In this modern generation of smartphones and social media, every few months there is a new person grabbing the attention of the world for seemingly doing nothing. Once upon a time, there was a boy named Daniel who liked to wear white Vans, a girl who had a conflicted relationship with her mother, and a man who wore his red sweater with pride whilst choosing his desired presidential candidate. However, 2017 has someone quite unique… someone who grabs his audience’s attention by pouring milkshakes on himself and stealing doughnuts from a local shop: John Robert Hill, a resident of South Florida (and now more famously known as Boonk Gang) is the next name taking the internet by storm.
On the 10th of April 2017, Hill launched his Instagram account with the handle @boonk.ig. At the time of writing, the account boasts 2.6 million followers. The seventy-five posts on his page range from stealing biscuits from his local Popeyes to pocketing a turtle from a fountain in Calabasas, California. But what makes a person who breaks laws on camera so interesting to watch?
Freshman Suvan Das recognizes that though what Hill does is illegal, it’s simply enjoyable to watch. “It’s an entertainment stunt. Obviously what he’s doing is illegal but his popularity on a global scale is admirable, given that he does things that are so looked down on in society. I find that watching his videos from thousands of miles away, not having to worry about any personal repercussions, is entertaining.”
As with about everything on the internet, Boonk seemingly divides public opinion. Many of the comments on his various social media platforms boil down to direct criticism, with viewers often accusing him of deliberately making tough, low-income jobs even harder. Instagram user @oscartann left the following comment under one of Boonk’s videos where he is shown taking donuts from a local Dunkin’ Donuts, “[The employees] are trying to do their [expletive] job, which they barely get enough money from, and this guy comes in and steals an entire tray of donuts and you people are labelling him a legend?!”
Rui Sugawara, a sophomore at SAS has had personal experience of observing his friends and colleagues imitating Hill’s exploits. “People clearly find him entertaining, which is fine, but there definitely has to be a line. I’ve seen people do things that made other people’s lives harder before running away yelling “Boonk Gang!”
The term “viral” isn’t limited to sixty-second Instagram videos for entertainment. In an age where every organization is trying to reach every demographic possible, commercials literally strive to go viral, with major companies planning to reap benefits of this coveted status. During the “Damn Daniel” phenomena, Vans saw a 30% increase in online sales. The company tracked the video’s progress and took advantage of this by revamping their website. For two weeks, users entering the official Vans website would automatically be redirected to a page where they could buy Daniel’s white vans. They were even able to thank Daniel with a lifetime supply of his famous white Vans.
While some use their rise to fame as a reason to share more videos of kidnapping turtles, others take advantage of it by pushing sales to levels they never thought they could reach. Online sensation status can be achieved by stealing doughnuts, creating controversy that divides popular opinion, or by simply filming your footwear for the week. The overarching theme? Grab public attention with something new, and you might just become a star. Overnight.