Double Rainbow Guy on Viral Videos, the Influence Project, and WHAT IT MEANS

"WHAT DOES IT MEAN?" cried YouTube-sensation Double Rainbow guy, whose trippy experience witnessing a pair of colorful streaks in the sky caught fire on the Web recently, and amassed more than 1.5 million views. Indeed, what does it mean? For Double Rainbow guy, aka Paul Vasquez (the "Yosemitebear Mountain Giant"), it was the bedazzling wonderment of dual rainbows that provoked the question.

Here at Fast Company, we're more interested in figuring out what it means for the clip to have gone viral as part of our chronicle of the social graph, The Influence Project. Is Vasquez just another popular, soon-to-be-forgotten YouTube star? Will he ride the wave of "success" across the Web, like a unicorn atop a rainbow? Does Vasquez now have influence? Is "influence" even the right term to use?

"When I first shot it, I was like, Whoa," says the professional cagefighter-turned-nature-lover. "I always knew it had the potential—that it was special—and I was thinking it was going to catch on. I shot a video before called Giant Intense Rainbow that had the capability of going viral, but when I shot this one, I was like, this is even better."

While Vasquez claims he foresaw the video becoming an Internet phenomenon, it's hard to imagine such prescience coming from a guy who spent three-and-a-half minutes shrieking into a shaky camera about rainbows. Yosemitebear explains that after uploading the clip to his YouTube page, which was already filled with some 200 videos, he linked to it on Facebook and showed it to as many friends as possible. In other words, he tried to spread it across his social networks.

Soon, Double Rainbow was streaking toward viral super-stardom, with spin-offs—from Muppet mash-ups to auto-tuned versions—and a call from CBS. But for Vasquez, who bears a striking resemblance to Lost's Hugo "Hurley" Reyes and makes a living in Yosemite raising Queensland Heelers and wild turkeys, the popularity is nothing he wanted; rather, he's just glad to have shared the "spiritual" experience with so many people.

"People are connecting with it because they feel the spirit in it," he says. "I feel like Noah, because I'm building what seems like an ark here. I have greenhouses, fruit-trees, and I'm working toward alternative energy. It was probably something like the burning bush that Moses experienced."

When I asked what he would do with his newfound popularity or influence, Vasquez wasn't certain: "I've been thinking about this a lot. Last night I went to an Indian sweat and I prayed really hard about this. When I shot the video, I was not high at all, I was not having sex, and I was not hiking, as a lot of people assume. This is my land that I bought in 1988. Wait, what was the question?"

Vasquez says he hopes that with his increased subscriber-base on YouTube, he'll be able to show off more of the beautiful Yosemite for all to enjoy—he said he already planned to spend the day filming the land from his backseat to "show them what it's like [here]."

"People think you can only have that kind of experience on drugs," he explains. "But you don't have to be—you can have the experience with nature without having to be high or having sex." However, Vasquez quickly clarified the point. "But I'm not opposed to it! I mean, I was high in the other video, Giant Intense Rainbow," he assured me with a burly chuckle. "I smoke pot myself—I mean, I have a prescription for it—it's legal here in California."

Of course, speaking with the man behind Double Rainbow about how videos go viral isn't exactly scientific—after all, this was the guy who spent minutes describing to me the overwhelming beauty of the rainbow: "It started to double! Then it turned into a triple! Then a complete circle, like a complete disc of color! Like a giant eye looking at me! You could feel the rays, like of the sun, but it was rainbow rays!" It's probably no better than asking the Star Wars Kid for tips on fight choreography.

But Vasquez does represent a prime fixture of the Web—someone who has gone viral without intention, who has popularity but perhaps no influence, and could care less about ego (unless it was a drug-induced Freudian-examination of his dreams). If anything, Double Rainbow guy illustrates how difficult it is to define what "influence" and "popularity" mean online.

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  • Brooks Cole

    I think the viral key is this: all viral videos have to be a) unusually amazing or demonstrably curious in some palpable way that builds curiosity/intensity/amazement to a climax, and b) have to provide some tension+release that carries the seed of its own propagation, and c) that the speed and success becomes its own amazement factor, multiplying the propagation. I think it mirrors (and leverages) the same human factors that drive sex, along with sex's power to drive DNA replication, then taken to the power of network technology.

    In this case, the initial tension is our reaction to the original video: what is happening that this Double Rainbow Guy's experience is so intense? It's funny and fascinating and uncomfortable all at once. We are simultaneously, intensely amazed and curious and uncomfortable all at the same time in a social and voyeuristic way, This literally creates a feeling we have to discharge by sharing it. He's authentic, so the voyeurism is pure. It speaks to the childlike curiosity in us.

    Then, people want to share this peak experience with their friends, and other clever creative people riff on the phenomenon in equally amazing ways, growing the viral meme tree out in surges, generations of branches each carrying the DNA flower of the original. Waves of media then begin to report on the phenomenon, increasingly triggered as much by the amazement at the viral phenomenon (the news that it is news) as the content itself.

    All in all I think we are seeing a mirror of why sex so effectively drives DNA and population growth!

  • prismstar

    Goodness, I have been needing Rainbow Man's luck for the past year. I have been praying my songs go viral too, but they are for a very special cause that I support - an orphanage in Africa. Lord let it rain downloads tonight. We really need it:

  • Melinda Blau

    Here are the elements that contributed to this video's virality, in my opinion: he's genuine, and he's a character--doesn't look like other people, is very out there, and it doesn't hurt that it sounds like he's having sex! Reminds me of Gary Vaynerchuk. The public is very savvy about fakes, and this guy isn't faking it. It helps that along with his "package," he has a spiritual side. What does it all mean, indeed!