Meet Mario and Laura, two models who unknowingly became central figures in meme history. In November 2015, Antonio Guillem, a professional stock photographer, uploaded a series of infidelity-themed images to iStock.
Among these was a frame he captioned “disloyal man with his girlfriend looking at another girl.” This particular image would soon stand out and become iconic in the world of memes.
While many memes evolve slowly, the ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ meme seemed destined for instant fame. It first appeared on Facebook in January 2017, fully formed:
The meme featured Mario labeled as “Phil Collins,” a famous drummer and singer from the ’70s and ’80s, Laura as “Prog,” and the other woman as “Pop.”
Over the next year, variations of the meme gradually spread to Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit.
Antonio Guillem, in a statement, explained that the photo was one of many taken that day, and he and his team were supportive of the meme’s spread.
The popularity of ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ spurred the discovery of similar photos featuring the same models on Tumblr. In October, a Reddit user named “toastr” shared a different image from what seemed to be the same photoshoot, this time portraying a girl looking at another man.
This new twist led to more meme iterations, including one captioned “the tables have turned” and another featuring the meme images themselves.
The ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ meme became so popular that it won the 2018 Meme of the Year award at the 10th Annual Shorty Awards.
The staged nature of Antonio’s photos made ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ and ‘Distracted Girlfriend’ prime candidates for meme fame. Another notable meme is ‘Shocked Girlfriend,’ which features Laura’s expressive reaction in various scenarios:
Like many internet sensations, ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ happened somewhat accidentally. Although Antonio Guillem took the photo for stock purposes, it has since become a shared cultural asset, belonging to the collective internet hive-mind.