A Q&A With Benni Cinkle, “That Girl in Pink”
by Tom Blunt
You’re 13 years old, and one morning you wake up (gotta have my bowl, gotta have cere-yowl) to discover that thousands and thousands of people are making fun of the way you dance. And they’re making animated GIFs of you dancing, and photoshopping them to make it look like you’re playing bellows-driven aerophonic musical instruments with your flailing limbs. What do you do?
If you’re Bennett “Benni” Cinkle, a.k.a. that girl in pink dancing awkwardly in Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video, what you do is dry up the snark almost instantly by making a humble video introducing yourself, taking a modest, utterly unflappable approach to answering people’s ridiculous questions (Cinkle responded to one Tumblr-follower’s “Why are you so awkward?” with “Because I’m 13!” She has magical kung-fu answering powers). And then you swear that yes, you will marry all of them. Six months later, Cinkle’s website That Girl In Pink has become not just the locus of her fan-outreach, but a platform for her interest in works of charity — she has danced (less awkwardly) with a flash mob for Japan relief, walked for cystic fibrosis, and auctioned her artwork to benefit the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity. She has even written an Internet survival guide for teens, which you can download for free on her site.
Cinkle, a real life friend of Black’s who appeared in “Friday” on a lark and was given very little direction from the producers of the viral video other than to be “silly and weird” (said video is boooo currently removed from the ‘Tube because of a dispute between Black and Ark Music Factory), is now 14 and heading into high school in the fall. I compromised her summer vacation by assigning her the following questions, plus a few for her “momager,” Pati Cinkle — because where in hell do you even begin to help your child cope with these kinds of problems? Can she be my momager too??
You’ve referred to the “Friday” video as just a fun thing you did to support a friend. Can you give us a brief description of what that experience was like for you? Did the song seem like a real song to you that might end up on the radio someday, or did it just seem like fun project?
I definitely saw it as a fun little project that my friend was doing. I thought it would be fun since I had never been in a music video before. I had never heard the song before the day we were shooting the video. Once I heard the song, I thought it was catchy and didn’t really give it too much thought. I knew Ark had written the song for her, so I just thought that was the song she was supposed to sing.
How did Rebecca react to the attention you began receiving after the video went viral? Obviously she was dealing with her own share of positive and negative attention; was this something you two were able to bond over?
Rebecca and I just thought the whole thing was crazy. We’re dealing with the comments in our own different ways, as best as we can. I wouldn’t say we bonded over the experience, but we are still friends.
At what point did you decide to step forward and address the public? What were things like for you in the days leading up to that?
What made me address the public was the Facebook fan page that someone created. It had over 80,000 likes but they didn’t know my name. They were calling me “Sammy” and I thought that was funny and decided to tell them my real name.
The days leading up to that were weird and fun. It was cool to see the gifs and read the comments they were making. I just thought the whole thing was funny!
In your ebook you emphasize the importance of kids talking to their parents about their internet life. Can you tell me a little bit about how yours helped you deal with this? How has it affected your relationship with them?
My mom and dad have been very supportive of the way I chose to interact with the fans and making my YouTube videos. Our relationship is pretty much the same. We don’t really treat each other differently now.
The Internet at least provides a buffer between you and these fans/haters, and you have time to come up with a response. But what is it like when people recognize you in real life, out in public? Are they respectful?
I have only been recognized a few times in real life, and people were very nice to me. They ask to take pictures with me, so that’s been pretty fun so far.
Is there any truth to the rumor that you are recording your own single?
Yes, and it will be released very soon.
Someone on MetaFilter pointed out that you’re going to have “the world’s best college application essay” because of all this. I know you are really just trying to focus on the present and evolve at your own pace, but do you find yourself thinking ahead to things like that more often, now that all this happened?
Not really. I have always planned to go to college and I will write the best essay I can at the time.
While the Internet attention has allowed you to do some amazing things, such as raise money for charity, is this something that you hope to eventually put behind you? If you woke up tomorrow and no one was talking about you, how would you feel?
I don’t plan to put my charity work behind me. In fact, I plan to do even more now that I have the opportunity. If I woke tomorrow and no one was talking about me, I guess I’d be a little sad because it’s just so much fun to talk to so many people around the world every day.
And now for Benni’s mom, Pati Cinkle.
As a parent these sorts of personal comments/attacks against Benni must have triggered a lot of protective instincts. Was it a struggle to advise your daughter rationally and reasonably?
It hasn’t been a struggle at all. In fact, this has been a great opportunity to educate all our kids on how to make the best of things, and how important it is to choose your perspective.
Most adults now (myself included) can barely imagine what their lives would have been like if they’d grown up on the Internet. Is it hard for you to try and see all this through the eyes of a fourteen year-old?
Sometimes I forget that Benni is only 14. I know she seems very mature, but then I see her coming down the pool slide and remember that she’s still our little girl. I guess she’ll always be that…
What sort of changes do you see in Benni since all this began?
She has really grown up in the past few months, but I think this is normal for girl in the summer before High School. She does seem more grounded and seems to have more definite opinions, and I think that’s all good.
What sort of new duties have you taken on, now that you are thrust into the role of “momager”?
Hahaha! Well, I do have more to do now as a Momager. I keep a closer eye on what goes on online and I clear my schedule to accompany her to her events. I do feel more protective now that she’s a bit famous.