It was the second most watched YouTube video of 2009. Only Susan Boyle – shocking Simon Cowell by being able to sing in her Britain’s Got Talent audition – was viewed more than David DeVore’s video of his son, drugged up after a trip to the dentist. “Is this real life?” asks seven-year-old David Jr. in the clip, uttering a phrase that rapidly became a meme in its own right, “Is this going to be forever?” His dad laughs. “No, no, it won’t be forever,” he replies. But although the effects of the medicine quickly wore off, the surreal world into which it plunged David Jr. has arguably lasted ever since.
“I love the video and have no regrets about it at all,” the now 16-year-old David Jr. tells me. After the video was viewed three million times in three days, David Jr. and his dad appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and the Today Show, and began selling t-shirts and stickers on DavidAfterDentist.com. To date, the video now has over 134 million views. “While I love that the video is part of my life, I have big plans for my life and want to be known for more than just that,” David Jr. says.
David and David Jr. are emailing me from their home in Florida. Although David responded to my initial request for interview within a few hours, it took weeks for us to arrange a call. Eventually, due to it being “a very busy time” for David Jr., his dad asked whether we could proceed via email instead. The pairs’ answers – which David told me he ran past his wife “for errors” – are therefore slightly stilted.
Though David Jr. is undoubtedly busy – he says he has a girlfriend, is learning to drive, plays lacrosse, and is “very involved” in church – his dad’s cautious response might be one of a man who was repeatedly accused of cashing in on his son’s viral fame.
“I don’t comment on money questions anymore,” writes David, in answer to my enquiry about how much he earned from the adverts on the video, “I will say that the money has gone to David Jr. and William’s [David’s other son] education and has helped them stay in private school.”
After the video became a viral hit, David quit his job in real estate. Within a year, the family had reportedly made $150,000 (approximately £120,000) from the video, media appearances, and merchandise. His answers to my questions show that the viral fame has impacted on his life as much as David Jr.’s. Nowadays, he is even recognised on the street more than his son. “I haven’t changed as much as David,” he explains.
David Jr. himself is being recognised “less and less” and although he is unembarrassed by his viral fame, he doesn’t always want to announce it. “When he became a teen he asked me to stop just announcing it to people (I’m a proud dad) and asking him if it’s okay,” David says. “Most times he says ‘sure’, but there are times he’s not in the mood to get the attention.”
The future, however, is uncertain. “It raises questions for the long term we never considered,” says David. “In the future, it will be ‘How do we turn over the channel to him?’, ‘What’s the exit/succession plan for this?’ Simple to answer but who would have thought we would need to answer these?”
Handing over the channel – booba1234 – is an important question because the family still upload videos to the site (DavidAfterDentist.com, however, lies dormant). The most recent YouTube upload shows David Jr. driving his family around, talking about politics. When he compares Donald Trump to a child, his little brother gets offended. At the time of writing, the video has 3,291 views.
“I would be lying if I said no,” says David when I ask whether he misses the time, in 2009, immediately after David Jr. went viral. “It was so much fun. Would be nice to get a little bit of that attention on the new videos we have put up, updating on David Jr.’s life.”
When I ask whether they would like to go viral again, David emphatically writes “YES!” though adds, “For a good reason however, not a bad one!”
Once again, I am struck by how much more passionate David seems about the viral video than his son, who in many ways is now a very ordinary teenager. “I am a sophomore in high school, I enjoy school very much,” he writes. “I enjoy being with my family and hanging out with my friends.”
For years, experts have worried about what going “viral” can do to a child, and the case of the Star Wars Kid – who was mercilessly bullied when a video of him using a stick as a lightsaber was shared across the web – proves that things can go very wrong. When he grows older, David Jr. may question – like the critics – whether his father was right to upload that first trippy video, but for now viral fame seems to have simply meant a better education, occasional attention from strangers, and a laugh with his family.
Indeed, like others I have interviewed, David and David Jr. argue that going viral was not the be-all and end-all of their lives. “It has only enhanced a very blessed life. We would be the same with our without the video. It has just added a very interesting storyline to a great life.”
“Living the Meme” is a series of articles exploring what happens to people after they go viral. Check out the rest in the series here.
To suggest an interviewee for Living the Meme, contact Amelia on Twitter.