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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Flossie Dickey + SNL treatment = Internet gold

It was a wild birthday for Flossie Dickey. And not just because it was her 110th.

The Cheney resident’s birthday celebration was marked with a wave of local attention: A front-page feature in the trusty S-R. Coverage on local news stations. An honorary airman designation at Fairchild Air Force Base.

And that one morning-show live shot. You know the one.

“Are you excited for your party?” KHQ reporter Nichole Mischke said.

“Not one bit,” answered an unsmiling Flossie.

The 3 1/2-minute clip of white-haired Flossie, hunkered down behind a “Good Morning Spokane” coffee cup and stubbornly refusing to play along with a cheerful Mischke, zoomed around the Internet with infectious speed, culminating in a “Saturday Night Live” skit over the weekend. It was the perfect unit of Internet virality – short, funny, surprising, easy to riff on, simple to link to. “All Hail Our Spirit Animal, the Grumpy Flossie Dickey,” one blogger wrote.

“It’s crazy how blown-up it’s gotten,” said Sarah Williamson, Flossie’s great-granddaughter. “I opened up a fan page for her on Facebook. We go through it and giggle and laugh.”

Within a day of the Feb. 18 interview on Fox 28’s “Good Day Spokane,” the video began to spread. “This 110-year-old Woman Just Gave the Best Interview Ever,” Time magazine announced on its link, while in Australia, news.com.au focused on Flossie’s fondness for the occasional nip: “This 110-year-old woman is a whiskey-swigging badass.” Paris Match posted “La Centenaire Qui Ne Voulait Pas Feter Son Anniversaire,” which translates as “The Centenarian Who Did Not Want to Celebrate Her Birthday.”

It was online catnip, a perfect example of the ways that traditional media and social media intertwine and amplify each other. The full range of small blogs and websites weighed in. The interview was turned into Vines and GIFs. Meme dynasty cheezburger.com posted it. Then big-time entertainment shows jumped in. A host on “The View” called it “meme gold.” Jimmy Fallon put it on “The Tonight Show.”

That woman is fantastic,” he said, cracking up.

Mischke’s duties as a “Right Now” reporter include social media and online responsibilities. Usually, she’s the one looking for viral videos to air.

“It was definitely interesting to be on the other end of something going viral,” she said. “To see how fast it spread was crazy. It’s crazy.”

On Saturday night, Mischke got a Facebook message from a friend who lives in Houston: “I think you’re going to want to watch SNL tonight.”

Mischke tuned in with her husband, assuming it was “the Flossie thing” but not sure how it would be handled. She has taken some heat for the interview from people who felt she badgered Flossie or even “treated her like a dog.”

This is ridiculous, for the record. I have interviewed centenarians, and it can be difficult, and I think Mischke handled the situation pretty well, considering that she had to fill the time assigned to her. She didn’t ambush the poor woman on the streets, but came at the family’s invitation to do a human interest story. That said, someone might have rethought the amount of time devoted to the segment.

“I was a little concerned when I started talking to her (before the segment,) because she was falling asleep,” Mischke said. “She was really tired.”

Williamson said, “She’s obviously not a morning person. … That’s how she is. That’s Grandma.”

The SNL skit was a “Weekend Update” segment, a mock live shot during the mock newscast, with the “anchor” referring to the birthday girl out in “Spo-cane.”

In the skit, Vanessa Bayer interviewed Kate McKinnon portraying a reluctant Flossie, while the desk anchors urged her to keep asking more questions. Bayer keeps asking and asking, and eventually rubs her microphone in poor Flossie’s face. “Leave this place,” McKinnon grumbles.

“I could not stop laughing,” Williamson said.

Flossie lives at the Cheney Care Center. On Monday, she and her friends gathered for their regular activities, followed by some pie donated by Cyrus O’Leary’s, and a little catching-up on the recent viral sensation.

“I told them Grandma was on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” Williamson said. “Everyone was passing the phone around, watching it and just laughing.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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