here are tons of mysterious photos out there on the world wide web that leave you wondering, “What’s the story behind this strange image?” More often than not, many of these perplexing pictures also wind up as meme formats — such is the case with the “Floating Boy Chasing Running Boy” image macro. Featuring a nondescript hallway adorned with black-and-white checkerboard tiles, this meme depicts a frantically blurred man running away from an eerie, floating entity chasing him for reasons unknown. Well now, we do know. After it circulated online for a couple of years, Jordan Toovi, the “floating guy” seen in the image, reached out to us to share the full story behind the origins of his photo, as well as more about his involvement and perspective on becoming a meme himself.
Q: What’s up, Jordan? Thanks for letting us interview you to learn more about the meme. Would you mind quickly introducing yourself a bit and letting our readers know who you are?
A: I’m working construction as a side job right now. Lately, I’ve been staying at home because of COVID and not much to do this year that doesn’t involve social distancing. I am the floating black kid in the meme “chasing” the other boy.
Q: Before diving into the meme’s backstory, can you start us off with some details on your background?
A: My family was all born in Africa, Togo. I am the youngest son and I was the only one born in the United States in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
Q: Okay, so let’s go back to the day when the photo used in the meme was taken. Tell us where it was, when, how you guys set up the shot, what the intention was behind it, and who all was involved.
A: The photo was originally intended for a photography class assignment between me and my other two classmates. The photo was taken in the winter of 2016. We took a series of pictures that day. [My friend] Kal was the photographer who shot the lucky photo, and Thomas was the running boy in the photo. I believe Thomas is the one who posted the picture online but I have not heard from him if that is the case.
Q: How soon after you guys posted the photo online did it take for it to become the meme known as “Floating Guy Chasing Running Guy?” Do you recall when you first saw it being used as a meme format or who showed it to you? What did you think of seeing your photo used in such a setting?
A: All I really remember was friends sending me different meme formats of the original like “apples and doctors.” I was really surprised. I probably had three different people send me the meme at the same time. I’m sure you could find that specific one if you googled it. Only very recently have we come forward with who I am and made an account on Instagram to try to get some traction.
Q: At the time, how savvy were you in the ways of meme and internet culture before you were featured in one yourself? Were you big into memes back then or only after you became one?
A: I’ve always been really familiar with internet culture and memes and whatnot, but just seeing my picture blow up, it kind of makes me feel like I should be creating content of some sort because people are interested in knowing who I am. I plan to make content for my followers on Instagram in the near future but that’s all I can really say for now.
Q: So once the photo became a phenomenon, how did your friends and family feel about your likeness being used as a meme? Can you tell us a little about how they initially reacted?
A: I and all of my friends were really shocked to see what happened and how it blew up. But we were also confused because we still don’t know who uploaded the picture or how it got out. All of my friends and any family I have shown [the meme to] think it’s really funny and really cool how a picture like that can make so many people online happy. It’s amazing what it’s become.
Q: What about people at school? Did your classmates know of your association with the meme? How did they respond to it overall?
A: Everyone at school in my grade just kinda knew it was me. I guess I was a local legend to my friends and stuff, or to anyone who goes to the school now because they all know where that photo was taken. Never really got any recognition while in school though, from teachers or other students. I was still an average student just trying to make something of my life.
Q: Does anyone ever recognize you from the meme, or do you ever bring it up when you’re out in public? Any interesting interactions?
A: No, I mean it’s kinda hard to see me in the back because I look so dark in the picture. Not sure if the lighting just happened to be right or we edited it for the assignment in class. No one knows it’s me unless I mention it to them or comment on a meme where they are using my picture.
Q: There’s been a ton of iterations of the meme, such as those redrawn with characters from anime or pop culture. Do you remember any examples of the meme you particularly enjoyed? Any that you disliked?
A: I enjoy all recreations of my picture. It’s really cool feeling like you’ve gone viral and have people make really cool art of you. I’ve been posting all the new art I come across on our Instagram, @floatingblackkid.
Q: Now that it’s been a few years since it took off, what’re your thoughts on Floating Guy Chasing Running Guy in general? Do you think they’re creative, dumb, just another meme or something special?
A: Well personally I think it’s hard to judge our idea on creating this meme because it was never intended to be a meme format. It was just a picture we had taken that leaked and got super popular, but I’m okay with that. I think we were pretty creative in our photo assignment for class. [laughs]
Q: Many of the people we’ve spoken with who’ve been featured in memes often try to capitalize on their involvement with them. Did you ever try to do this in any way?
A: I never really reached out or tried to create anything off my name from that picture. I always wanted to, like I said, but I just never did. I wish I would have sooner, but oh well, I’m happy with where I’m at now and I still think we have a good chance of becoming something on social media. That’s what I am hoping anyway.
Q: While the use of your likeness was relatively tame, compared to other more controversial or negative memes, can you tell us what it felt like to see your face being used around the world like that? Was it ever frustrating that you couldn’t control how people were using your image or did you have a more relaxed attitude about it?
A: It is kind of frustrating that people don’t notice it’s you when you try to tell them when they post your picture. But overall, I really like seeing my picture float around and all the things people create from it. I’m happy with the name that it has given me.
Q: Since you were in a meme, are you big into meme or internet culture these days? Have any favorite formats or trends you want to share with us? Where do you get your memes?
A: I am a pretty frequent Reddit user so I see a lot of stuff on there, as well as Facebook and Instagram combined. I don’t really have a favorite meme format. I guess, can I say mine? I’ve seen so many redos of it. I love it. [laughs]
Q: Thanks again for speaking with us. So one last thing I want to ask. Reflecting on your involvement with the meme and how widespread it became, would you do anything differently knowing what you know now, or do you fully embrace it without any regrets?
A: The only thing I wish I would have done differently with this meme was come forward and make an official account when the photo originally surfaced. I think I could have gotten a lot more traction around then. But for now, my manager and I will continue growing our page and eventually create content for everyone. We also plan to recreate the original picture at some point soon, just not sure when. Maybe I can send you guys the new format once we get a finished product.
Q: Definitely do! Any final word or additional info to add before we conclude things here?
A: I just wanna thank everybody who’s taking a part in helping me grow my name and sharing my picture around the world. It’s truly incredible. My official Instagram account is @floatingblackkid managed by me and my friend Derek Thieling, or @derek.ss on Instagram. Thank you.
Jordan Toovi is the floating guy depicted in the Floating Boy Chasing Running Boy meme. You can check out his account on Instagram to keep up with his latest happenings and see what he’s up to next.