Matt Harding is an international Internet sensation who almost literally stumbled into his dream job. The makers of Stride gum paid him to travel the world and dance badly. Very badly. Oh, and to shoot video of his dancing and upload it for the world to see.
Admit it: You want to be Matt Harding.
I want to be Matt Harding. Hell, everybody wants to be Matt Harding.
The guy is an international Internet sensation who almost literally stumbled into his dream job. The makers of Stride gum paid him to travel the world and dance badly. Very badly. Oh, and to shoot video of his dancing and upload it for the world to see.
“It’s ridiculous,” Harding says.
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And you know what? On the surface, it is sort of ridiculous. A 4 ½ minute video of Harding dancing in Mumbai and Bhutan and Northern Ireland and in a desert in Australia and a flower field in the Netherlands. Dancing, dancing, dancing.
But keep watching. More than 9 million already have. (Or at least the video has been viewed 9 million times.)
Eventually, Harding is joined by an exuberant crowd in San Francisco, and then in Paris, and in Chicago, and there’s a cheering mob in Madrid. And by the point in the video where Harding is surrounded by squealing, dancing kids in Madagascar — kids who are so beside themselves with joy that they appear ready to burst — he will have you.
He had me, anyway. Had me near tears. And he had me thinking: This is what the Internet does best. All the work at Xerox PARC and Netscape and Yahoo and Google. This is it: the promise of a tool that can bring us together.
The video goes on and on — Harding, 31, doing a dance that’s a mix of running in place and flailing wildly — and by the twos and 10s, in 40-some countries, people run up and join him. A New Age-y upbeat Bengali song plays and you see it — you see that those of us who inhabit this globe have so much in common. You see how much joy there is in places — Mali, the West Bank, Zambia — where you might suspect that poverty or problems would crush joy.
“There is no implicit message in the video,” says Harding, who lives in Seattle when he’s not traveling. “It’s what people take away from it, and that’s always going to be more powerful.”
And you realize that this is a phenomenon that never would have happened without the Internet. No movie studio, no wacky television producer — not even Mark Burnett — is going to come up with something like this.
I finally reached Harding by phone recently. His latest video has been up on the Web (on YouTube and at www.wherethehellismatt.com) since late June, and Harding has been running from interview to interview ever since. He spoke to me from Hollywood between a meeting with some Hollywood sorts pitching a movie idea and an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Maybe you’ve heard the “Where the Hell Is Matt” story. On a lark in 2004, Harding and a buddy filmed him doing a kooky dance in Vietnam. Harding kept up the dancing and filming on a trip to Africa. He showed his family the video. A sister sent it to a friend. It ended up on blogs.
“It kind of started snowballing,” he says.
In 2005, the Stride people offered to sponsor a world trip so Harding, a video-game designer by trade, could keep dancing and filming. The trip was great fun and the Stride people said they’d pay to do it again — this time with Harding dancing with fans along the way. He came up with the idea when street kids in Rwanda spontaneously joined him on the first Stride trip.
Some might worry about the commercial nature of Harding’s art. But there isn’t much commercial about it. The two videos that Stride sponsored end with a quick screen shot that thanks the gum company for footing the bill.
Harding knows his fame is likely to end as abruptly as it began. But before it does, he has a plan. Part of his deal with Stride includes a philanthropic element.
In the coming months, Harding plans to return to Rwanda. And this time he’ll bring a shipment of laptops. His goal is to provide children there with the tools to help them learn.
An idea that is not so ridiculous after all.
Mike Cassidy is a technology columnist at
the San Jose Mercury News.