Never let it be said that the Internet hinders creativity. As it turns out, there are a lot of creative people out there (with a lot of time on their hands), and the proof is the countless viral videos, funny email forwards, and general online weirdness that entertains all of us every day. The Internet meme (pronounced “meem”) is a part of our cultural DNA, something that people see, copy, and repeat. Memes can be an idea, a behavior, or anything that inspires repetition and imitation. Memes can range from simple “Twenty-five things you didn’t know about me” quizzes on Facebook to the current alcohol-related fads of “vodka-eyeballing” and “bros icing bros.” (Don’t ask.)
The Web is full of ideas repeating, mutating, and perpetuating themselves, even if we don’t realize it. Over the past few years, a few memes have become particularly memorable for their hilarity, their weirdness, or their sheer ability to make us all think, “WTF?”
It’s one of the immutable laws of the Internet: cats are funny. They’re even funnier when you catch them doing something silly or making a crazy face, and pair that with a silly statement like “I can haz cheezburger?” LOLcats can be traced back to the message board 4chan, but they didn’t become a sensation until 2007, when millions of users started uploading their own funny photos of cats with captions written in a misspelled pidgin English that’s a cross between baby talk and text slang. LOLspeak, as it’s called, has morphed into an Internet meme on its own, with phrases like “O RLY,” “teh interwebs,” and “SRSLY” popping up in many serious online conversations, usually being used to denote overt sarcasm. O hai! Im in ur Internets, stealin ur bandwidth. How LOLZworthy.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The Chuck Norris Fact Generator
Did you know that Chuck Norris has only two speeds: “walk” and “kill”? When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he’s not pushing himself up—he’s pushing the earth down. The Chuck Norris Fact Generator was born after Conan O’Brien started airing ironic clips of the famous tough guy and Walker, Texas Ranger star on his show as a running gag. In 2006, Web sites sprang up to divulge “facts” about Norris, most of which revolve around punching, roundhouse kicks, chest hair, and being a general badass. You can now get Chuck Norris Facts printed on T-shirts, and Norris himself even got in on the action in 2008 when he famously threw his support behind Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. The legends of Chuck Norris’s brawn and manliness have even been parodied on episodes of Family Guy and The Daily Show. Did you know that Chuck Norris’s tears can cure cancer? Too bad he never cries …
Have you ever clicked on an Internet link, only to be unexpectedly directed to the video for Rick Astley’s #1 hit single “Never Gonna Give You Up”? If so, you’ve been rickrolled. In this bait-and-switch prank that reached the height of its popularity in 2008, Web links that appeared to be relevant to the story on the page were changed to instead direct users to Astley’s video. On April Fools’ Day, the links of all the front-page videos on YouTube were changed into rickrolls. Iterations of rickrolling and even mash-up videos of other people performing the song (including Barack Obama and Beaker from the Muppets) appeared all over the Internet for months, until the trend culminated at the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, when Rick Astley appeared aboard a float to interrupt another group’s performance with a live rickroll. In December of that year, a Facebook campaign sprang up in England to make the song the number-one Christmas single in the country, but it was unsuccessful.
Star Wars Kid
In November 2002, fifteen-year-old Ghyslain Raza filmed himself imitating Darth Maul from the Star Wars movies for a school project in Quebec. Months later, his fellow students discovered the tape and uploaded it to the Internet, and an instant viral classic was born. Other users added their own music, sound effects, and video effects to make the golf ball retriever Raza wielded look like a real light saber. Users did remixes pitting him against imaginary opponents, such as Agent Smith from The Matrix and Saruman from Lord of the Rings. Parodies of Raza’s performance popped up on American Dad, Arrested Development, South Park, and The Colbert Report.
One of my personal fears is that someone will be looking at her vacation pictures and see me doing something stupid in the background—an unintentional photobomb. But plenty of people actively try to horn in on others’ photos, making silly faces and rude gestures, and generally trying to look as ridiculous as possible. Photobombs commonly happen on the news, too, when a wise guy decides to crash a segment being filmed on location with a vigorous wave from behind the reporter or an excited “Hi, Mom!” Even animals get in on the action; there’s a whole subcategory of photobombs dedicated to unwanted intrusions by pets and wild creatures.
Photo source: Raelene G (cc)
The Internet moves fast, and by the time you’ve read this, a few new memes will probably have popped up, waiting to be watched, passed around, and imitated. The continued existence of these memes virtually guarantees the perpetuation of online oversharing—nobody knows what will be the next big thing, but just about everyone wants to be the first to get in on the action.