The Internet isn’t the world, though it’s easy to forget that when it’s the only thing standing between you and workday boredom. But the web is more than just distraction; for many, it’s our primary source of news, entertainment, social interaction, and pictures of kitties. It’s also a fickle beast with a short memory and an even shorter attention span, as surfers collectively click over to the next meme-of-the-moment before that online viral video has even finished loading. Even the most robust RSS feed can’t capture all the bits of news, humor, and Internet ephemera that go zipping by on their way to virtual obscurity. The A.V. Club is here to help sort it all out with Trending Topics, which looks back at the web week that was and rounds up what the Internet was talking about while you were busy with real life.
Memes losing steam
Memes never really completely die, so long as there are great-aunts with AOL e-mail addresses discovering LOLCats for the first time. But their lifespan is usually front-loaded: They pop up fast and burn brightly and quickly before petering out and retiring to the web’s hinterlands—chain e-mails and niche message boards—occasionally popping up now and again as a nostalgic/ironic reference. They become a thread in the fabric of the Internet rather than the ostentatious embellishments they once were. The retirement of a meme is a gradual, ambiguous process, but there are warning signs that an Internet obsession stumbling toward its conclusion, several of which we witnessed this week.
Oversaturation: Remember a year or so ago, when you couldn’t open your browser without being assaulted with some fat guy/old man/little girl performing another “Single Ladies” tribute video? Antoine Dodson’s now-famous “Bed Intruder” rant and subsequent Billboard Top 100-charting remix (courtesy of the musical meme-hounds at AutoTune The News) has officially reached the same “Guh, not another one!” level of Internet awareness, as indicated by this week’s twin harbingers of meme oversaturation: old people and little kids. (The third harbinger, acknowledgement in The New York Times, already arrived last week.) Once Grandpa and Baby Susie are in on the joke, it’s officially lost any ironic cachet it once had, and the web pretty much runs on ironic cachet. So, Internet, it’s time to put “Bed Intruder” to, well, bed. So run and tell that, homeboy. Don’t worry, Dodson should come out of his 15-plus minutes of quasi-fame pretty well: He’s receiving 50 percent of the royalties from iTunes downloads of “The Bed Intruder Song,” which are already hovering around 100,000. Another reason not to worry: As always, there’s another meme waiting to step in and fill the Internet’s need for catchy Auto-Tuned remixes. This week, it’s the dance-happy “Dude, You Have No Quran.” Enjoy it now, before the parodies start rolling in.
Self-awareness: The cornerstone of Internet meme-itude is unintentional hilarity; the Internet runs on schadenfreude (in addition to ironic cachet, and also pictures of cats… it’s a hybrid vehicle), so the fastest route to viral fame is to be painfully, embarrassingly earnest about something that everyone else thinks is stupid. (See also: Chris “Leave Britney alone!” Crocker, the Numa Numa guy, and Star Wars Kid.) Red-headed vlogger CopperCab wound up swimming in a sea of gleeful Internet scorn back in January when he uploaded a video called “Gingers Do Have Souls”—now approaching 10 million views—in which he alternates between sulking and screaming about the torment heaped upon him and his kind by Eric Cartman and others. The requisite tributes and parodies followed—including one from South Park, thus creating an Internet ouroborus—but CopperCab quickly stalled out, with subsequent videos turning in ever-dwindling view counts. Apparently sensing his fame circling the Inter-tubes, CopperCab turned to a couple of tried-and-true gimmicks this week: weird costumes and a dubious side project.
Taken on their own, the Mad Hatter cosplay and T-shirt-ready quote “I fuckin’ LOVE dubstep!” are the stuff memes are made of, but when viewed through the lens of CopperCab’s already established notoriety, it’s reduced to pitiful look-at-me last-ditch. Some may wonder why CopperCab would want people to continue laughing at him rather than with him, but considering that his subscriber count is hovering around the sort of numbers that can lead to inclusion in the lucrative YouTube partnership program—whose members rake in income as high as six figures—the word sellout springs to mind pretty quickly. Then again, some pessimists out there think “Gingers Do Have Souls” was a joke from the get-go, as it was CopperCab’s first uploaded video, and was so perfectly calibrated to the Internet’s cruel sensibilities. Regardless, CopperCab is rapidly moving from the “hilariously pathetic” side of the schadenfreude spectrum toward “actually pathetic.”
Mainstreaming: There’s a lot of crossover with oversaturation in this category, since the wide dissemination of a meme is generally what leads to its recognition by the world outside the Internet. The Double Rainbow guy shilling for Microsoft is the most obvious recent instance of this phenomenon, but the mainstream latched onto another long-standing meme in a much more hilarious fashion this week. Pedobear has been around so long, it barely still qualifies as a meme—he’s more of an Internet icon at this point, but a niche one. Thanks to its shady origins in 4chan, and the icky associations, Pedobear remained on the fringes of Internet culture—everyone knows about it, but few care about it. That is, until this week, when Pedobear was bestowed with the highest honor a second-tier meme can hope for: a hilariously naïve local news report. Two, actually: NBC 6 in San Luis Obispo County and Oklahoma’s Fox 23 both latched onto the story of a man who got kicked out of San Diego’s Comic Con for wearing a Pedobear suit and handing out candy, and spun it into fear-mongering reports on the hot new trend in pedophilia: advertising one’s pedophilia by sporting Pedobear paraphernalia. Because if there’s one thing pedophiles love—besides diddling children—it’s being identified as pedophiles. Of course, when it was revealed that the man arrested at Comic Con was not actually a pedophile, just another nerd with bad taste, the whole thing took on an even greater level of absurdity. Nonetheless, now that police have informed the community of Pedobear’s significance, he’s lost a lot of his subversive appeal… not to mention the fact that rocking that sweet T-shirt you bought back in 2008 might get you hauled in for questioning now.
Of course, the line between the Internet and real life is getting blurrier all the time, particularly when it comes to advertising. Ads disguised as viral videos are nothing new, but a recent article on Mashable suggests that, now that web users are generally savvy enough to see a fake viral video for the ad it actually is, intrepid advertisers are better off embracing transparency in their promotions. It’s a fair argument—no one likes feeling like they’ve had one put over on them, and finding out that crazy guy who had sunglasses tattooed on his face was actually a shill for Ray-Ban is just as likely to turn viewers off as it is to draw them in. Of course, the wide reach and cheap execution of a viral video is too tempting for advertisers to give up on, so a new tactic is taking precedence: ads that embrace the sensibility and trappings of viral videos, but don’t try to hide the fact they’re ads. Take a couple of excellent examples that emerged this week, courtesy of Samsung and Community’s impending second season and season-one DVD release:
Wow, those were great, right? Good job, Samsung and NBC! I am totally interested in purchasing your products now! (See how well that works?)
Each ad’s viral-video bona fides are pretty solid. The Samsung video uses the spontaneous, handheld-video aesthetic of so many wacky YouTube hits and the tried-and-trued-and-boring concept of a flash mob, but gradually reveals itself as something more deliberate and ambitious. The Community promo, meanwhile, basically recasts a previously well-done web video—this Steve Porter remix from last year—as an ad. But unlike the aforementioned Double Rainbow Microsoft ad, which lazily crowbarred a tired catchphrase into something completely unrelated, this video honors the original concept and improves upon it by having Porter do a second, “official” remix. Sure, when you get down to it, they’re still ads, and in linking to or forwarding them, you’re essentially shilling for whatever corporation produced them. (Hi, Samsung! Can I have my free phone now?) But entertainment and advertising don’t always have to be at odds, artistically speaking; as Don Draper would tell you, advertising is its own art form. It’s just more blatant about its endgame—making money—than other, more legit, forms of entertainment.
Of course, with any good idea, someone will inevitably take it too far, and in the case of viral advertising, that someone is Weezer. The band has been courting YouTube for some time now—we all remember the video for “Pork And Beans,” yes? And the Weezer Snuggie?—but its latest stunt promoting the new Hurley fellates the YouTube community so blatantly that any sense of innovation or creativity is lost beneath an thick layer of desperation and forced relevancy. Weezer’s basically become the Family Guy of online video. The band stormed YouTube last week, appearing in 16 separate videos with popular vloggers and “YouTube personalities,” including Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday, AutoTune The News, and Dave Days. This would be annoying enough on its own, but the fact that Weezer aligned itself with the arch-nemesis of A.V. Club’s Videocracy, Fred, takes this whole endeavor beyond promotional innovation, and into the realm of online terrorism.
Tweeting for change… or something
Internet life and real life make another interesting intersection in the realm of politics, particularly when it comes to Twitter. Many people still consider the microblogging service a self-indulgent lark, but with 370,000 people joining its ranks each day, and news sources increasingly turning to it as a source of information, its influence can’t be denied—which is why pretty much every politician has to have an official Twitter feed now. However, it’s still isn’t—nor will it ever be—an appropriate platform for any sort of extended discourse or political discussion, which means any political incidents that occur in the realm of Twitter have a sheen of ridiculousness and superficiality about them. Take, for example, the recent exchange between California Governor John Kimble and True American Patriot Sarah Palin:
Does this amount to anything more than standard political mudslinging moved to a slightly different, more succinct venue? Not really. Is it entertaining? Of course. Does the Internet need another article dissecting the increasing overlap between politics and entertainment? No? Okay then, moving on.
The confluence of politics and pop culture took an even weirder turn this week with a Twitter exchange that rivaled the great Snooki/McCain summit of June 2010. How exactly do you get more absurd than a policy discussion between a former POW and a frequently underwear-less Oompa-Loompa? How about a policy discussion between the Senate Majority Leader and someone who has, on multiple occasions, worn a dress made entirely of meat?
Clearly Twitter and activism make ridiculous bedfellows, but that didn’t stop someone from thinking up Twitchange, “the first ever celebrity Tweet auction,” wherein users bid on the chance to have celebrities follow them and/or re-tweet them. No, really. The good news is that proceeds from the whole thing are benefiting victims of this year’s Haiti earthquake; the bad news is that there are people out there willing to pay $11,000 (as of the last edit of this column) to have UFC President Dana White send them an @ reply. (Shockingly, King Of Twitter Justin Bieber doesn’t seem to be the biggest moneymaker, but his fans still have a week to save up their allowances to bid.) You can check out who’s raking in the most charitable karma here. You can donate money to Haiti—and several other disaster-stricken areas—without having to take part in a ridiculous Twitter stunt here.
Tumblr insta-blogs sprout up faster than desperate publishers can offer them book deals, capturing a moment in meme history before the next hybrid of ’80s nostalgia, weird foodstuffs, and adorable animals comes along. Catch these while they’re still relevant:
• This week, Oprah Winfrey kicked off the 25th and final season of her eponymous talk show by taking her entire audience to Australia (to the tune of a cool $2.8 million in Australian taxpayer dollars), setting off the sort of squealing ape-shittery that has become expected of her rabid audience. And thus was born Faces Of The Last Season Of Oprah, a simple freeze-frame screen-capture microblog documenting the demented ecstasy of Oprah Nation.
Each week, Trending Topics provides a website that’s ideal for wasting company time or putting off that term paper. Enjoy!
Look at your desk. You probably have an envelope and a couple of rubber bands sitting around, right? And you’re wearing socks, right? Then fire up this 15-minute-long PBS archive clip from 1969 and listen as Jim Henson guides you through the process of making some basic Muppets.
Play us out
A little visual web candy to end the week on a high note.
Tap dancing: So over. Hand dancing: The new hotness.
Got a tip on a recent Internet trend? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.