If you've ever perused Vine since its 2013 launch, odds are you've come across Thomas Sanders' creations. If his name isn't ringing a bell for you right now, maybe this will help: "STORY TIME!" Yes, Sanders is known for being the "Story Time" guy on Vine, as well as several other funny personas.
With over 6 million followers on the six-second video sharing app, it's safe to say Sanders is a vital part of the Vine community. Earlier this month, I attended a Q&A panel at Stream Con NYC with Sanders and fellow Viner Vincent Marcus. Sanders shared he felt "so lucky to speak on [youths'] behalf," in regards to important issues.
MTV reached out to Sanders to learn more about what he had to say concerning teens, social media and sensitive issues in today's news.
MTV: I loved what you said at Stream Con about wanting to use your fame to talk about important issues. Personally, I feel like humor is a powerful way to get a point across. When did you realize you should start making Vines that got people talking about equality/mental health/acceptance issues? Did a specific event from the news or your life inspire the idea, or did it just kind of come to you out of the blue?
Thomas Sanders: Oh, that's quite interesting, I don't know if I've ever pin-pointed when I felt like it should be done in my Vines. However, the first time I made a Vine with this content was after I had been seeing a few articles on ridiculous situations where girls were sent home to change because the way they were dressing was affecting boys' focus. I found it more than a little ridiculous that girls' education was not seen as important as boys' education, so I decided to maybe address it in a comical way in one of my Vines!
As soon as I proposed the idea to the students, they definitely agreed with it, but they also found it to be a bit more political than my other Vines. That made me hesitant, whether it was something my platform should be used for or not, but I decided to go ahead and do it anyway because it obviously was something that people could have a conversation about. That Vine took off on social media sites, and it encouraged me to look at other issues the same way for future Vines.
MTV: Has anyone come up to you and thanked you for helping bring these important issues to the forefront of people’s minds? What are a few inspiring/encouraging comments you’ve received?
TS: Actually, yes! It always takes me aback that the videos I make can positively affect someone somewhere in the world, and then to see them face-to-face thanking me just makes it all the more corporeal. I've been to a few State Thespian competitions where individuals have come up thanking me for bringing some representation to the LGBTQIA community in comedy without making their identity the butt of the joke, which unfortunately happens so much in social media.
I have been messaged by some students that their sign language teachers really appreciated my use of sign language in some vines to represent the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community. And I've also had a student write to me that their teacher used my Vine about mental health to start a conversation in their classroom, which absolutely amazes me.
MTV: I’m not sure if you saw this post my coworker wrote, but it was about your mental health Vine. What was the inspiration for this particular Vine?
TS: I did see that article, and it was such an honor to have it featured and talked about like that! Similarly to my Vine with dress code, this Vine kinda culminated after I had been coming across quite a few articles about students dealing with an intense amount of stress. My father was part of the education system in Florida for decades, and the one thing that he and so many people say is an issue in schools is this ever-increasing amount of standardized testing that is thrust upon students earlier and earlier.
The amount of work that goes into preparation for these tests, not to mention high schoolers having to juggle extra-curricular activities, peer pressure, potential jobs so they can make money, and preparation for college would make any human's head spin, no matter what age or level of competence you are. They never seem to catch a break, and on top of that, are rarely encouraged to take a break, even though the students today have higher educational expectations than previous generations.
I knew something had to be said about this, so that Vine was the product. I'm glad people responded to it so well and I hope it started conversations! I did have a couple kids message me and told me it encouraged them to take a mental health day, so that makes it all worth while that I helped at least a few.
MTV: What are some things teens and youth can do to further help get people talking about these issues, and stay talking about them?
TS: I always say, if you can find like-minded individuals within your school, having meetings online or after-school can be a huge help, if nothing more than to understand you're not alone in your struggles. Great things have already been accomplished through online rallying. It proves that the voices of many can make a difference in the community.
Also, if there are specific teachers who are more keen to listen to students' issues, work with those particular teachers to bring up issues that the faculty may need to address or work on. And, I know everyone's home life is different and some parents are more difficult to be open with than others, but if you are fortunate to be able to have an open conversation with your parents, opening up this line of dialogue may help too.
MTV: I know at Stream Con you said who inspires you for comedy, but who inspires you to stand up for what’s right and continue speaking about these topics?
TS: I have actually been very stricken by the absolute bravery and fortitude of individuals such as Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, Jon Stewart, Zendaya Coleman, John Oliver and Nicki Minaj. They all, in one way or another, have striven for equality, female empowerment, social justice, body positivity and/or representation in the media. Some of them have done so at great risk. They help me to realize how important it is to use one's own platform to bring attention to these issues, especially when attention to it is so scarce.
MTV: What’s some advice you can give to teens (or anyone, really) who want to make Vines that cover sensitive topics such as race, mental health, LGBT or gender issues?
TS: More than anything, please research the topic before featuring it. Make sure that what you're speaking about or incorporating into your Vine is represented correctly. Also, believe in what you make! On any social media site, you will most likely receive differing opinions and/or words of hate towards your content.
You have to look past those comments and focus on the positive impact you're making for the individuals who long to see things like the videos you are making. You are potentially giving a voice to someone who desperately needs it or educating someone who, in turn, joins the fight for equality. Don't lose faith in your ability to make a difference in this world.