As Elon Musk continues to take Twitter polls far too seriously, Tumblr‘s new poll function is flourishing as a vehicle for shitposting and ridiculous site-wide fixations. After testing the waters with a viral bug race poll, Tumblr’s userbase turned its attention to a more contentious topic: Selecting the ultimate Tumblr Sexyman.
Distinct from the more pedestrian phenomenon of “internet boyfriend” celebrity crushes, Tumblr Sexymen tend to be fictional characters—usually cartoons, with an ambitiously inclusive definition of both “man” and “sexy.”
Ubiquitous on 2010s-era Tumblr, Sexymen are defined by their ability to inspire standalone fandoms. They range from mainstream figures (Marvel’s Loki) to characters whose appeal would baffle outside spectators (a talking clock; a pixelated skeleton; a Minecraft creepypasta entity). The more abstract Sexymen are sometimes redesigned by fan artists to resemble skinny white guys, echoing the most notorious Sexyman of all: The Once-ler from the 2012 Dr. Seuss movie The Lorax.
Like Superwholock, the Once-ler’s role as an unlikely sex symbol is an essential piece of Tumblr lore. But in 2023, does he retain his popularity? According to a ruthless poll bracket that played out over the past few days, the answer’s no. Winnowing down the competition from 32 iconic Sexymen, the final poll declared Cecil from Welcome to Night Vale as the winner, with 180,731 accounts voting. (A hell of a lot more than previous Sexyman brackets on Twitter, which were clearly less valid due to being hosted on the wrong site.)
Voiced by actor Cecil Baldwin, small-town radio host Cecil Palmer is the main narrator for Night Vale’s offbeat horror/fantasy narrative. During the podcast’s peak popularity in the mid-2010s, Cecil was Tumblr fandom catnip not just due his then-rare position as a queer protagonist, but because he offered so much room for creative interpretation.
As an audio-only character, Cecil has no official appearance, making him a notably flexible choice of Sexyman. Fan artists initially drew him in classic Sexyman style as a skinny white guy in a purple suit, usually with tentacles and a third eye to reference WTNV’s logo and cosmic horror themes. In later years though, fans embraced a more racially and conceptually diverse array of visual portrayals, pushing back against the Sexyman stereotype.
As the final poll went viral this weekend, Cecil inspired a furious election campaign as dormant WTNV fans argued for his essential place in Tumblr culture. Facing off against Sans from Undertale (the aforementioned pixelated skeleton), #Cecilsweep posts were suddenly everywhere, referencing crucial details like Cecil Baldwin’s IRL presence at the infamous Dashcon convention, and the character’s general embodiment of goofy Tumblr enthusiasm.
The Sexyman poll and Cecil Palmer have dominated Tumblr’s trending topics for the past few days, which says a lot about a) Tumblr’s aging userbase, and b) Tumblr fandom in general. This poll is definitely nostalgia-bait, celebrating a phenomenon that younger users didn’t witness firsthand. A lot of the main contestants are from fandoms that have long since faded out. But while the original Tumblr generation is going through the same “we’re getting old” vibe shift we’ve seen on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr users aren’t just regurgitating old content.
The reaction to the Sexyman poll is creative and participatory, evolving into something more meta than a simple popularity contest. It’s proof that Tumblr culture is still going strong—as is Welcome to Night Vale itself, recently concluding its 11th season.