Category Archives: Memes

Twitter is for Transmitting Outrage

Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, news began spreading through Twitter, LiveJournal, and other blogs that Amazon had de-ranked a lot of books that they had deemed “adult”, in addition removing them from general search results. The majority of those books had little adult content, and the de-listing appeared to be targeting books with GLBT themes.

The response on Twitter especially was vocal and wide-spread. The #amazonfail hashtag has been one of the top trending topics since this time yesterday. Amazon has claimed that the whole thing was a “glitch”, but the discussion continues.

About a week ago, graphic designer Jon Engle warned people of his experience with They ripped off several of his logos, then turned around and sent him an $18,000 bill for him using his own logos. A #savejon campaign began on Twitter and elsewhere. His story hit Digg. People began raising money to help Jon defend his work.

Then The Logo Factory did some investigating and discovered that Jon had most likely been the one lifting logos from Metafilter posters found out that one of the illustrators had copyrighted his logos in 2001, long before Jon uploaded his own logos. Further detective work at the Internet Archive confirmed those earlier dates. Even so, the #savejon campaign continued on Twitter for days.

Twitter played a large role in getting the word out in both cases. Moreso than any other social networking site, Twitter is ideally suited for spreading near-contextless outrage. Many Twitter clients include retweet support, where users can re-broadcast a friend’s post with the click of a button. It’s much easier than making your own blog post about the subject, and like the classic model of infection, the retweeting spreads from group to group. Tweets’ 140-character limit keeps you from adding much context to your re-posting, keeping information content low.

While large sites like Digg, Reddit, and others can drive a lot of traffic in instances like this, theirs is mainly a first-order effect — most of the traffic is from them directly. Twitter works on second- and third-order effects, with friends of friends of friends spreading the word.

I’ve seen a lot of argument about what value Twitter provides. Its 140-character limit means you can’t put much information in your tweets. But it turns out Twitter is well suited for transmitting outrage.

LOLCat Wedding Ceremony

(I’m so sorry.)

O hai. We here before all dese ppl and Ceiling Cat sos cat 1 and cat 2 can has marriage.

cat 1 and cat 2, marriage iz commitment and all about luv, so if u marry wifout thinkin hard about it, ur doin it wrong.

Anyone has visible reason they shud no marry? No? Gud.

cat 1 and cat 2, LOLCat Bible sez, “Luv is pashient an kind and stuff, luv no has jelusy and no shows off. It not rude, it not say UR DOIN IT WRONG. It no aligned wif basement cat but only ceiling cat. Luv protectz, trusts in all teh stuff, hopes in all teh stuff, sticks wif u in all teh stuff. FAIL? Not luv.” Dis what luv shud be for u.

cat 1, what u here for? (cat 2‘s paw for marryin)

What u promis for cat 2? (I can has u, cat 2, for bein all wedded an stuff. I can has, I can hold. We can has riches, we can has no riches, we can has helf, we can has no helf, I still all luv u until ded.)

cat 2, what u here for? (cat 1‘s paw for marryin)

What u promis for cat 1? (I can has u, cat 1, for bein all wedded an stuff. I can has, I can hold. We can has riches, we can has no riches, we can has helf, we can has no helf, I still all luv u until ded.)

Marriage no jus two cats, it needz other cats for supports and luv. Srsly, all u be there for them? (Yes.)

I can has bukkit wif rings?

Rings are all round, they has no end jus like your luv. cat 1, place ring on cat 2‘s paw and say: I maed u a ring and I no pawn it. Wif this ring, I are wedding u. cat 2, u do same and say: I maed u a ring and I no pawn it. Wif this ring, I are wedding u.

U both now all married. Ceiling cat will now watch u kiss.

Here is cat 1 and cat 2 all married. Kthxbai.

Why Do People Miss Planes?

I used to stand in the ticket counter line and wonder why people weren’t showing up to get on their flight. What causes people to not go on their trips they’ve planned for months? A death in the family, surely. An emergency root canal, maybe. The nastiest stomach bug I’ve ever had, yes, yes, and yes.

Stephen and I were supposed to leave for Boston Thursday morning. I was up with Eli all night with the vomiting extravaganza. Thursday morning we made the call that since Eli had been so sick and Liza had never had anything like it before, I should stay home. All day Thursday I wondered if I made the right call. Eli seemed fine. Liza showed no symptoms.

Around 4 p.m. I started feeling sick to my stomach. For those who don’t know this already, pizza is a very, very bad idea when you are staring into the abyss of a known stomach virus.

Last night is a blur for me of fevered dreams, trips to the bathroom and trying to help Stephen’s parents with Liza. Liza’s version of the stomach bug is a random up and down fever and yesterday’s masterful total of seven poopy diapers. She had two big naps today, unheard of for her, and I just put her to bed. For the first time ever, Liza fell asleep while I was singing to her. Here’s to hoping we have a better night tonight than last night.

Meanwhile, I have gotten several phone calls from Stephen in Boston. He’s having a blast. My pass for the Con went to our friend Zarf so he too could bask the the ROFL glory. Stephen and a bunch of friends were headed to dinner when I talked to him earlier. He’s supposed to bring me some ROFL swag. (Hi Honey! Don’t forget my souvenir!)

Here’s Stephen on the LOLCat Panel from this afternoon. Thanks to varmazis for the photo. She also has some other good photos up from today’s panels.

So now I know what it takes to miss a trip. I would have rather gone to Boston, that’s for sure. But hey, at least I stayed home and actually got sick. If I’d stayed home and been fine, then I would have really been steamed.

It’s a Small but Changing World After All

Two weeks ago I went to Orlando to take part in an SPIE conference. (My presentation on space docking sensors went very well, thanks for asking.) Since I was down there, I took a half-day and visited Disney World, specifically the Magic Kingdom. While I’ve been to Epcot recently, the last time I went to the Magic Kingdom had to have been when my high school band played at Disney World.

I enjoyed seeing what was the same and what had changed. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was gone, replaced with a Winnie the Pooh ride. Kenneth Grahame’s creation was no match for the marketing effort Disney has put behind Pooh. Tomorrowland was now more of an Alternate Presentland With Extra Pastels.

The biggest surprise for me was the changes Disney had made to It’s a Small World. Evidently the Imagineers have been reworking the ride for Disneyland for this fall, and some of the changes have been folded into the Magic Kingdom version. One big change: they’ve updated the song.

I had a borrowed video camera with me, and I shot some footage along the ride. Unfortunately the camera had a tiny mic and a not-so-great compression algorithm, but you can still get the gist of the ride’s changes.

Truly, It’s a Small World is the happiest ride in the happiest place on Earth, bar Disney’s other four happiest places on Earth.

Extending the Life of Internet Memes

Memes on the Internet are pop culture sped up by several orders of magnitude. Like staph infections, memes mutate quickly, spawning offshoots and mashups and all manner of odd progeny. That makes it tough to keep them going and to make money off of them, since they come, change, and go so quickly. It’s even harder if the meme’s an accidental one — if, like the Star Wars Kid, you didn’t mean to become an Internet sensation.

That doesn’t stop people from trying, though.

Take Gary “Numa Numa” Brolsma. In 2004, he made a webcam video of himself dancing along to a Moldovian pop song called Dragostea din tei. “Numa Numa” became such a sensation that even the New York Times reported on it. Brolsma was so overwhelmed that he ended up turning down most interview requests.

I can understand why the video was so popular. The song is catchy and weird, and Gary’s enjoying the hell out of the song. There’s something appealing about seeing a guy have so much fun so unreservedly. He’s also got great timing here: the video starts out with him lip-synching, and suddenly there are wild flailing arms! And jazz hands!

These days Gary has a publicist. He has a website. And as his publicist told the ROFLCon people, who wanted him to come to their convention about Internet memes, “At this time Gary is in high demand and we can only consider events that pay him for his time,” and that some scholars “believe that Gary’s work was the most widely seen and embraced single piece of human generated content since the days of the Tower of Babel.”

Here’s how Brolsma tried to recapture the magic:

Leaving aside the infomercial video effects*, what strikes me most about the New Numa video is how studied it is. What made “Numa Numa” work was Gary enjoying the song, and how his goofy choreography, like the Code Monkey Dance, fit the music. “New Numa” lacks that spark, and it doesn’t have the original’s timing and rising-and-falling action. It’s a pale echo of the original.

*Though it’s nice to see other people have trouble pulling good keys from greenscreen footage.

Tay Zonday, singer of “Chocolate Rain”, went in a different direction. The original video has a synth-and-drum loop that burrows into your brain, a guy who looks like he’s 12 yet has a deep voice, enigmatic lyrics, and weird mannerisms.

It’s nice that Tay explained that he moves away from the mic to breathe in. The video was popular enough that Cadbury Schweppes asked him to make a video for the launch of Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper.

“Cherry Chocolate Rain” takes the song in an entirely new direction. It’s slick, overproduced, and over-the-top. There’s a weird nod to Apple’s “1984” ad. Tay smiles his way through a complete send-up of rap videos. And every time I hear him sing “Ohio’s agriculture’s based on grains” with a straight face I lose it.

“Cherry Chocolate Rain” works where “New Numa” doesn’t because it keeps the core of what made the original popular and ladles on a healthy serving of crazy. Rather than try to reproduce the original video, it mutates it, re-imagining it as a typical music video.

There are two things that help determine whether a creator can keep an Internet meme going: intentionality and mutability. Did the creator intend for the creation to be viewed by as many people as possible? And how easy is it for the meme to be changed and re-written?

Take the two examples above. Gary Brolsma made his video for some friends and posted it on Newgrounds on a lark. Its runaway success took him by surprise. Tay Zonday, however, was seeking an audience for his songs. He’d written several songs before Chocolate Rain and posted them on YouTube. When Brolsma tried to re-capture the spark of the original, he made a near-copy of it; Zonday’s re-done Chocolate Rain is a very different creation while keeping a link to the original.

Lolcats are an excellent example of how mutability can keep a meme going. Even in their canonical form — cats plus captions — lolcats can be used to make endless jokes. And that’s before you add in LOLTrek, LOLgeeks, LOL My Children, and countless others. Unlike All Your Bases or Impossible Is Nothing, lolcats are above all a form rather than a single joke.

Hey, now that I have a theory and some examples, I’m ready to write a dissertation on Internet memes.

Internet Memes in Wider Culture

A few days ago, Anil Dash talked about whether or not Internet memes would really impact broader pulp culture. Such a move from Internet to e.g. TV or movies have typically been in the form of passing nods in geek-oriented media, such as Andrew referring to Trogdor in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Veronica Mars saying “boom goes the dynamite” in one episode.

That may be changing. As an example, I give you an ad for Mike Huckabee.

He’s taken Chuck Norris’s endorsement and made a commercial about it that mixes Chuck Norris Facts with Huckabee’s actual views. This is notable because the ad is aimed at Iowa voters, not Family Guy fans, and it has the meme as the center of it.

How will the other candidates respond? Will Mitt Romney talk about his platform while performing synchronized moves on treadmills? Will McCain further his image as someone stuck in the early 2000s with an “All Your Base” joke? “Congress made you a national health care plan… but I eated it“?

[tags]internet memes, mike huckabee, presidential politics, chuck norris facts, mitt romney, john mccain, ron paul, chuck norris can divide by zero[/tags]

Let Overwrite, Let Override

At the beginning, Internet memes passed me by without leaving a mark. I’d see all of the Zero Wing mashups at YTMND or the latest bunny-with-a-pancake-on-its-head macro, be amused, and go on about my life. People would post lists of movies they’d seen or states they visited on their LiveJournal and I wouldn’t participate.

Lolcats changed all of that. I stumbled upon I Can Has Cheezburger shortly before Liza was born, and I was lost. I read them obsessively. I started critiquing them. I read Anil Dash’s take on kitty pidgin. I created LOLTrek.

That was months ago, and yet I still look for lolcats that I think are funny. I save them in a folder on my computer. I created lolcat versions of an author whose books I like. I’m turning into that guy from the one XKCD comic.

Misty’s take on all of this is that I do it because it keeps getting laughs. “And you have to keep track of lolcats to do good ones.” That’s the most comforting lie I’ve heard all week. I keep track of them because I can’t help myself. I can has ten-step program?

The SF writer John Barnes has written several novels set in a future where people can have programs forced into their brains in much the same way as computers can catch computer viruses. These memes then make their infected humans behave in ways to further spread the meme. If that future ever comes to pass, I am so screwed.


These are the pinnacle of their various sub-memes.

I'm in UR

Invisible everything

We has a flava

I don’t know the attribute for the second one, and the third is a re-creation of one I saw on a 1980s-bands-themed thread. The first one, though, is from ghoti on LiveJournal.

Finally, the best lolcat ever, also with no known attribution.

God speed Moon Cat

God speed, indeed.

[tags]lolcats, im-in-ur, invisible, i-has-a-flava[/tags]