13 years ago, András István Arató, a Hungarian electrical engineer from the provincial town of Kőszeg, Vas County, received an unexpected call from a photographer asking him for collaboration. The photographer, who had previously found Mr Arató’s pictures on Instagram, suggested that the two of them do a photoset together, as by coincidence, the photographer had been searching for a person with the same appearance as András. András agreed, and together they did a photoshoot where András posed in multiple roles, such as a doctor, a painter, an engineer, a university professor, and many others. The photographer liked the pictures immensely, and invited András to shoot other photosets as well, and soon, satisfied with his job, uploaded the pictures to the Internet.
This seemingly inconspicuous event changed the life of Mr Arató for good.
Several months later, András became curious about what the public utilized his pictures for. To his initial surprise, he discovered that his images had captured significant attention in the commercial sector (and they continue to be used there to this day). He even appeared on a French billboard that recognized the hard work of healthcare workers during the COVID pandemic!
However, after a while, he realized the popularity his photoset had earned him was a double-sided coin. Users all around the world, especially in the American and Russian segments of the Internet, started to use his stock photoset to create memes, and not always with innocent contexts. Users took the mick out of András’s smile, making jokes primarily revolving around the notion that he appeared to be concealing excruciating pain behind his cheerful expression. The collective psyche of the Internet dubbed him ‘Hide the Pain Harold,’ a moniker that, even today, tends to be more recognized than his real name.
This caused András serious emotional distress, as he had specifically asked the photographer not to use his image for religious-, sexual- or political-themed photos, because he was afraid it would hurt someone’s feelings. Regrettably, the Internet showed no mercy, transforming even the most innocent pictures into memes. As András himself said in an interview:
‘At first, I was horrified when I encountered the first memes, because some were really crude or offensive. So, I wanted to remove all the pictures and close down all the websites where they appeared.’
Notwithstanding his initial, instinctive reaction, András realized that what has been posted on the Net is forever on the Net, and therefore, he had no choice but to make the most of it. It took him several years to get used to and accept a new identity—that of a meme hero. He realized that there is a silver lining to that seemingly undesirable status, as it can also give him some opportunities. That is why he decided to reveal his identity to the public, who had begun to suspect he was not even real, and that his image was AI-produced. As his photos had gone incredibly viral in the Russian internet, he registered on a Russian social media website and posted there a photo of himself holding a sign that read ‘Я ЖИВ! Привет!’ (Ya Zhiv! Privet!) meaning ‘I am alive! Hello!’, shocking the netizens. Much to his relief, following that coming out, the majority of the inappropriate memes vanished without a trace. The news of the famous ‘Hide the pain Harold’ actually being a real person quickly spilled over onto the Western Internet as well.
After his ‘coming out’, András, without a doubt, became a world-wide celebrity.
People stopped to take selfies with him in the street, and soon he has started to receive commercial offers, from both Hungarian and foreign businesses alike, including major multinational brands and companies like Coca-Cola, TEDx, LadBible, the aforementioned Russian Vkontakte, and many others. In addition, he participated in a commercial for the Zoo of Nyíregyháza (Sóstó Zoo), one of the most outstanding zoos in Europe and the animal park András likes to visit a lot.
András has come to terms with his newly acquired status and learned how to take great joy and pleasure in it. He believes that as a meme star he can make people happy, lifting up their spirits and bringing smiles to their faces, and he takes great pride in that. András is also proud of his Hungarian identity. He has been noticed showcasing a Hungarian flag during his trips, and his ties to his homeland are very strong.
Recently, he participated in an AI conference held by the ‘Eötvös10’ Cultural Centre in Budapest. But he has been quite successful in his original profession as well. He has earned two awards, the János Urbanek Prize and the Déri Miksa Award, from the Hungarian Electrotechnical Association (Magyar Elektrotechnikai Egyesület), in recognition of his fine skills as an electrotechnician. Currently, András Arató resides together with his family in Budapest.