‘Humans of’ pages used to be aspirational. Now they’re super mundane
‘Humans of Slough’ is an actual thing
We all remember the first inspiring Humans of New York post we read and in many ways we all read the same one.
The orphan girl from Afghanistan who set up her own scented candle business despite having no thumbs. The gay rights activist who had a bone marrow transplant on the same day they successfully completed a half marathon. The hopeful Eritrean teen from the Bronx who dreamed of being a lawyer, cruelly encumbered by the fact they can’t actually read.
These aren’t real posts but you know the vibe I’m getting at and the register Humans of NY always goes for – inspirational, uplifting, emotionally charged. The world seen through the eyes of an intelligent grad student who loves Teju Cole and has an unflinching eye for filter-friendly deprivation.
But that’s not the reason why Brandon Stanton’s page took over Facebook, or why it was transformed into a bestselling book, or why you actually read it every now and then.
Humans of New York works because it’s called Humans of New York. A million Friends repeats, a thousand Woody Allen movies and Lena Dunham’s Instagram have conditioned us to regard it as the global capital of culture and business, where anyone with the slightest shred of ambition is drawn to like an iron filing to a magnet. It’s aspirational.
You know what isn’t aspirational?
A “Humans of Slough” page. Humans of Leeds Trinity. Humans of Glasgow and Belfast and York and Kent. Humans of Reading, Lincoln, Bracknell, Didcot, Nuneaton.
Sure these places have a romance, and there’s something wistful and wry about growing up in Yateley or Aldershot or Crewe – but only if you get out and build a life somewhere vital and exciting (see: New York). There’s a reason why Morrissey lives in LA, not Manchester.
Imagine standing around Slough with a camera and trying to find a story which isn’t boring, told by a person who isn’t boring, and in a way that isn’t boring. It’s probably impossible.
Even your Humans of Greater London and Rome and Amsterdam are hindered and made mundane by the simple fact they aren’t coming from New York, a city which makes all other cities feel mistaken and fraudulent.
Reading HoNY is an experience built on envy – no matter how shit the person’s life, they still live in New York and you don’t. I can’t say I feel that way when I read the stories of the Humans of Nottingham.