There’s nothing like the web for a dose of pop culture. Take the Rickrolling phenomena for example — you follow a link on the Internet promising something cool, and up pops Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
Rickrolling is not the first Internet meme to take off — a “meme” being a cultural phenomenon that becomes universally adopted and recognized, like the “Where’s the Beef?” lady in the ’80s or the thankfully brief “Talk to the Hand” craze from the late ’90s.
How many people out there have seen the Dancing Baby animation, the Laughing Baby video, the “Leave Britney Alone” video blog, the Dancing Hamsters cartoon, or the I Can I Has Cheezburger cat-centric pages? How about the game footage of Leeroy Jenkins, the World of Warcraft dwarf who gets all his dead-serious teammates slaughtered for our amusement?
According to one site, the now legendary Star Wars Kid video — where classmates of a 14-year-old French Canadian put a video he made of himself light saber fighting in his garage onto the Internet — was viewed almost a billion times before it even made it onto YouTube. The boy himself was reportedly put into psychiatric care as a result of his humiliation, and the offending classmates have coughed up tens of thousands of dollars as a result of a lawsuit, but that hasn’t stopped tributes from the Venture Bros., American Dad, Arrested Development, Weird Al Yankovic (“White and Nerdy” video), Stephen Colbert, The Office, and countless others.
If you get any of these references — All Your Base Are Belong To Us, Here It Goes Again (OK Go song with dancing on treadmills), Dancing Matt, Thriller in Manilla (Filipino penitentiary performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), Ask a Ninja, “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!”, Evolution of Dance, Fail!, Paul Potts, Toy Soldiers Unite!, or “where’s my rent, bitch!” — then you probably spend at least a few hours a day on the Internet or have friends who do and e-mail you everything of note.
While sometimes our Internet memes can be cruel, as the Star Wars Kid can attest, most of them are popular because they’re funny, cool, or moving. There’s a cult movie-feel about them, the joy of a shared experience in an increasingly antisocial world.
The memes are also rooted in the culture we understand. For example, everybody has seen Star Wars, which means everybody gets the increasing number of films that reference the original trilogy (check out www.dayofthejedi.com). Entire episodes of Family Guy and Robot Chicken are satires/tributes of Star Wars, because everybody gets the joke. In that sense the best Internet memes also have universal appeal and the latest trend can be started by virtually anybody.
Memes are also a response to our lazy media, a spark of originality in a time when networks are lazily recycling reality TV premises and celebrity peep shows, and canceling the only truly compelling shows on television (e.g. Arrested Development, Firefly) because the majority of mouth breathers out there don’t get it. Memes, unlike the typical Jerry Springer watcher, are smart, creative and irreverent. They’re accessible, but they don’t talk down.
Good sites to visit to stay on top of pop culture include Super Deluxe (www.superdeluxe.com), Funny Or Die (www.funnyordie.com) and Video Sift (www.videosift.com) — like YouTube (www.youtube.com) but more focused in their selection of movies. Video Sift is also the unofficial home of “sweded” movies, a phenomenon based on the film Be Kind, Rewind where people make unofficial remakes of hit films.
Fark (www.fark.com) tends to focus on funny or ironic news stories, but also frequently references trends and memes.
College Humor (www.collegehumor.com) is the horses’ mouth, so to speak, although slightly offensive at times. Since most memes are by and for college students this is always a good site to bookmark. Similar to Double Viking (www.doubleviking), which is a tad more “Maxim” in its approach.
Funwall, an application on Facebook (www.facebook.com), also references a lot of popular videos, images and mini applications, letting you browse their database and send your favourites to your friends.
Then there are the referencing sites — www.digg.com, www.reddit.com, www.slashdot.com, www.stumbleupon.com — if a meme is popular, you’ll always find it here.
Website of the Week
I stand corrected. A few weeks ago I wrote a column begging to be chosen for the beta test of Dropbox (www.getdropbox.com), a program that lets you synchronize and update files between computers through the Internet. While I still do believe this program will set the gold standard for most users, a recent column at Lifehacker.com referenced a few other programs that let you sync your files. Do a search at Lifehacker for “synchronize” to find an article titled “Free Ways to Synchronize folders Between Computers.” As a Mac user, I’m going to be giving FolderShare (http://foldershare.com) offered by Microsoft Live a test drive over the next few weeks. Other options are SyncToy and Rsync, although the latter, while open to Linux users as well as PC and Mac users, takes a little configuration.