If you have a pulse, you've seen memes starring "Hide the Pain Harold," an older man sitting at a desk, one hand holding a coffee cup, the other on a laptop keyboard. He is smiling, but his eyes tell a different story, one filled with regret, self-doubt, fear, and sadness. The man behind the meme is András Arató (74), a former electrical engineer, who says he is actually a happy person. He wrote an essay for The Guardian about what it is like to become accidentally famous. Wisely, Arató took control of the meme by starting a Facebook fan page and uploading videos and stories to it.
That started everything going. People noticed that I had taken ownership of the meme and got in contact to offer me work. I was given a role in a television commercial for a Hungarian car dealer. In one of the adverts, I travelled to Germany to buy a used car and it broke down halfway home; if I had bought the same car through their company, the brand claimed, it wouldn’t have happened. The fee for that commercial changed my wife’s mind about the meme.
Now my life has changed dramatically. People ask me to talk about my story, to demonstrate the power of memes. A football website flew me to England to make a video about Manchester City; I got to tour the ground and watch them play a Champions League game. The German mail-order giant Otto flew me out to make commercials for them. The Hungarian hard rock band Cloud 9+ have a song called Hide The Pain, with me in the video. I’m the face of Totum, the British discount card run by the National Union of Students – they got me to wear a bucket hat. I’ve even given a TED talk.