinto, is something truly unbelievable.
JP Sears has nothing – nothing – to apologize for. If this country is so sensitive as to get upset by this, then it really does have problems.
Of course, anyone who has been here a while will remember how upset and angry and “offended” people were over the South Park episode in 1999. This is not a new phenomenon. I honestly don’t know of any other country that would react like this. It’s incredible.
No-one has a right to not be offended. Especially over something as trivial as this.”
A fan called Chris Poindexter summed the whole business up:
“So disappointed JP! Lived in CR for nearly ten years and you nailed it. It was brilliant. Unfortunately, the local snowflakes and crybaby expats (the worst aspects of our time in CR), have won again. Zero sense of humor, no grasp of sarcasm, totally incapable of laughing at themselves. You buckled to the thinnest skins on the planet. No need to apologize, you were spot on and incredibly gentle. You know the funniest things are filled with truth.”
And there the debacle started to fade. JP apologized a few hundred more times, the local press got hold of the story and made him apologize yet again. Some Ticos accepted his apology and moved on. Others expressed the wish that JP Sears should sit on a sharp spike and swivel until the spike came out through his throat.
Costa Rica was a divided nation but the worst was over. JP went back to what he does best – making fun of people who aren’t Costa Ricans. He might have lost some fans here, but in the scheme of things, it wasn’t important. With more than a million and a half followers on Facebook alone, what are a few butthurt Ticos here and there? He must have breathed a massive sigh of relief to get this Costa Rica business out from under him.
So Where Do We Come In?
Well, in truth, we don’t come in at all. We are nothing in all of this. Nothings trying to be somethings.
Fast forward a few weeks and we were sitting in a meeting in San Jose, discussing the launch of this website. The site that you, dear reader, are now perusing. We were chatting about the JP Sears thing.
“Did you see the video?”
“Why the hell did he apologize? Everything he said was true.”
There were three of us – a Costa Rican, an American, and me (a Brit). Both the American and I are long-term expats in Costa Rica with almost 40 years in Costa Rica between us. We are long-termers who have each been here more or less about half our lives. The Costa Rican, of course, has been here his whole life. All three of us loved the video. None of us took offense. We were all saddened by the apology.
I decided to pitch an idea that had been running around my head for a few days. Why don’t we set up a petition on Change.org to demand that JP Sears walks the Romeria?
The Romeria is the pilgrimage that Costa Ricans undertake on August 2 each year where they walk to the Basilica in Cartago. There they ask for forgiveness from La Negrita, the Patron Saint of Costa Rica, for their sins. I thought that setting up a campaign to make JP walk the Romeria to atone for his video would be a great idea.
I had visions of legions of all the butthurt Ticos who were so angry and outraged over his original video rushing to sign this.
It wouldn’t matter if JP Sears actually walked to Cartago or not, the important thing was to get the online signatures. If he did do it, that would be the icing on the cake, and we would be there to film him doing it. But that would be a bonus, nada mas.
I set up the petition and wrote a demand in both English and Spanish that JP walks the walk. We released it and publicized it on a few Facebook pages. These pages included many of the ones where some of the most upset people aired their views of the original video. I believed that this couldn’t go wrong. It was bound to go viral, right? And everyone would hear about CentralAmerica.com and think we were smart and cool and hilarious.
We were wrong. It flopped. Big time. We got 22 signatures, most of them from our colleagues. How could something that we thought would “go viral” fizzle out like this?
I guess there are a few reasons. Here are the ones that I can think of.
- The idea was good but the timing was wrong. If we had thought of this a couple of weeks earlier, during the height of it, we could have got this rolling. As it is, we came in too late with too little. The thing had burned itself out. The anger was so intense at the beginning, like a flare, it couldn’t last. I misunderstood that.
- Move on dot org. I saw this immediately. As soon as I posted the petition on a couple of social media pages, people said stuff like, “not this JP Sears shit again!” Give the guy a break already. He already apologized a million times. There’s such a thing as overkill.
- Online petitions themselves. A friend of mine said that he doubted many people in Costa Rica knew about crowdfunding and petition sites in the first place. I kind of blew him off, thinking that that might have been a little patronizing to the “average Tico”. But was he was right?
- Expectation. Expecting something to go viral is an almost certain guarantee that it won’t. Most everything that you see on the internet that has gone viral has done so by accident. Well… maybe not by accident, but not planned like we did.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Things either go viral or they don’t. There’s never much of a middle ground. If we could predict what goes viral and what doesn’t, then we would be sages.
The best way to make something go viral is to actually care about the message you’re sending. Not to send it in a cynical way. Our petition was a cynical grasp and anyone who looked deep could have seen through that.
Winning Some, Losing Some
So there ends the saga of how we tried to exploit a local scandal.
You win some and you lose some, but at least this gave me an excuse to write about the JP Sears thing. And that’s something that I’ve wanted to do since the original video came out.
To me, the video – and the reaction to it – said so much about this country that I now call home. The extreme reactions on both sides of the issue were typical. For all the vitriol that came out of it, there was an equal amount of support. And then, of course, that support turned to vitriol with the apologies. The whole thing summed up the craziness that is human nature and our propensity to overreact to shit. In the end, none of it is important.
But it’s fun to watch.
James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He loves Instagram and lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.