(Oxy) Overheard it in a past life

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Pablo Nukaya-Petralia/The Occidental

OxyOverheard was never supposed to get this big.

Like many things I do, OxyOverheard started as a joke in the Green Bean Fall 2018. My friend and I were lamenting the inactivity of the old “Overheard at Oxy” meme page when the idea hit me: why not just start our own Overheard? The old Overheard periodically posted quotes from all across campus; the new one would do the exact same, just under new leadership. And so, we registered the account and got to work.

By work, I mean that I started writing fake overheards. “Fake” is a misnomer — I did say many of the first posts for the page out loud and I got the page going with some initial posts to make it look like people were submitting to it.

People soon got the gist of the account — they’d submit things they heard and I’d post them anonymously, giving only a location. I’d still pepper in the occasional quote from myself, but in general, the account became what I envisioned: the voices of Occidental College, humorously decontextualized. Students began sending in the funny, the perverse, the nonsensical and everything in between.

I really do mean everything — I refused to post many submissions just because they were pushing the bounds of good taste. (One guy “joked” about a girl impaling herself on a fence. One girl talked about being assaulted in the mouth by boba balls). Other times, I’d forget or there’d be too many submissions to deal with. Don’t take it personally if you didn’t make the cut (unless you’re the Fence Man or Boba Girl).

As the page grew, so did the feeling that I should use the page in a somewhat productive manner. I began sharing about events, beneficial information and anything that might appeal to Oxy students. Over time, the page became a rewarding experience that brought the Oxy student body together. Even the Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE) Office would tag OxyOverheard in posts hoping that I would share them and broaden their reach.

One of my favorite results of the OxyOverheard experience was the boom in Oxy-related meme accounts. Oxy Graphs came back with a fury, Oxy Stats started giving us the numbers we never knew we wanted and pages like Oxy SunsetOxy SpidersOxy Chairs and Oxy White Chocolate Macadamia popped up. It was a meme renaissance, and the leader of the pack was none other than OxyOverheard. And me — don’t forget me.

The Oxy meme scene wasn’t all fun and games, though. In Fall 2019, a representative from the media group Herd contacted me on my personal Instagram asking if I would be interested in making content (read: memes) for them. Herd wanted to get into the college meme game, and apparently their online research had led them to me. I thought the messages were fake until, later that day, I ran into one of their representatives at the Marketplace. He had been on campus for several hours, asking students where he could find me like some sort of meme-obsessed Terminator. I turned down their offer of several thousand dollars, as I was too freaked out by the fact that they had essentially stalked me at school. While they did not come to recruit me because of OxyOverheard, I began to doubt whether I wanted to stick with the page. I was burnt out on memes at the time, and being hunted at school only made me feel worse about it.

Running OxyOverheard had other downsides. There was the incredibly alien feeling of running a popular account anonymously, with so many people enjoying your work but never knowing you. Then there was the opposite — strangers who know you run the account, but never know the actual you. Occasionally, people would take offense to the content and I’d retract a post, feeling guilty as I thought about whatever harm I’d done. Running OxyOverheard was fun, but also stressful and isolating. Sometimes it felt as if people I knew — people I still call friends — liked OxyOverheard more than they liked me, a real person.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the use of past tense here when discussing OxyOverheard. That is because I no longer run it. It was never in the cards for me to run the page after I graduated, so in Fall 2019, I started looking for a successor. I handed over the reins to a new admin on Christmas Day, 2019. The page, with a following almost as large as the Oxy student body, needed someone with brains, social media know-how and an appreciation for the craft. Above all, I was just looking for a good person with a good heart. I’m happy to say I found that person. As for who they are: maybe you’ll just have to wait for another op-ed.

For all the fun I had, running a popular online account brought strain I ultimately couldn’t stand to live with. The pressure of being judged, the feeling of being isolated and viewed as less interesting than the online persona that I had created was just too much to continue working with. They’re realities that folks should consider when starting their own ventures, and it’s something the folks on the other end should think about as well. Behind all of the anonymity, page admins are real people — vulnerable, flawed and trying their best. I don’t regret Overheard and I’m happy with what I did, but I’m happier now that it’s just a past life.

Pablo Nukaya-Petralia is a senior art history major. He can be reached at pnukayapetra@oxy.edu.