What happens when you find out you can make shapes using the Nike Plus running app? If you are Claire Wyckoff, you quickly use this realization as an excuse to run shapes all over your city. It does not take long before you start running in the shape of penises.
I called up Wyckoff, the creator of Running Drawing, to get the backstory on her viral Tumblr. We talked about the subversive appeal of using a big corporation’s technology in a way they would never expect (or even approve of) and also why penises are hilarious.
How did this Tumblr get started?
One day I went for a run and, at the end of it, using the Nike Plus app, I thought it looked kind of like a dog. So my husband and I decided the next day to try to actually do it. I thought it was hilarious to use Nike Plus not as what it was intended for. And people responded on Facebook that it was so great. That’s when I was like, let’s take it to the next comedy level and run something funnier, like a penis.
Did you expect it to catch on like this?
I had one or two friends say that could be a big thing: repurposing or reinventing technology. So I hoped people would pick it up, but I’ve been shocked that it did. I wanted to wait until I had ten runs, so I did, and then I put it on Tumblr four days ago. And that’s how it all began.
How do you feel about the fact that everyone is focusing on the penis pictures?
It’s funny because, of course I did penises, I can’t shy away from what everyone kind of wants now. The pictures are all over the place. I was getting friends who thought penises were funny, and then I got friends who were like, come on, you’re better than that. My dad, for instance. He did not think the subject matter was as amusing as I did. I diversified it a little bit but people keep asking for butts and boobs and penises.
CREDIT: Claire Wyckoff
What do you think is the reason this has become so popular?
Some of it is the quirkiness of someone running a penis versus running a flower. And I think there’s also this phenomenon of people nowadays finding remarkable, ridiculous ways to use technology. They create these things, but the true innovation comes when people take it and repurpose it and turn it into art. I think it’s really kind of fascinating these days, how people are finding different ways to use things that were intended for one purpose.
Yes! Like Snapchat art. Have you seen the Tumblr “Casual Bonnie,” of these elaborate drawings done around Snapchats of this tiny dog?
No, and I never would have thought to do that. That’s one of those things I hear, and I think that’s why people get excited: no one would have thought to necessarily put a bikini on a dog. I think it’s going to be really fascinating to see, as technology grows, what people make of it.
What do you do when you’re not running penises?
I’m currently a writer in advertising. Do you watch Mad Men? I’m like Peggy. That’s what I tell people.
It’s funny that you’re in advertising, because this idea of subverting the real intent of a big corporation’s idea reminds me of the way people took that “You’re On: Diet Coke” campaign and made it all about cocaine.
And rightfully so, because I said that when I saw it, too: did they just say, “I’m on cocaine?” I will say, some people in advertising excel at taking something and making fun of it.
Do you think part of the fun of this Tumblr is the idea that Nike is a big corporation, and they’ve decided that users should take this app and only do what Nike tells you to do with it? And what you do really takes control away from Nike’s idea and makes it something they can’t really take credit for, or stop, or anything.
That makes me sound so cool. I’m like an evil scientist. You just made me so happy. That to me is like, if you analyze the humor of it, I personally think so much of the humor is in, Nike does this anthemic advertising: fuel, running, intensity, be the best possible version of you! “Just do it.” It has this product made to get people running. So to use it in a way that’s completely antithetical to the brand, I think there’s a humor to that tension. Penises don’t go with Nike. I hadn’t even thought that I had somehow subverted this brand. But for a week, there’s something super cool about that. For a couple days, Nike isn’t what they say it is. It’s what the media and the public has called it. I’m kind of surprised Nike hasn’t commented.
Do you think they know about it? Would they be happy?
I can’t imagine them saying, “Why don’t you come be our spokesperson and we’ll pay you to run penises!” Maybe they think of it as good advertising? I wonder if a lot of people have been downloading the app now that this happened.
CREDIT: Claire Wyckoff
Oh, that’s a good point. I’m sort of surprised they’ve never utilized this function to have one of their spokespeople run their name or a message through the streets.
It’s funny because it also makes me, now that I’m really analyzing it… be curious if anyone had thought of doing it for them.
Well, like you said, it’s not really tonally in line with Nike’s branding. Nike is more about intensity, everyman-as-Olympian imagery. I don’t think of Nike as something goofy and tongue-in-cheek.
And I think being goofy is what makes this thing so funny. And if I were Nike, I wouldn’t want to talk to me. Maybe if they were Netflix, or Diesel, and were known for being quirky or subversive. I’d be curious to find out if there have been more downloads of the app since the Tumblr launched. I don’t think I’d want to talk to me, either. Now I believe they’re missing a HUGE opportunity not paying me millions of dollars a year. Apparently they don’t like success.
How does thinking about these drawings influence your runs? Are you a better runner when you run pictures, or does it slow you down?
So it goes two different ways. In one way, it’s worse, because I have to run a little bit more slowly at times. Because I have to look at the map while I run, and sometimes you have to stop and look at it and make sure it looks good. People have been commenting that I run slow miles. And at the end Nike averages everything, so you ran an average of 9:58 a mile, but that one mile was 8:58 but I had to slow down to look at something so I was walking for ten feet.
On the other hand, it actually keeps your mind off of the running part. I’m more a comedian than I am a runner. To me, hopefully this is comedy; it’s not about running. That’s not the area of this whole thing that I’m more passionate about. I’m just making jokes. But the running thing, I’m not one of those people who loves running. I run to stay in shape… So normally I’m looking at my phone like, “How much longer, how many more miles, oh God, I wish I were eating a cheeseburger.” But running pictures, I’m just focused on completing the picture, so it takes my mind off whatever I’m actually doing. And I’ll find things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like, if a picture requires me to run up a hill, I wouldn’t do that ordinarily, but for a picture, I’ve sprinted up a lot of hills.
CREDIT: Claire Wyckoff
Why do you think penises are the funniest body part? Is it because it’s a male thing? Are women’s body parts not as funny?
I have racked my brain for the past few years. People are asking why I don’t run a vagina. But dicks are funny. They’re funny to look at. They kind of look like elephants from the front. They get small when they’re cold. I have nothing on my body that, when I’m happy, it changes size. There is just something inherently funny about penises. I might need to find a psychologist to dive into the psychology of why penises are hilarious.
I feel like at some level it also has to do with men and women and society. I wonder if there’s something funny about it in a predominately male-dominated society, maybe there’s some humor to making fun of the one or two things the patriarchy has that is humorous. This Achilles heel moment. I think there’s something to cracking jokes about the bigger guy. Inherently, I think there’s a little bit of humor in making fun of the one thing on the male body that’s strange. You make more money than me, I’m going to make fun of your dick.
This also reminds me of the Facebook nudity policies involving women and breastfeeding pictures, and the language in this press release about why breastfeeding pictures are now allowed was so precious and patronizing, like, “Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful! This is where life begins!” People talk about women’s bodies in that way all the time. But we don’t apply that second-order significance to men, so it can be a source of comedy.
I never thought about that part either. I’ve always found penises funny, too, because men really have a time bomb between their legs. I would do anything to be a man for one day just to know what it’s like to have to deal with that second brain between your legs dictating half your thoughts. I’ve always found it funny, too, that it’s a part of the body that if they sit wrong, they’re like “AAAH!,” and if they walk the wrong way. And if you’re mad at a guy, there’s a button on his body you can literally push.
And in comedies, it’s such a go-to move, to have a guy get kicked there.
Maybe that’s what’s inherently a little funny about this whole thing, is that it’s humorous, it’s light-hearted, and it isn’t derogatory in any way. And it’s something men and women take a little bit of delight in. That’s the other thing: human bodies are weird.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.