Who the Hell Is Quentin Quarantino?
A Q&A with the Instagram meme-star whose following surged to over half a million by calling out the absurdity of America’s Covid culture since the dawn of the pandemic.
The first time I heard about Quentin Quarantino was through the forehead of my friend, Elvire. She was sporting a baseball hat with the iconic words of 2020, “Will you shut up, man” stitched on the front. It’s a quote from that painful second presidential debate when President-elect Biden (God that feels good to type) shut down President obese-turtle-flailing-on-his-back-in-the-hot-sun-knowing-his-time-is-over. I burst out laughing, followed the tag to the cheeky Instagram handle of Quentin Quarantino, and found myself lost in a page of memes, calling out the hypocrisy of pro-lifers and anti-maskers and dubbing Americans the Karens of Europe. I fell into a deep state of catharsis.
Merchandise is just one small branch of Quentin Quarantino, a meteoric meme-star who’s been chronicling the absurdity of American Covid culture since that near apocalyptic day of March 13, 2020. With a blend of original and reposted content, Quentin Quarantino’s following has surged to over half a million. The page was started by 25 year old Tommy Marcus, a University of Michigan graduate based in New York City, in the early and confusing days of lockdown. In an effort to try to make light of quarantine life, eating Chef Boyardee in sweatpants alone, Marcus promised to post a meme every 30 minutes until the 14 day lockdown was over, and named the account after his second favorite director. “‘Wes Quaranderson’ doesn’t rhyme as well as ‘Quentin Quarantino,’” said Marcus, who has the dance scene from Pulp Fiction tattooed on his left shoulder.
But then, shit got real. The lockdown didn’t end. Masks became a statement. Fox News called Covid a hoax and Trump told people to inject bleach. Sirens wailed through the night. Suddenly, the jokes about sweatpants and junk food weren’t funny anymore. “There was a point where I just felt like I had to start calling out the bullshit,” said Marcus. Like everyone else in America, Marcus got political. Soon, the memes did, too. Quentin Quarantino started ragging on the alternate reality perpetuated by Fox News and the Rudy Giuliani’s of the world, mocking everyone from the armed Covid protesters in Lansing to the henchmen of the dark web burning down 5G towers.
“There were days where I would lose 10,000 followers,” said Marcus. “I just didn’t care anymore. There are so many eyes on Instagram and meme pages. There actually was a level of responsibility that I felt that I had for being a voice of the pandemic.”
In that transition from goofball to no-bullshiter, Quentin Quarantino became an online arbiter of Covid truth, tapping into the emotional hurricane of fury, disbelief, and exhaustion that is living in America right now. He racked up over 160,000 likes on an Instagram comment calling out Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst for posting a photo of herself getting the vaccine after she had suggested doctors were falsifying the Covid death toll for profit. He shares pithy dunks by similarly bold figures online like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom he also has a public crush on). He created a parody list of all the ways people committed voter fraud, and went on a meme bender celebrating the poetic justice of Trump getting Covid. Now, he’s got a book coming out in January.
I wanted to talk to Marcus because he’s been engaging with the same intense Covid denialism online that I’ve experienced on the road. The conspiracies and lies that he’s been posting about are as pervasive around the country as the virus itself. In October, amid surging cases across the Mountain West, I walked out of a diner in rural Idaho packed to the brim with maskless patrons—even staff—as if nothing was happening. I encountered many “masks don’t work” and “Covid’s nothing more than the flu.” Across dozens of hotels and gas stations, posters encouraging masks were quietly disregarded by guests and customers, ignored like strangers in an elevator. Once, a Trump supporter in Arizona went as far as to claim that the traffic lines to get into hospitals in New York City were staged by doctors.
I know, I know, it feels silly to be doing a close reading of a meme account. But in our digital world where so many people are isolated with screens rife with disinformation, Marcus has created a space to tackle the unending nonsense while getting off with a good laugh. Because let's not forget, no matter how normal Covid may feel to us now, no matter how many people survive a dinner inside or an unmasked Trump rally, the culture of Covid life in America is nothing short of insanity.
CQ: So tell me, just exactly who is Quentin Quarantino?
TM: It’s hard to put into words. I don’t think I’m a political figure, and I don’t think I’m a comedian. I’m literally just a 25 year old meme guy. I know the difference between right and wrong and have chosen to post stuff about it. People happen to find it funny. If AOC asks me to be VP, the answer is yes. Other than that I don't see myself being a politician.
I’m just a human presence who’s fed up with bullshit. I don't pretend to be some all-knowing figure. Quentin Quarantino stopped being an alias a long time ago and is literally just becoming me. I started being comfortable with showing my identity. That's all because of the followers and the positive feedback. It proves to me that I'm doing something right. Because it's a public page, I reach 1 to 7 million unique viewers in a week, and make as many as 60 million impressions per week.
CQ: Does the real Quentin Tarantino know about you?
TM: I have no idea if he’s ever seen the page, but I’ve always kinda wished I would hear from his agent.
CQ: While I was on the road these last few months, the Covid indifference was non-stop and at times, infuriating. What’s been your experience with it behind a screen?
TM: By means of all the messages I get, since March I really have gotten a full outlook on how everyone across the country’s brains are working—people who really appreciate what I do, and people who hate me and tell me to die.
I’ve always been a political person. I ran a page before Quentin Quarantino called Unhinged with corporate sponsors, but I never could be vocal about my political opinions. This time around I had the ability since no one was paying me.
There was a point where I just felt like I had to start calling out the bullshit. I think that's why people have connected to it. I've just been a human presence that people have been around since the day the pandemic started. I had already been sick with Covid, a really early case, and really, really sick. Family members had it early on. A close family friend passed away from it. I was just mad and scared like everyone else.
At the same time, I’ve tried to keep people happy. People send me death threats and I turn it into a meme. I think that's kind of the sweet spot that I hit. I’ve gotten hundreds of messages over the course of the pandemic: “I didn't realize this or that,” or “You really made me realize what's going on.” I’ve even gotten some messages like, “I used to be a Republican and you've kind of converted me.”
30% of my audience is not from America. People in Europe find it super enlightening about how absurd our situation is. I’ve never once gotten a message from someone in Europe telling me to go fuck myself.
CQ: What’s your work schedule like?
TM: It's a big ebb and flow. With the debate, and Trump getting Covid, I was getting 2.5 hours of sleep per night in October. Somehow I became everyone's source of news. Quentin Quarantino is all a one man show.
CQ: How many hours a day are you on Instagram?
TM: From the second I wake up to the moment I go to bed.
CQ: Tell me about your merchandise. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, a big part of the conversation was about putting your money where your mouth is, and actually donating to places to make your opinion happen. Did this influence you?
TM: 100%. In the heat of the pandemic, I got offers for $1,000 to $10,000 from online hustlers for mask collaborations while hospitals were running out of PPE and I was like, “I'm not doing this.”
In August, I started making political merchandise and pledged to donate 20% to charity: Planned Parenthood, No Kid Hungry, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight. I’ve turned down every offer for an ad. It felt wrong. The only way I've made money off the account is through merch. I think I've found a good balance of keeping my page clean from ads, paying rent, and seeing money go to good places.
CQ: Tell me about the latest in the Senator Joni Ernst stunt. How did all that feel?
TM: It felt great. In general I don't like cancel culture. But this was an example of a public figure who had done so much public damage. It was one of the most well received jokes. I think she's an evil human being and I want her disgusting actions to be brought to light, but I made it into this whole comedic thing, rather than being as combative as the other side. I got a lot of messages saying I've brought up their spirits. I really take that to heart. Someone sent me a $200 bottle of champagne to thank me.
CQ: Humor is a really effective way to criticize and also digest pain. But it’s also a really effective way to alienate. What do you find is the most effective way to tackle Covid indifference or denial? Do you ever try to talk sense into people?
TM: Yes very frequently. Passionate people who have been so misled by Ben Shapiro, Fox News and the like. Usually it's a losing battle. Sometimes they’re like, “I hear your point,” but the brainwashing is so deep. It’s hard to reach these people. I don't think there's a magical solution. There's such a big divide between people who believe in conspiracies and science. But I do my best to try and engage. I really do spend way more time than I should. I know it's not their fault. Everyone in their red county believes the same thing. They're just slowly learning the truth by watching their friends die. That's really the sad truth. A distant cousin of mine, he had been going to Trump rallies, sending my dad a lot of conspiracy theories on Facebook, and he died of Covid. It's just another example of someone denying it to their last breath.
You're not gonna get someone to watch CNN if they're watching Fox News. But maybe if you stumble upon a meme page that 20 famous people follow, maybe you will be changed. The fact that I’ve gotten plenty of messages leading up to, “I’ve kind of realized I was wrong because of your page,” that's pretty crazy. Instagram is this dumb thing, memes are these dumb things, but at the end of the day, there’s this inherent value of having this big platform where you can voice your opinion and show it to people who may otherwise not see that stuff.
CQ: When we look back on this year, how are we going to make sense of American Covid culture?
TM: History is not going to look back fondly on all the anti-science and brainwashing stuff. Most of the people who’ve fallen under that ideology don't even realize what they're thinking or doing. I don't think those civilians are evil or anything. But I do think the politicians who are influencing them are evil, the Mitch McConnell’s to the Joni Ernst’s. I didn't even know who she was a week ago.
It's fascinating because it's really right versus wrong. Should we give working class families enough money to eat? I don't see how that's a debate. This year has just taken on the ideology that America is the best country in the world. I think even liberal people believed that going into this year. I did. I always felt really lucky to be an American. It’s a weird moment of awakening for everyone. America is not so great. But “Making America Great Again” is certainly not something the Republicans are gonna do.
CQ: You’ve posted many times about your crush on AOC. Any luck on that front?
TM: I mean no she has a boyfriend [laughs]. No luck on that front. I bought a poster from her. It’s more so me joking how awesome a politician she is. I really respect AOC for the way she fights the battles online and just does politics in a nonconventional way. She's just awesome in every way. I do have a crush on her, but I'd also be her friend. Or her VP. Whatever she wants.
This interview has been edited and condensed for concision and clarity.