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November 10, 2017

Two Temple students turned poetry about Vine into a best-selling book

Books Social Media
Milk and Vine Adam Gasiewski/Vine/Contributed Art

'Milk and Vine.'

Vine is dead, long live Vine.

The popular and now-shuttered, short-form video platform was beloved for its unique style of snappy and bizarre comedy, a reflection of the internet's strangest corners, and has been greatly  mourned.

After a chance find at a book store, a couple at Temple University tried to see if they could capture Vine's essence in a different medium: poetry. And boy, did they succeed.

Temple freshmen Emily Beck, 18, and Adam Gasiewski, 19, were perusing Barnes and Noble last month when Gasiewski spotted "Milk and Honey," a collection of poems from Canadian writer Rupi Kaur. Gasiewski had always wanted to write a book, and thought mirroring the simplistic presentation in "Milk and Honey" — known for its brevity and stylistic choices like no capital letters — would work. Beck picked the theme: Vine.

"We originally made this book for our friends as a joke," Beck told PhillyVoice, adding in jest, "We only have about seven friends."

The book's format is simple: Dialogue from some of the most popular seven-second videos are arranged in poem form, with an accompanying, bare-bones drawing. Gasiewski took care of the writing and book design, while Beck did the illustrations.

The result is a reframing of Vine's humor: The loud, flashing images and inherently, well, dumb nature of many of the most popular videos are presented in a style that suggests some deeper sense of meaning which simply isn't there — like hanging a high school student's vulgar drawing in an art museum.

"It takes on a whole different kind of funny, being these outlandish, vulgar phrases in a printed, mass-published book like that," Gasiewski said.

One of the couple's particular favorites is based on a Vine from Nick Colletti: "I thought you were bae, but turns out you're just fam." Colletti gained notoriety for his masterful parodying of social trends and vocabulary, and seeing his words in print with the image of a broken heart gives it a significance it doesn't deserve.

Another favorite is a video in which a kid named Trey talks about a basketball game he's playing in the next day. Some of the most popular Vine videos were often mundane life updates from unassuming posters who had no intention of being funny. These viral posts were fascinating because of the simple truth that reality funnier than fiction, a fact highlighted when those videos are stripped of their original context.

Ultimately, the book’s popularity stems from the many who miss Vine and hunger for the medium’s irreplaceable comedy.

“When you read it, you see the Vine in your head,” Gasiewski said. Take, for example, the famous jellybeans Vine, which is NSFW, just so you know.

NoneAdam Gasiewski/Twitter

A page from 'Milk and Vine.'

Thanks to that still-present appetite for Vine, along with the power of social media, Beck and Gasiewski's book blew up. A tweet from Gasiewski about "Milk and Vine" got retweeted more than 57,000 times, catapulting it to be the top-selling book on Amazon this past week. It sold 22,000 copies — eBooks and paperbacks combined — as of Thursday, according to Gasiewski.

There has been blowback. Some have criticized the teenagers on social media because the original Vine posters won't get compensated for their work. But copyright lawyers told the two that their book is "transformative in a way that doesn't require us to pay them royalties," Gasiewski. Besides, they're not really making any money on it, Gasiewski claimed, as "Milk and Vine" is only selling for three bucks (the price has since been bumped to $4.99).

The authors released a statement in response to the criticism, asserting that they had not done anything illegal and were open to working with former Viners to give them credit and collaborate.

At the end of the day, they're both college students, who have taken lessons from their sudden fame and success. Beck, from Northeast Philadelphia, is a political science major, and Gasiewski, from Bucks County, studies computer science. But both minor in business, and have learned applicable knowledge in the past month or so.

"Just making a connection with all these people, news reporters and publishers and all that; the publishing experience has been very helpful," Gasiewski.

Being best-selling authors isn't bad either, he noted.