Internet Memes Expand

22 06 2008

Earlier this month I talked about Internet memes (those virally popular Net phenomena like the Numa Numa guy, or the Star Wars kid).

Now comes evidence of the power of the memes.

In 2006, a guy named Matt Harding did a video called “Where In The Hell Is Matt?” which wasn’t a parody of the Where’s Waldo? books at all. Instead, it was a video of Matt, dancing/hopping up and down in the center of the frame (usually, more or less, the same size in each frame) in dozens of countries all across the world. The video, sponsored by Stride Gum, became an Internet sensation, spawning dozens of parodies. (You can see the videos at Matt’s site, or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNF_P281Uu4)

Now, Matt is back with his 2008 (in HD) video of him dancing in yet more countries. But there’s a difference this time — in each video he is joined by people from the cities and towns he was visiting. In many cases, it is clear that Matt (using his web site) recruited the people to dance with him and, in cities all across the world, he was joined by enthusiastic people who, for the most part, clearly seems to be aware of this Matt phenomenon, and were all too happy to join in. He starts the video dancing alone and then, right before the chorus, cuts from city to city to city, as people stream into the frame and start to dance with him.

The video, which can be found on Matt’s site, or at this link in Vimeo, is actually oddly compelling in an incredibly sweet way. Whether the dancers are in Madagascar, California, Jordan, France, Antarctica (yep, even there!) or any number of other cities and countries (there are 63 listed in Matt’s blog) they all seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously. In many of the countries it is also clear that the people came to this location specifically to dance with Matt. There is even a place in Matt’s blog for dancers to comment on the postings that Matt puts up about his travels.

It’s actually a good example of the international power of social networking and Internet celebrity.  I won’t say that this is work on a shoestring (I can’t even imagine how expensive the travel costs are!!), but it is certainly something that I cannot imagine being imagined by anyone rather than a sole person, who had the audacity and insanity to pull it off.

Take a look and let me know what you think





Internet Memes Strike Back

4 06 2008

Trawling around on YouTube this evening I realized that I’m probably the only person who hasn’t done a cover to Tay Zonday’s Chocolate Rain.” Like the Star Wars Kid before him, the power of the Internet Meme has stretched to John Mayer, Tre Cool, and a host of much much lesser known YouTubers.

But the coolest one of all has to be this version from Pittsburgh metal/hardcore band Ryashon.

The indication of a true Internet meme is when it goes beyond water cooler talk (or, in today’s word, beyond “Twitter Talk”) and becomes acted on. Once it gets participation on a large scale then it’s on its way.

A few years ago there was the guy (Noah Kalina) who took a picture of himself in the same position every day for, what?, two years and then strung them together into a short video. Within days, dozens of copies and parodies had popped up on YouTube. There was another one, posted by a guy named Matt Harding, that also took over. It showed a guy dancing madly in about three dozen different cities. Cut to music, it was actually a self-referring comment on Internet memes — with tons of energy it started popping up all over the Internet world. You can see “Where The Hell Is Matt?” by clicking here.

What makes one clever idea take off, while a thousand others die a self-conscious death?

To get a sense of what I mean when I say “internet memes” check out this really nifty Internet Meme Timeline, where such societal momentary crazes are published on a linkable timeline all the way to 1996 (can you say “Dancing Baby” and the page full of dancing hamsters anyone?) Of course, one of my personal favorites is “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” which has a certain geek appeal.

=============== ADDED COMENT ===============

Randy Riggs, over at Mental Floss, has a discussion about Internet Memes in which he makes the following hilarious, but completely true, observation:

When Ted Stevens, the elderly senator from Alaska, infamously referred to the internet as “a series of tubes” during hearings on a 2006 net neutrality bill which he himself had sponsored, he unwittingly entered into a kind of irony vortex. Stevens had simultaneously proved himself clueless about the web — at one point saying “an internet was sent by my staff” in reference to an email — and had also created an internet meme, his “tubes” comment earning him a place among such hallowed meme icons as the Numa Numa guy and “2 Girls 1 Cup” (not to mention President Bush’s infamous neologism “the internets.”)

I don’t know about you, but I constantly refer to the Net as “the internets” (to the consternation of friends of mine who weren’t aware of the famous — to me — Bushism) and I’ve also dropped the phrase “series of tubes” into conversation, with equally blank-faced results.





Online Television Reaches The Mainstream

2 09 2008
Gemini Division (image courtesy of newteevee.com)

Gemini Division (image courtesy of newteevee.com)

When I was growing up, long ago in the dark ages (read the 1970s) there was one thing that we could always rely on. When the mainstream media, usually Time or Newsweek magazines, had an article on a rising trend, it was always dead by about a year. The media was always a year or two behind, and by the time their editors figured out what was “hip” and could safely be reported on, it was time for the rest of us to move on.

I remember reading an article about “youth speak” which purportedly described the “lingo” that we “younger generation” actually talked in.  The article got passed around at school, usually at parties when we could bearly see straight and needed something to laugh at. No one, of course, had ever heard of most of the “hip lingo” and those terms that were vaguely familiar had been dumped years ago.

And this was before the Internet.

So, it is with a major grain of salt that I bring up an article in today’s New York Times by Mike Hale entitled “Television Keeps a Hand in the Online Game With Serialized Shows“. In it, Hale talks about several shows that the mainstream media is producing in an attempt to get viewership on the web. Shows such as “Gemini Division” the Rosario Dawson starring vehicle that seems to have learned none of the real lessons of lonelygirl15, and presents its form without its content.  A few weeks ago, Virginia Heffernan, in the Times’ Sunday Magazine attempted to compare the failure of many web serials to television and radio shows like “The Shadow” and “24”, somewhat missing the point. In one section of the article, entitled “Serial Killers” she says:

Time will tell, but right now Web serials — no matter how revealing, provocative or moving — seem to be a misstep in the evolution of online video. Introduced with fanfare again and again only to miss big viewerships, shows like “Satacracy 88” and “Cataclysmo” have emerged as the slow, conservative, overpriced cousins to the wildly Web-friendly “viral videos” that also arrived around 2005, when bandwidth-happy Web users began to circulate scrap video and comedy clips as if they were chain letters or strep. Top virals — “I Got a Crush . . . on Obama,” “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” “Chocolate Rain” — never plod. They come off like brush fires, outbursts, accidents, flashes of sudden unmistakable truth.

Now, I’ve written about Internet memes several times already, so I like pontificating on the subject as much as Heffernan does, but she doesn’t seem to get the difference between web serials and memes. To compare a series like “Satacracy 88” to “Chocolate Rain” is about as misguided as comparing the Ed Sullivan Show to a Beatles concert (to keep the 60s/70s thing going).

Still, both Hale and Heffernan score a few points as they talk about how nobody seems to know what to do with web video. Talking about the web series “Steven King’s N.” (which comes from King’s publisher and is meant to attract interest in King’s new short story collection, coming this fall). Hale says:

What “N.” really demonstrates is that the Internet could use more Stephen King. The story, involving therapy, obsessive-compulsive disorder and an evil presence trapped in a New England field, is C-grade King. (It was adapted for the serial by Marc Guggenheim, a creator of “Eli Stone.”) But it still has enough narrative pull to drag you from snippet to snippet, even when there’s less than a minute of new material.

The emphasis on the word “narrative” is mine, and completely shows my point of view.  I create content and firmly believe that you cannot divorce story from the economic equation of what will work for audiences.

What is interesting about these shows is not the content themselves, but the advertising and business model behind them.  Frankly, I almost gave up on Gemini Division because it seemed so-much watered down network television.  It’s bad cinema — with too much narration and not enough visuals. There has been a lot of discussion in content creation circles about just what the new rules of content should be — are wider shots not viewable on mobile phones?  Is faster cutting too much for the compression and bandwidth? Are three minute episodes too long?  How long should the pre-rolls be? NBC is, obviously, still experimenting.

The results — if Gemini is to be believed — are to take properties destined for wider distribution, create cheap pilots for them (as opposed to the standard dictum, which is to spend loads more time and money on the pilot than they’ll ever be able to put into the actual pattern budgets of the shows) and flush them out on the web.  Looking at lonelygirl15 without understanding the mindset behind it, leads to static “talk to the webcam/phone” shows which might as well be radio. They’re copying form here, not content.

The King series is more interesting — it is a trailer for the book, in some ways.  An expansion of the market outwards, rather than a contraction simply as a pilot.

I’m far more interested in web series like “Drawn By Pain” and “Satacracy88” which focus on a single character in bite-sized bits, but present those bits in interesting, cinematic ways (even if the cinema is on a small screen). I can watch these series on my iPhone without losing anything, largely because they don’t talk down to me. There is a real arc of character in their episodes, other characters that don’t seem paper thin, and plenty of story places for the audience to explore. It’s not handed out in prescribed dosages. It also helps that they work in genres that lend themselves to introspection and, therefore, storytelling closeups.

So, what are the major companies doing in my opinion? When I worked over at Universal Music Group, I remember an exec there saying that since no one knew anything about the web, they would just keep throwing ideas against a wall to see what stuck. That’s not a terrible strategy, I suppose. It’s the sibling of the strategy of buying every company you can find/afford and seeing which ones survive. The basic problem is that the MET space needs a combination of technologists with ideas, entrepreneurs with commitment, and artists with energy and passion and stories that they need to tell.

Simply putting Rosario Dawson in front of a camera, plastering Microsoft and Cisco logos all over the place to spread the financial exposure around, isn’t a real content strategy.  It’s more of a safe business strategy, one in which no one is going to win in the long run. It also violates everything we know about storytelling, especially in bite-sized pieces.  We know that we need to grab them early with your concept, not slowly. We need to suck them in with something interesting, not voice-over dialogue that happens to be spoken on camera.

They’ll keep trying.  They’ve got the money for it and that will certainly help (the Steven King series benefited from money, along with an interesting idea, though I lost interest after a few episodes because of its stilted format).  But, right now, the more interesting work is still being done in the independent, unsupported market.  I can’t wait for the two sides to meet.

Phew, I didn’t mean to go on for that long. Remind me to tell you about what Cisco is doing on our campus here to develop their own content.

[TRUTH IN ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT: My upcoming book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, uses both “Drawn By Pain” and “Satacracy 88” as examples and I’ve contacted both filmmakers about that usage. So, I guess you can say that I “know” them, in a 21st Century, Webby kind of way. But I’m using both series here for the same reason I used them in the book — I think they’re great examples of the form.]





South Park and the Internet

4 04 2008

This is so completely NOT a serious post that I hesitate even talking about this but…

On this week’s SOUTH PARK episode, the series took potshots at Internet Instant Celebrities (let’s call them IIC). I remember in 2001 when the video “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” became an Internet hit. This was, at the time, much harder than it is today, now that we’ve got YouTube et al to help distribute silly videos. The video, which took the fractured English translation in the Sega video game Zero Wing, and turned it into a music video, spread so far and so ubiquitously (is there such a word?) that even staid newspapers reported on it.

Now that we’ve got YouTube all over the damn place, we’ve also got a new IIC every month. Think the Numa Numa Guy, the Coke and Mentos videos, and Bree (lonelygirl15).

Now, the Internet Instant Celebrity craze has gone full circle. The South Park video parodied the phenomenon as only they can. In it, the boys, in an attempt to get Canada to stop running repeats of the Terrence and Phillip Show, create their own IIC (Butters, doing a brilliant version of Samwell’s “What, What (In The Butt)“) and then try and cash in at an Internet Celebrity Bank (and, in the process, manage to take on the recent WGA strike). While in the waiting room they witness a celebrity shootout, in which a host of IICs end up killing each other over whose celebrity is more… well… celebritacious.

You can see the section from the show at South Park’s own site. See if you can spot the celebs, among them:

  • The Chocolate Rain Guy
  • Star Wars Kid
  • Laughing Baby
  • Afro Ninja
  • Sneezing Panda (actually, though they call it that, it’s not, but never mind that…)
  • Leave Brittney Alone Guy
  • The Numa Numa Guy

and more.

It’s fascinating when a mainstream show like South Park (who have, admittedly, often bit ahead of the rest of the mainstream media) picks up the memes of the web.