I don’t let my own political slant affect the decisions I make as page admin of Overheard at UC Berkeley because I want it to be a welcoming space for all individuals. As such, the page has never endorsed an ASUC candidate. Except for one time.
At the beginning of my time as admin, I was also a moderator of UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens, and I remember one day from that time very well. The UCBMFET moderator team was meeting to film a skit, and in an idle moment, fellow group moderator Stephen Boyle pitched the idea of “Furry Boi,” a squirrel running for an ASUC Senate seat, with no platform other than “squirrel housing.” The campaign would be powered primarily by an endorsement from UCBMFET. The goal was simple: to have some fun at the expense of the ASUC.
I didn’t quite realize on that day how big of a deal it would become. Stephen officially started his campaign under the Furry Boi alias and took some pictures in a squirrel suit bought online, and it was a hit almost instantly. The UCBMFET team was making a lot of the Furry Boi memes, but the public was making memes too. Everyone was in on the joke. It was a truly exciting time for Berkeley Facebook meme culture because our online escapades were miraculously manifesting into real life.
When I proposed having the Overheard group also endorse Furry Boi, my newly formed moderator team happily agreed. The campaign’s meme appeal simply overruled our opposition to influencing ASUC politics. After Overheard and UCBMFET endorsed Furry Boi, the campaign had probably become the most publicized of any ASUC Senate campaign.
I realized then that Furry Boi had a serious chance of really winning. So just before the election, I asked Stephen if he would be wearing the squirrel suit to the voting tabulation ceremony. To my surprise, he told me he wouldn’t even be attending – he had some fraternity event to go to on the same day. I was truly sad to hear that, as I felt that Berkeley deserved a public appearance from Furry Boi at the end of his glorious campaign. With Stephen’s permission, I decided to attend as the famous squirrel.
On the Friday of the ASUC tabulation ceremony, I suited up as Furry Boi. As I paraded around the event in a squirrel suit, I felt like an undetected celebrity, excited by the surreal circumstances. When the organizers gave me the blue wristband that indicated I was a candidate, I felt just how close Furry Boi was to transforming from meme to elected public official.
Playing Furry Boi in real life required a lot of charm. Everyone wanted to take a picture with Furry Boi, and Furry Boi obliged. I didn’t talk much – Stephen had informed me that Furry Boi could canonically talk, but I didn’t want to get found out too easily. Humorously, one of Stephen’s real friends tackled me in a leaping hug, before letting go and saying, confused, “You’re not Stephen.” I had a thought that the satire of Furry Boi was only increased by the fact that the man in the suit was an imposter.
We all sat on the floor to watch the vote-counting process in real time. The single transferable voting system that the ASUC uses can be hard to follow, but I did my best to follow the vote total next to the name “Furry Boi.” My heart was pounding. Then a slideshow started showing the winners, and I waited anxiously for confirmation of the impossible. And then that picture of a squirrel came up, and the whole crowd roared. I jumped up and raised a fist in the air in triumph. In that moment, I was Furry Boi. ASUC Senator-elect Furry Boi. Memes had won the day, and so it felt like a heroic win for me too.
I’m proud of Berkeley’s social media culture, and that moment was, in some ways, its absolute peak. But for me, it was also a harbinger of things to come. The Los Angeles Times wrote an article about Furry Boi, and it featured a picture of me taken on that day. It was exhilarating, but it was just Furry Boi’s success that I was feeling. I felt a need to achieve that same level of fame for myself. It encouraged me to put my all into Overheard, with the hope that my hard work would someday get me the same kind of recognition I had felt vicariously through Furry Boi. Now that my pages and I have made the news a few times, I guess I’ve made it. But I owe it to Stephen “Furry Boi” Boyle, who showed me what was possible.
Spencer Hill writes the Friday column on being a moderator of Overheard at UC Berkeley and Confessions from UC Berkeley. Contact him at [email protected].