"I'm interested in doing something of a 'tell all'"
This was the response to my interview request from Sam Hains, the Melbourne guy who went viral around the world this week for his appearance in The Age's street style column "Street Seen." If you somehow haven't seen it yet, it was incredible: Wearing a turtleneck, a beret, and backwards overalls he "found in a vintage store in Tokyo," "Samuel Davide" extolled the virtues of K Mart fashion, Trotsky in leather, and bucolic jazz socialism.
But was Samuel Davide a joke, or was this guy serious? No one could seem to work it out. The moment you were sure it had to be a joke, he'd pop up somewhere else—from the front page of The Age in Australia to the Independent in the UK. He was termed the "Most Melbourne Man Ever," quickly becoming a lightning rod for hipster hate.
It's probably an understatement to say that—when Sam Hains told me he finally wanted to "tell all"—I understood how those German reporters felt when they got the Panama Papers leak. And there were two things I wanted to know: Was this a joke, and how does it really feel to go viral?
VICE: Okay Sam, first up: Is Samuel Davide a joke? Have you just trolled the whole world?
Sam Hains: Samuel Davide is a satirical character. But when the media took such interest in my half-assed, satirical "street column," my interest in how life is marketed and mediatised grew.
Talk to me about your outfit choice. How did this whole prank come together
My friend Tara runs the "Street Seen" column [in The Age] and asked me if I wanted to do it. The decision to do it in character was impulsive. I think the impulse to do it in character initially came from wanting to avoid the embarrassment of doing the column sincerely.
Street Seen seemed like a great platform for performance, given the fact that the subject is represented as their authentic self, caught on the street. I felt I could experiment with the reader's willingness to engage with me as an "unstaged," "natural" character.
The clothing choice wasn't considered—I said yes to everything that was thrown at me. The pink beret was sitting on Tara's counter; I put the overalls on backwards by mistake, we thought it was funny so we just rolled with it. Tara suggested I needed a bag and grabbed the tote.
How did you come up with the character of Samuel Davide—are you even a web developer/mystery blogger/jazz kitten?
I LOVE jazz and I am a web developer. Davide is not a person, but he is a persona—there are elements of my authentic self in Davide. Once we had the outfit together, Tara asked me the questions, and I just said the first thing that came into my head. I was just trying to be funny… My other friend Maillie did the same thing. She dressed up, and I remember thinking her character was better than mine because it was more coherent. Her outfit, and what she was saying seemed immediately graspable.
Maille's "Street Seen." Image supplied.
So Davide went viral, but your friend Maille's fake Street Seen didn't. Why do you think that is?
Maille's character was easier to make sense of—her look and persona was cohesive and fit more seamlessly with the "caught-on-the-street" narrative. Davide's character, on the other hand, was disorienting and alienating. I was so hungover that day. My character was very confused, if not in serious crisis. I was worried about Davide. Why would a self-confessed Maoist Intellectual be fashion-fabulous? Yet, why not? I think people responded to Davide's confusion. He is broken.
The moment you realised it was being picked up everywhere—what was that like?
Brown Cardigan picked it up and presented me as a sincere character. People responded with anger and some of my friends didn't even know what was real anymore.
What did your friends think about the response?
Most of them thought it was hilarious, everyone was beside themselves, and I got swept up in this hysteria in my small social group. I realised that the media machine I was playing with is as diabolical as I'd always suspected and I felt I could actually get hurt in this. It's not an ethical beast, it does what it will for content.
So why did you decide to keep going with the joke in interviews?
[I thought] the fact that I had this huge PR push—without a material product or a tangible personal brand identity—yet effectively and inadvertently held a mirror up to some of the flaws of the system.
Your friend Maille featured in an article about you on news.com.au, she was actually interviewed by them.
It's hilarious, she's amazing. News.com.au kept asking me for an interview, but I was at work and I saw the article was published on news.com.au anyway. Maillie was interviewed instead, and was able to completely fabricate a story about my childhood with no consent and feed it to the media.
I think that question of what it's like to be in the middle of a media shitstorm, that's really interesting to me. What was it like?
I actually think it's evil, the whole thing. I felt like everyone was trying to exploit Davide, an already warped man. He was being contacted, if not harassed by so many publications. It was a really unhealthy relationship between Davide and the media organisations. It felt very manic… the intensity of it. Everyone wanted blood from Davide.
I feel like most of the time when people try and rag on hipsters it feels really dated. The thing I liked about Davide was that it seemed so specific. Did you have any person in mind that you were parodying?
I honestly didn't have hipsters in mind at all - hipster is such an empty term. Davide was just saying whatever came to his head, trying to be satirical or at least entertaining. It was actually so half-arsed when I think about it. (Davide didn't have a specific target audience. It was more about playing on people's suspension of disbelief in a "street style" forum, and causing confusion by riding the real/fake dualism.)
It's interesting to consider how Davide has come to represent so many different things—particularly "Melbourne culture" and "hipster culture." Davide will be the first to admit that he is an incoherent character. What do backwards overalls say about someone? Absolutely nothing, of course! It all just acts as a mirror. I think the incoherency of these ideas was key in allowing him to become the archetype "hipster" or "Melbournian." People are just projecting whatever they want onto him.
It's actually saddening and disturbing that many of the responses to Davide's outfit and demeanour were vitriolic and aggressive. What if he were a real individual in society? How would he bounce back from this? It would've been hilarious to explore Davide and perform his decline into madness, but this is taking up too much of my (Sam's) energy.
Why did you decide to end the joke, weren't you having a good time?
I think I was, but I felt like the whole thing just started spiralling out of control. The fact that his persona was providing news content… it was a maddening exercise. I feel like it was an uncomfortable experience, to have his persona scrutinised in that manner.
I came out because I felt the joke was not well-planned, and was self-indulgent and classist to some extent. I performed this for my friends, not the nation, not the world. There were no long-term goals, or anything like that. Davide had no media experience. That's what's so funny about this—there's this amazing PR push but I have no interest in marketing any content or products—myself included.
Wait, are you trolling me right now?
It seems Davide cannot be himself without the world imploding before him, so he's claiming to do a sincere "reveal-all" interview with VICE, birthing the character of Sam—a stable, palatable, watered-down version of Davide.
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