There are TONS of hilariously bad photographs of me in existence. The one you see below is the second worst ever. If you stay with me long enough, I may share #1 with you all some day.
I stumbled upon this photo recently and decided there was just too much treasure in here not to thoroughly sort out and analyze. What you’ll see below is a power ranking of all of the factors (both external and internal) present in the photo that collaborated to make this one of the dorkiest photos in history.
Before we get to this, just know that it’s completely acceptable for you to laugh at this photo. I fully expect and welcome your jeers, hoots and scoffs in the comments. In other words, let me have it. I can take it.
Just look at this stud:
Seriously, soak it in. Take a moment. It’s a lot.
Oh, where to start. Let’s address the elephant in the room: NO, NOT THE EARS. The tux.
The Tux (ie. ‘That Thing’)
What you are looking at is a 16 year old side of man beef. No fat, no grizzle, just a lean, robust cup of stew. This guy is a tip-over-Fred-Flintstone’s-car-at-the-drive-in type of beefy hunk. This guy is me, and none of these statements are true.
The rented tuxedo you see in this photo, otherwise known as “Full High School Prom Regalia” will hereafter be referred to as ‘That Thing’. I was wearing That Thing because I had foolishly surmised that I would have a rockin’ good time at a high school prom, and that it would go in the books as a solid investment of my time and precious, limited funds. I was wrong.
That Thing is a large part of what makes this photo so special, but it’s not the tux alone that pushes the image into wildly-embarrassing territory. Things you should keep in mind: That Thing cost me at least two weeks’ pay to rent, was not remotely comfortable, and did not get me laid, despite the message conveyed in the professionally created Tuxedo Junction posters that suggested that this particular 4-piece miracle would grant me supernatural sex powers.
DORK RANKING: That Thing is not what makes this photo super dorky, but it’s an integral part of it.
The Killer Encyclopedia Set
Collier’s Encyclopedia: a bound, heavy paper version of the internet but with less porn. No porn actually- trust me, I checked. At a young age I learned by rifling through National Geographic and the Sears and JC Penney catalogs that “porn” could be found in anything with pages. I put the word in quotes because our definition of (or rather, what would suffice for) porn was MUCH different in the late 80s/early 90s. The things readily available to a kid today make Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game music video look like a Yo Gabba Gabba Super Music Friends Show segment.
Although disappointingly porn-free, the Collier’s books were still useful. I avoided many a library trip by having such vast research material in my home. I also avoided many a high school party and social gathering by being the kind of kid who had volumes upon volumes of reference books displayed proudly in my bedroom.
DORK RANKING: The encyclopedias help paint a vivid picture of a dork, but many cool people have been photographed in front of a compendium of books. Collier’s alone cannot take credit for the dorkiness of this photo.
Say that out loud: “The waterbed”. To be fair, at the time waterbeds were far more commonplace. I don’t remember a time when anyone set foot in my room for the first time and said “You have a waterbed?” in a derogatory way. I do remember reaching a point where I felt slightly weird and self-conscious about it, but that didn’t start to happen for at least half a decade after it should have hit me. I remained blissfully ignorant (and toasty, because it was heated) for the better part of the 90s.
DORK RANKING: With regard to the overall dork factor of the photo, the waterbed itself doesn’t move the needle. If you weren’t aware of its aquatic nature, most people looking at the picture would just assume it’s a regular bed.
The Lil’ Sports Brat Keychains and Smurf Figurines on the HOMEMADE Wooden Shelf
Yep, that’s a custom wooden shelf I made and painted white to match my walls. In and of itself, woodworking is nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that I made it in high school specifically to display my little not-particularly-manly trinkets is another story. This is the equivalent of 2014 me building (and displaying on my desk at work) an acrylic case for my Littlest Pet Shop figures.
If you set foot in a Foot Locker or Pro Image (or your local mall’s equivalent of the all-sports memorablia/collectibles store) in the late 80s/early 90s, you probably remember Lil’ Sports Brats. I had Miami Dolphins, New York Yankees, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic Sports Brats that I just HAD to display proudly (two of the above stated teams I have never actively rooted for, meaning at one point in my life I was officially just a Lil’ Sports Brat collector, and by default, a loser). They were keychains, but essentially I had no keys, so I unscrewed the chain/ring piece and set them up like little rubber shame statues.
DORK RANKING: The Brats shared the homemade shelving unit with the sports and magic-themed Smurfs that remained from my childhood collection (I had an embarrassing total number of Smurfs and Smurf Village units). So far this is the dorkiest aspect of the photo.
The Larry Johnson Poster
This just hit me now (20+ years later), but the choice of purple for my bow tie/hanky might have come from my fondness for the Charlotte Hornets. As you may have surmised from my Lil’ Sports Brats choices, as far as the NBA goes I was an Orlando fan. There was something about those 90s Charlotte teams though that made them easy to root for- Muggsy Bogues, Dell Curry, Alonzo Mourning, Johnny Newman, Kendall Gill, and of course, “Grandmama” himself, Larry Johnson. My love for the Hornets didn’t stop with my satin-y Starter jacket, no no- by 1993 it had found its way to my bedroom walls as well.
DORK RANKING: The Larry Johnson poster might be the ONLY thing in this picture that ISN’T next-level dorky. As a teenage boy there are three things you can never go wrong with if you’re trying to assimilate into society, appear to be a normal human male, and make friends: sports, video games and girls. Don’t mistake the fact that I was going to a prom for any semblance of familiarity with women, sports was all I had (I sucked at most video games and never had the most up-to-date console, which was where all the street cred was).
The eyebrows. The ears. The cheeks. The acne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the proud owner of every last one of these physical attributes, but somehow they all cooperate a little better now. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to them, but to me my ears no longer look like two conch shells stuck to the sides of a hairy cantelope. Today my face is slightly less reminiscent of a Garbage Pail Kid, and it’s not that my hair is any better now, I just have less of it to worry about.
I wish I could say that in 1993 I was just layin’ back in the cut, waiting patiently for it all to come together, but that’s not the case. I was legitimately terrified that what you see in this picture was my maximum physical appearance and personality, the best person I would ever be. Thank God I was wrong.
DORK RANKING: Off the charts. But not as bad as THE most embarrassing photo of me in existence. We’ll get to that someday.