Filmed in New York City, the video has racked up more than a million views since being posted September 1. It has sparked a fierce debate between those who watched it and thought, "Not all heroes wear capes," as one commenter put it, and those who feel that chopping selfie sticks is just mean.
But it turns out the whole thing is a prank — and behind it is a Miami native. Buddy Bolton, who grew up in Coral Gables and is the son of trailblazing women's rights activist Roxcy Bolton, tells New Times the video was created to send a message.
"The selfie stick and people taking selfies is self-absorption — look at me; me, me, me, me," Bolton says. "What we wanted to do with the premise is to say, stop that, cut it, and start looking beyond your phone and looking around you and caring what's outside, what's around you instead of yourself."
A comedian and producer, he planned the prank with a team from New York's comedy scene. Brett Kline, a standup comedian and good friend of Bolton's, starred in the video, and Bolton was the cameraman. All of the people whose selfie sticks were cut were in on the scheme.
No cell phones were damaged — the selfie sticks held empty phone cases.
Bolton says the video was created to go viral, but seeing it blow up was "unbelievable."
"People fell for it," he says. "I mean, they universally bought it, hook, line, and sinker. And they were angry; so many were angry at us."
Some even sent death threats.
"A lot of people love selfie sticks," Bolton says. "They love to have like a Michael Bay angle on themselves. They think they're like Steven Spielberg of the selfie. It's ludicrous how much people love selfie sticks; they love themselves. When we did something that affected that, I think people went a little bonkers."
Bolton says he has turned down opportunities to make any money off the video. The goal was simply to get people to put down their cell phones and see what's going on in the world around them.
"Care, just care a little bit, just care about others and not just yourself," Bolton says.
With a mother who campaigned for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, organized a sit-in at the University of Miami to protest unequal treatment of women, and helped improve treatment of rape victims, Bolton says activism is "in his blood."
The selfie stick video is the first in a planned series aimed at making society look at itself, he says. He isn't revealing many details — aside from promising the next one will be more explosive and polarizing.
"This was just our starter one," Bolton says.