With respect to Ms. Kardashian, to break the internet, you must become it. Manzi DeYoung, pictured above, isn't dressed as a Sexy Sonic; she's dressed as the surprisingly ubiquitous and durable Sexy Sonic fan-art.
The Los Angeles-based costumer/fabricator conceived of the costume for an "internet-themed costume party" with her friends, who are "all big nerds like me and don't know how to throw a party with costumes," she told me over the phone.
"Sexy Sonic" fits the theme pretty perfectly because Sexy Sonics have been with us for the entirety of the internet, and perhaps always will be, no matter how bad Sonic games get—and Manzi tells me that "all of the recent games are laughably awful."
The costume also fits into a well-known trope for cosplayers and convention attendees and college students—the sexy version of the unsexy thing. To be fair, as the internet teaches, there's no actual objective standard of sexiness, and Manzi's own costume version of "Gadget" from the show "Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers," which wasn't designed to be "Sexy Gadget" or anything, but it still brought out confessionals from guys at Wondercon who had childhood crushes on the cartoon mouse. All the same, "sexy costumes get attention no matter what," Manzi said of the convention world, "that's why people do 'Sexy Bane' or whatever. It's hilarious, but it works."
"Everything from 'ugh—a sexy girl? I bet she doesn't even play Sonic,' to like, every variation of 'Gotta Go Fast' sexual innuendo."
And after the costume party, Manzi and her friend Greg De Stefano, a photographer, decided to kick it up a notch and see just how far Sexy Sonic could go.
"So I rebuilt the costume, and he built this backdrop of Green Hills Zone pixeled hills and a little astroturf stage. It became a more elaborate thing once we decided to shoot it," she said. "So before it was sort of a joke costume to something more than that—although it's still sort of a joke costume—it's just also more than that."
Even with the most cursory knowledge of the internet, you can guess how popular the pictures were. The slightly-more-informed will know what kind of reactions they got.
"It got a lot of traction on Reddit, was on 'Escapist' and on blogs and we basically predicted what comments I'd get, and we got them," Manzi said. "Everything from "ugh, a sexy girl? I bet she doesn't even play Sonic, to like, every variation of 'Gotta Go Fast' sexual innuendo. It's exactly what we thought would happen."
For whatever its worth, this semi-ironic distance kept it from ever getting weird for Manzi. "It was hilarious because it was predictable," she said.
Manzi's pictures surface pretty high in the Google Image results for "Sexy Sonic" which makes me wonder if for all her and Greg's detached, semi-sociological interest in sexy Sonic art, the pictures still became exactly that.
Of course, Art historians and 12-year-olds with Deviant Art accounts are free to debate when an homage turns into the thing-itself, but after spending quite a bit of time wading into the world of Sexy Sonic fan-art—a trip that has probably put my IP on several watchlists, and made me question my own sanity—I'm too tired to go meta.
Pull: "I wish I could explain it, because I'm a Sonic-fan-art fan, but the main reason at this point is just disbelief that they're still going as much as they are."
And for whatever its worth, becoming a sexy Sonic doesn't give you any more insight into the phenomenon, which was the original reason I had called her in the first place.
"I wish I could explain it, because I'm a Sonic-fan-art fan, but the main reason at this point is just disbelief that they're still going as much as they are," she said. "I wish I had an explanation for you."
As fetishes proliferate, a certain amount of "chicken and the egg" consideration is happening.
"Internet enabled a previously unseen diversification of genres and attitudes toward the representation of sex," Paolo Pedercini told me. He teaches a class on "Internet Resistence" at Carnegie Mellon, and was telling me why the syllabus required students to invent, at least theoretically, a new porn genre. "I think it's worth wondering if this diversification is breaking down the normativity of mainstream porn, if it's affecting the production of desire, and enabling new forms of sexuality."
Manzi remained incredulous that anyone could find Sonic the Hedgehog at all exciting, but given the pictures' popularity on a subreddit "/r/girlswithneonhair", I suspect the whole Sonic thing is beside the point.
I doubt this is a new form of anything, which is maybe true of every sexy costume, from Halloween to Bane. Ironic distance or not, if you check enough of the old normative boxes, it's a winner. Some base impulses resist irony no matter how obvious. Whether it breaks or not, this still remains the internet's not-so-secret weakness.