How To Tell Who “Created” An Image

Couple weeks ago, I saw a fun little flowchart/joke/cultural critique on Jezebel: “How to Tell If A Toy Is For Boys Or Girls: A Guide“. (Image credits are intentionally withheld in the beginning of this post.)

flowchart image joking that toys operated with genitalia are not for children and toys not operated with genitalia are for both boys and girlsBunch of folks were linking it on Facebook/Twitter/etc. Both the Jezebel post and the folks I saw passing it around online were talking about it as if it was new, insightful, and funny.

“It’s definitely insightful and funny, but new?”, I thought. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that before.”

(I’m sidestepping a huge thing throughout this post: the cultural/community expectations of credit and sourcing on Tumblr. But A) that’s, like, a massive series of million-word posts in and of itself, and B) none of my initial encounters with this image were on Tumblr.)

A Story

A bit of digging through prior social media exchanges surfaced what I remembered seeing, this:

flowchart image joking that toys operated with genitalia are not for children and toys not operated with genitalia are for both boys and girlsThe Jezebel post credited Kristen Myers, who uses the handle Paranoid Shiksa Feminista on Jezebel. The comments on the Jezebel post make it clear that Myers’ brightly-multicolored rendition came to the attention of the Jezebel staff via Myers’ Jezebel user-board post celebrating that Neil Gaiman had linked to her Tumblr post of the image.

Myers’ Tumblr post is from April 27, 2013. But I had definitely seen the clunkier, all-blue rendition way earlier than that. As I started digging around, I noted that Myers’ user-board post did acknowledge an earlier inspiration for the image:

“I wouldn’t say I ENTIRELY came up with it… I basically just saw a wonky looking version of something similar floating around the internet a while back (it looked like someone had made a halfhearted attempt to design something in Microsoft Word?) and liked what it was trying to say, so I spent a few minutes polishing it up and posted it to my blog. I wasn’t able to find the original source, so I suppose we truly have some mystery internet chart-maker to thank, ha.”
(comment dated 5/7/13, 1:38am)

Then I noticed that in the comments on the Jezebel article, the originator(s) of the older image identified themselves:


[Image transcript:

Cy Chase (Jezebel user) to Jessica Coen (author of the Jezebel post)
Hi! While we appreciate the very lovely redesign, Men and Feminism from FB did not (of course) credit their original post. Just for the sake of accuracy (and credit, lbr, ’cause it’s not every day you make a meme that goes viral), here is our (and the) original post of the graphic:…

-Cy and Eva (Yesterday 3:46pm)
Hi thereeeee… I did this redesign and I’m not able to edit the what’s posted on Jezebel but I’ll DEFINITELY edit my original blog entry to give you guys credit. I’ll link it back to your site right now. (I’m so glad I finally know the original source!) (Yesterday
4:29 pm)
Cy Chase to paranoid_shiksa…
Much appreciated  🙂 We’ve talked today about putting it back out with a watermark, but…it’s probably not worth it. It’s hard to watch it go viral (for the second time) with the source now lost almost everywhere its posted! Besides, nobody really needs to see more of our three-minutes-in-PowerPoint style of graphic design… (Yesterday 4:40pm)]

It took a while, but Myers did eventually add the credits on her original Tumblr post, along with an apology for not crediting before:

“I must truly apologise for not placing a source earlier as I saw someone sharing it on Facebook without a source. Despite some niggling feelings, I decided to share it on Tumblr and BAM! I did not expect to get 29K notes. But but but this is the original post: – that paranoid_shiksa_feminista redesigned)”

And everywhere else she has shared the image also links back to the original. But the Jezebel post still does not credit the original image. When Myers requested that Jezebel update the credits on May 14, Jezebel added a link to Myers’ design blog as well as Tumblr, but didn’t add any credits for the source of the original image.

Some Reflections on That Story

In general, I’m pretty much of the mind that “you put it on the internet, it’s liable to get away from ya” is general common sense. But this particular series of links and inspirations really stuck in my head, because as far as I can see, most of the folks involved in sharing this image see Myers as contributing something major and substantive.

As Myers herself said, before the original-image creators identified themselves, “”I wouldn’t say I ENTIRELY came up with it […] [I] liked what [the original] was trying to say…” (emphasis added.) And as the Jezebel staffer who posted it said, “the image is so great as a standalone item, it deserved a clear “this is what this is” kind of headline on the Jez homepage.” This is the same staffer who responded to Myers’ request for updated credits by updating links to Myers’ site, but not adding any credit to BackinaSex – so presumably, she thinks it’s appropriate for the credits on Jezebel not to reference the original, that the links from Myers’ site are sufficient credit.

Whereas from my perspective, everything funny, insightful, and true about this image is -already there- in the original version posted on Backinasex.

It’s true that Myers made it -look better-. And it’s true that design is often an incredible contribution to conveying an idea – it often makes concepts clearer, or makes processes function better, or contributes in tons of other ways.

But I don’t see the design doing any of that here. It looks better. But it doesn’t mean anything more, and its meaning is not any clearer. My alt-tags describing each image for users who can’t see online images are identical: “flowchart image joking that toys operated with genitalia are not for children and toys not operated with genitalia are for both boys and girls” Certainly Myers deserves credit for the redesign, but I think most of the real communicative value here comes from the originators, Cy and Eva.

“Appropriate attribution” is a pretty strange thing.

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