There was a moment when I knew I’d have to tell my parents that a video I’d been in went viral. Not only was I in it, but also I had interviewed the star of the YouTube hit, Maria, the "Butthole Tattoo Girl." A friend sent a text that the video had been featured as a "New Rule" on Real Time With Bill Maher, a show my mom and dad watch regularly.
A quick call home yielded many questions but also some excitement. A viral video was a big deal in 2012. The butthole tattoo video was one of the last organically created viral sensations. It was deemed the number one insane thing to happen in Florida that year by BuzzFeed. To put that into perspective, 2012 was also the year of the tragic "Miami Zombie." Not long after the video racked up millions of views, “viral” videos became a corporate social media marketing tool.
At the time, I was the music editor of New Times Broward-Palm Beach, interested in drawing more hits to the blog via video interviews with people living alternative lifestyles (mostly porn stars) and truly talented hip-hop artists (check out "Rick Ross Beard Girl"). And it was at the South Florida Tattoo Expo that writer, videographer, and then clubs editor Jacob Katel and I found the subject of the soon-to-be-viral video. This year, 2017, marks the fifth anniversary of Maria’s asshole art spreading like diarrhea throughout the internet, eliciting much delight, shock, and disgust. Now, as the Miami Tattoo Arts Convention approaches this weekend, seems like a good time to reflect.
My partner in crime, Jake, filmed, edited, and really made that story famous. While we were filming a regular old interview, just getting fired up for something else, a girl walked by and asked if we wanted to see her tattoo — then lifted her short schoolgirl skirt to reveal her asshole, ringed in ink. I was mildly horrified, I can't lie. I wasn’t expecting to look at an anus at that point in the day. Everyone else in the hotel lobby thought it was hilarious. About an hour later, Jake saw a growing crowd of rubberneckers watching that same girl get her anal tattoo covered up with other ink. He guided me through the horde and strongly encouraged me to interview her while it was happening. I hesitated out of courtesy but continued for the story. She was pretty excited about it.
After I asked her a few questions, I thanked her and began to walk away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Liz!” I said, ashamed I’d forgotten to introduce myself, so stressed by my odd duty. “What’s your name?”
“Maria,” she said, “like in West Side Story.”
My heart hurt at the humanity of it all. I wanted to protect her, but it was too late. She was on the menu, and the masses were hungry. Besides, that was my uptight hangup, not hers. I thought Maria was intoxicated, though she claimed to be sober at the time. (She later told Jake in a followup interview: "I had ten shots of Jäger in me.) “It feels so good!” she yelled erotically in the video. A true showman, it seemed.
A lot can happen in five years. I can’t even remember now what it felt like to be mildly internet-famous. I do recall that people’s parents knew me and I got stopped on the street. The video appeared on not only HBO but also Comedy Central and MTV. I was on top of the world, or at least the top of the web world, worrying this video would be the thing I’d be remembered for doing. Was it better than not being remembered at all? This was something I thought about a lot in those days. And it was interesting how, no matter how many good deeds you do or decent articles you write, you cannot choose your fame. I really felt like a mini-celeb when Jake and I went back to the convention the following year. Everyone wanted to chat. It felt like a chummy and happy community, and I was a part of it.
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I’ve since gone on to do other things of which I’m proud. Has Maria? Who knows? I thought a lot about the exploitation aspect of what we’d done. She seemed quite pleased with the attention afterward. I think she ended up on Tosh.0. She got engaged to a guy she met online. I hope it served her well.
Sometimes all we want is to be famous. Though some people might think Maria's asshole tattoo is gross, it was just a part of who she is. I think one of the reasons the video was a success was because of that West Side Story humanity, and also her willingness to perform a side of herself that would elicit attention. I think the fact that I am an interviewer who doesn’t judge the person I’m speaking with, regardless of that persons' job or interest in anime or the Republican Party (maybe I'll judge a little there) or taste in tattoos, made a lot of the videos Jake and I created back then perform well online. Really, though, Jake wrote this narrative. He told the story of Maria’s tattoo through editing. It’s his butt baby.
When I told my partner I was writing this story, he said, “Our son is going to see that one day.” And, you know, I never considered that fact. I hope he approaches the video with a sense of humor and no trace of criticism. I also hope I don’t have to hear about it if he gets a butthole tattoo.
Miami Tattoo Arts Convention. 2 p.m. Friday, November 10, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; villainarts.com. Tickets cost $20 to $40.