“Rule 34” of the Internet states: “If it exists, there is porn of it — no exceptions.” The PG-rated version might read: “If it exists, there is a Reddit or Tumblr group celebrating it.”
Thanks to MTV, now there is a web series celebrating it as well. “Owning It” explores a wide array of eccentric predilections and the young people who have found or started online communities around them. Looking at pockets of the internet like Reddit, Tumblr and other social platforms, “Owning It” captures trends like furries and real-life mermaids in a respectful and empathetic way. The docu-series mixes first person interview footage with surreal animation; the result is a succinct vlog profiling the trend, with an added bonus of trippy visuals.
“I grew up in a time and place where it wasn’t necessarily cool to be different or eccentric,” creator and developer Kim Thai told IndieWire in an email correspondence. “So when I started seeing this collective gathering of people around what most would consider to be ‘weird’ interests, I saw it as inspiring and admirable. More importantly, I saw a subtle cultural emergence around being proud of those interests and forming subcultures that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without the internet.”
Some of the groups profiled, like furries and the nofap community, will be familiar to the average Reddit browser. Others, like a meditative way of creating an imaginary friend called “Tulpamancy,” are truly surprising. To find the lesser known subcultures, Thai and her small team scoured forums on Reddit and Tumblr, and then went looking for the right story. “We wanted to find people whose lives were completely changed by either finding or joining these communities,” said the creator. “And we wanted to know why it did.”
The “Tulpamancy” episode is narrated by a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, whose “Tulpa” helps him when his “emotional energy becomes too much to handle.” In the “ASMR” episode, a woman’s interest in videos that soothe her anxiety describes an abusive childhood. The founder of “NoFap” (a community of men who abstain from watching porn and masturbating) cites improved concentration, confidence, sex and romantic life.
“It’s the age-old story of adolescence but the difference here was that, if these communities didn’t exist, these kids would just start it on their own — online, unabashedly and unapologetically,” Thai said.
As they narrowed down which communities they wanted to profile, Thai and her team realized there were so many imaginative elements to the stories. “We needed a visual tool that could really take us outside of the box,” she said. Thai partnered with Mike Wartella of Dream Factory Animation to create the show’s playful visual style. “We knew the style should be colorful and wild,” she said. “We really went far with how abstract we could go.”
Other episodes profile “Yaoi,” a Japanese trend of women who enjoy reading and writing gay male erotica, and “Chubby Guy Swag,” a group of self-described chubby men who took inspiration from the growing body positivity movement for women and created their own support system.
In addition to Thai, “Owning It” was executive produced by Garth Bardlsey and Colin Helms, and directed by Nate Ford. The series premiered on September 26th, and new episodes will be available every Monday on MTV’s Facebook and YouTube.
At MTV, Thai produces mostly for the network’s growing digital channel on a wide range of topics from human interest stories to Snapchat docs to politics and the election. Outside of MTV, she is working on a documentary about her parents’ journey to the U.S. as Vietnam War refugees.
“I’m always trying to tell an unknown story, usually from underserved voices, in an unexpected way,” Thai said.