Raised by his grandparents, a working-class Pentecostal couple from Tennessee who believed the Internet "turned [him] gay", Chris Crocker was just 19-years-old when went a series of videos he'd posted to Youtube ("Leave Britney Alone!") went viral, turning him into an instant Internet sensation.
"The first thing I did in 5th grade, when I got the internet, was look up pictures of Britney Spears—or what was supposed to be Britney Spears," says Chris, "but it wasn't really Britney."
At age 14, faced with threats of violence and harassment, Chris left his public middle school in favor of home schooling, a safer option. Around this time, he began recording and posting his videos to the web.
"It was my way of defending myself against the people in my home town, without having to fight back physically," explains Chris. "It just erupted onto the camera screen."
With his video "This & That", Chris got his first taste of viral fame. Parody videos were recorded and posted on Myspace and Youtube. He started receiving thousands upon thousands of friend requests, on a daily basis. And the video's view count was steadily growing at an exponential rate.
"I didn't get it first. I thought 'Is someone spamming my Myspace? What's happening," he explains of the initial shock. "Then I realized that everyone was talking about the video, and I looked at the Myspace video chart, and it was the No. 1 played video."
In 6 months, that video got 8 million hits. And so it began.
Me @ the Zoo (which borrows its name from the first video ever uploaded to Youtube) is first documentary about the emergence of one of the Internet's most celebrated viral video bloggers. But it is also a story about a queer kid from a hillbilly town who, rejected by his peers, sought solace online—paving the way for the innumerable similarly disenfranchised, who today turn to Youtube as both diary and friend.
Bonus: archival footage of Katie Couric and the rest of the Today Show cast wondering aloud, on air, what the "@" symbol stands for. ("See, I thought it was for about," says Couric. Then: "Alison, can you explain what the Internet is?") [HBOGo]