Friday, 17 December 2010

Memetic mutation

I know my past few posts have been either depressing or just very serious, and I would like to apologize. Instead of apologizing, however, I am just going to make an entirely different post.

One on the subject of memes. Or, more specifically, webmemes (because internet memes sounds archaic, said by the kind of people who say “internet sites”). I consider myself to be a child of “the interwebz”, as us younguns like to call it. The internet is a strange thing. As Arthur C Clarke said in the sixties: “In the future, perhaps in 50 years’ time, the whole world will have shrunk to a point through social media”. Oh, how right he was. The internet is a place where everyone is in contact with anyone in an instant (or in about 10 minutes of excruciating loading time).

Some claim it has the downside of the youth having a shorter attention span. More and more people have trouble focussing or studying, and that this is going to be a problem and I tell you it might not be. It would be a problem in a world where there is no internet. It would have been a problem in “the old world”. But the internet has reshaped the world. In a mere 15-20 years time, it has changed EVERYTHING. People have trouble catching on to this. In about 20 years more, things like schools, classes and tests should (but probably won’t) be abolished. Right now, there are two main reasons why people go to, say, college, or university:

First, to keep the morals and ideologies of the previous generation alive. This is proving to less and less effectual. Second, it is to produce academics and university professors, who will do the exact same thing in 40 years’ time. EDIT: I don't think school is obsolete. I'm saying that the kind of people that won't end up using their education might as well not have it. For many people (the plumbers in society) the information they don't need on a daily basis might as well be posted online, instead of being made necessary to pass other grades. Like a plumber who's not allowed to become a plumber because he failed his history back in high school.

I’m still waiting for that mental uplink, by the way. I would like to access any information I want at any possible moment. Except for physical skills (and hey, maybe even those) all required information could just be downloaded for immediate use. No need for school or class. The majority of people’s young-adulthood would be comprised of doing tasks for mom and fornicating, if Peter F Hamilton is anything to go by.

But I digress (d’ya think?). Memes.

I was thinking on how to start this. Chronologically? That might work, but it’s not all cause and effect.

Let’s start with Robot Unicorn Attack. It’s a webgame. It’s probably the silliest flash game you’ve played ever, if not in a long while. If you don’t know it, you play as a unicorn. And you collect fairies. And you smash through the stars trying to make your wishes come true. It’s just as sugary-sweet as it sounds. Erasure’s “aaaaalwwaaaaays I wanna beeeee with you, and make belieeeeeve with you” doesn’t exactly help anyway. And somehow it works. It became viral, memetic, and is now widely regarded as possibly being the best game ever made. That’s because of this:

It can be found here:

Now, when I say ‘widely regarded’ you need to take this with a grain of salt. It is widely regarded by the “living” part of the internet. (Be warned. Here comes another rant about the internet itself.) The internet can be divided into the Living part and the Static part. The Static part is, for example, your local bank’s site, or the site for a lot of companies. And then there’s the living part. Constantly in a state of flux (no, I do not know what this means but it sounds cool, and might actually make sense. Who knows? The shado- I don’t), it evolves, faster than ‘old’ (not old in age, per sé) people realize. It has generations. It lives and breathes. The internet can be considered either a giant country, or a very tiny microcosmos.

The best example for this is 4chan, or more specifically, /b. /b is ultimately the most bizarre psychological proof for the intricacies of the human mind and society in general. For those of you who don’t know: 4chan is an image board, and /b is the random board (b for random). /b has spawned some of the most disturbing, weird, funny and generally RANDOM memes on the internet (like the above image). EVERYTHING is tolerated. Up to a point, of course. Well, not really. Look, it’s hard to explain. Basically, you can say anything you want, but you will be judged so hard you shit brix. And you had better suck it up. Needless to say, /b is possibly the most dangerous thing on the internet. Like a community of Chaotic Neutral/Evil creatures. Act on a whim, sometimes organizing to attack a single, common enemy, like Scientology, but turning on itself just as quickly.

“You are not in Kansas anymore. You are in /b. If there is a hell, you might wanna go there for some R and R.

It’s harsh, it’s cruel, and it’s awesome, hilarious, smart, stupid. It’s random and there’s no other word for it. You can accept it the way it is and get scolded for it and you can rebel against the changes, be called a newfag and get scolded again. There’s no real way of doing anything right, but there’s no real way of doing anything WRONG either. There are, however, plenty of ways, of doing things stupid. Trying to mobilize /b for your own revenge-purpose will only succeed in uniting them. /b is like instagib railgun that can be loaded... But not aimed. Or it might explode and destroy only itself. Or jam.

But it’s constantly changing makes it a prefect subject for the study of the internet, since it’s where memes are born and where they are dragged by their hair a month or two later to die. And some survive. Some have been active for over a year (and since this is accelerated evolution at work, that IS impressive), and some have been online for only a week before being cast back to the shadow.

Some examples of long-lasting memes birthed in /b are EFG, aka Epic Fail Guy, a stick figure wearing the Guy Fawkes mask made so popular by V for Vendetta (quick aside: the Guy Fawkes-mask is also the unofficial “face” of /b, or more specifically Anon(ymous). I’ll get to Anon in a bit). EFG just... Fails. Or not. But then he’s EWG. You guessed it: Epic Win Guy. Other such stick figures or ‘badly’ drawn characters (‘badly’ because, despite their strange drawing style, they convey an emotion a lot better than words often do) include:

EFG seems to be kinda dead now. Other ‘dead’ memes are:
The cake is a lie: Played to death when portal came out, and was not strictly limited to the /b-crowd, it was embraced as a meme by the entire geek-gaming community. If used these days, it is often frowned upon, despite the game being ‘only’ two years (abouts) old. As they say: old meme is old.
I herd you liek mudkipz: I was only annoyed by this one. Embraced it’s death.
Chuck bloody Norris. One of the few pre-internet memes that got carried over. Refused to die ‘till about 12 months ago, when people started replacing Chuck Norris with other (far more awesome) characters, like the old spice-guy. Might have to do with Norris being a bit of dick most of the time.

The things that make memes popular are impossible to predict. Sometimes it’s a picture of keanu reeves sitting on a bench, eating a sandwich and looking depressed. Sometimes it’s a youtube clip of a guy fawning over a double rainbow (“All the way across the sky! What does it mean?”). It could be almost anything. What it can not be, however, is an ad made by a company who intend it to go viral. There are two kinds of ads that go viral: extremely good ones and extremely bad ones. Examples: “Hello ladies. Look at your man.” This should ring a bell. You know the clip, you know the guy and, more importantly, you know the product.

But, like I said, there are too many ads where the people making the ad seem to think adding a quirk to your ad make it brilliant. There is (was?) an ad in Belgium where a kid came home from school, pretending to have had a hard day at work. Did I mention the kid is 6? He proceeds to demand in the most annoying accent possible (antwerp :p) a ‘choco’, meaning chocolate milk (something only people from antwerp and holland call it. For the rest of us, it’s chocolate milk (well, the translation, but you get the point)), and a good movie. He flops himself down in the couch while his parents are setting the table in the background and without us being able to see the screen of this movie he sticks his hand down his pants. Did I mention him being 6? Or that people generally think this is endearing? This is, of course, only popular in Belgium, where people have taste in neither film nor TV. After all, this is the country where Resident Evil and Scott Pilgrim both got pulled out of theaters prematurely to have more free seats for a local comedy.

But the ad won’t be viral. As far as I know, there is one (1) Belgian commercial that got viral: an ad for english lessons. It got banned in the US as well as Britain, which could only help it’s viral status, of course. A homely family get into the car with their two young kids. They turn on the radio. It blares a fake hip-hop song: “I wanna fuck you up the ass.” They obviously don’t get the lyrics and happily sing along. As they ride into the proverbial sunset, the text “English Lessons” appears. It’s simple, it’s slightly offensive, and it’s funny. It works. It got viral, but only years later.

But I can not predict what will be viral and what will not be. And there’s always the divide between the real world and the internet, a gap which is far wider than you might think. Online, everyone is the same, gets the same jokes, have similar opinions and grew up with similar things (often because they have access to the internet, which means they grew up somewhere in the west. After all, computers aren’t cheap. But I digress)

The internet is pure Anarchy. And yet, it's organized. It's like watching an ant colony. But with more porn.

That thing at the top is a chupacabra. It's so cute!

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