The Internet is not the world, though it’s easy to forget when it’s all that stands between you and workday boredom. But the web is more than just distraction; for many, it’s our primary source of news, entertainment, social interaction, and pictures of kitties. It’s also a fickle beast with a short memory and even shorter attention span, collectively clicking over to the next meme-of-the-moment before that viral video you just opened has even finished loading. Even the most robust RSS feed can’t capture all the bits of news, humor, and Internet ephemera that go zipping by on their way to virtual obscurity. The A.V. Club is here to help sort it all out with Trending Topics, which looks back at the web week that was and rounds up what the Internet was talking about while you were busy with real life.
Viral Video Inc.
Occasionally, a viral hit comes along and creates such a huge and specifically shaped tear in the fabric of the Internet that the only thing that can fill that hole is another viral hit crafted in its likeness. This gives rise to viral franchises, videos and other virtual distractions that are part of an Internet legacy that pretty much ensures their ascension to “viral” status. And since there are always n00bs discovering well-trod corners of the Internet for the first time, the sequels’ success usually correlates with a resurgence of the original or previous entries in the franchise. Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” series is a particularly high-profile viral franchise: Its inclusion of famous celebrities and association with Internet hit factory Funny Or Die essentially guarantees that every new entry will be rapturously received and endlessly linked, tweeted, and Tumblr-ed.
“Between Two Ferns” is a rare exception to the rule of diminishing returns in viral franchises, the Pixar to the rest of the web’s Saw series. Sadly, this week did not see the unveiling of a new BTF, but it did see several new installments in established viral franchises, some better than others.
• OK Go’s success as a band is intrinsically linked to its success as a viral phenomenon, thanks to the Grammy-winning video for “Here It Goes Again.” The band homed in on a couple more of the Internet’s favorite motifs earlier this year with the video for “This Too Shall Pass,” a one-take journey through an intricate Rube Goldberg machine; but it upped the ante this week by tapping into one of the richest veins of viral fuel—cute animals. Specifically, a bunch of highly trained dogs, which accompany the band members through one of their signature choreographed dance routines in the video for “White Knuckles.”
Predictably, the video has been all over the place this week, with everyone lauding the adorable images and ignoring the bland song accompanying them. It’s tempting to be cynical and accuse OK Go of putting more energy into being Internet Darlings than making compelling music, particularly when this latest entry is so blatantly calculated for web popularity. Then again, the group’s fondness for cheesy choreography and low-budget visuals go back to way before the YouTube era. Witness this 1999 performance of “C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips” on Chicago variety show Chica-Go-Go, which also features some slightly less cuddly co-stars: NPR personalities Ira Glass and Peter Sagel
• The PS22 Chorus is a more consistent viral machine, sticking to its template of a multicultural band of adorable fifth-graders crooning pop and alternative hits. PS22 has been around the web since 2006, when choir director Gregg Breinberg started posting videos of the group on YouTube. But it’s really risen to prominence in the last year or so—as have the obvious Glee comparisons—with renditions of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” racking up nearly 10 million combined views. Well, with a new school year comes a new class of bright-eyed, swaying kids singing another pop hit: John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
• The Gregory Brothers and their trusty Auto-Tune already had a successful web series, “Auto-Tune The News,” when their viral star went supernova with “The Bed Intruder Song” (which was officially put to rest in this column last week). They’ve followed it up with vocoderized renditions of already-viral hits like the “Mommy & Daddy Song” and the “Backin Up Song.” But while “Bed Intruder” has racked up more than 30 million views and rising, these sequels seem to be hovering around the 3 million mark. This week’s entry, “Tornado Song”—based on the video of a bro-tastic freakout over last week’s tornado in Brooklyn—is positively anemic in comparison, both in terms of view count and quality.
• It’s a bit disingenuous to claim that NMA is shooting for viral fame with its CGI portrayals of news stories; the Taiwanese animation studio cranks out several poorly animated videos every day, for use by whatever news outlet will have them. But whenever NMA gets its hands on a bit of U.S. tabloid fodder—such as Lindsay Lohan’s arrest or Snooki’s rise to power—the combination of its broad definition of “facts” and bordering-on-absurd visuals usually earns the video a quick viral spike. While this week’s interpretation of Paris Hilton’s latest evasion of the American Justice System has its moments—such as Hilton’s avatar snorting a line of Clorox toilet bowl cleaner off the back of her hand—it can’t live up to last Friday’s baffling “Tea Party Express Derails GOP Candidates,” which depicts anti-wanking Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell stopping a boy from literally choking a chicken. The whole thing is absurd enough without subtitles, but if you really want to know what that is Karl Rove is throwing at O’Donnell in the video (spoiler: “balls of goo”), then Best Week Ever has a less-than-helpful translation.
Fall TV premieres are upon us, which means networks are scrambling to find new ways to make their greatest enemy—the free content-dispersing Internet—work for them rather than against them. This of course means the influx of promotional stunts and forced viralness that has become as much a part of the fall TV season as failed pilots.
NBC has always been at the front of the pack when it comes to web savvy, and while that doesn’t always translate into ratings, it does often result in a good bit of Internet scuttlebutt. Witness the previously reported Community “Twittersode” (ugh) that preceded Thursday’s première, complete with fake Twitter accounts for all the characters, and a couple of fake-fake accounts ostensibly written by characters on the show. It’s gimmicky and meta and ridiculous (like Community can be) but also surprisingly funny (also like Community). Take for example, the account @OldWhiteManSays, which got name-checked to an embarrassing degree in last night’s season-two première: It’s supposedly written by Troy (Donald Glover) about his new roommate Pierce (Chevy Chase), but really it’s a clearinghouse of reliably hilarious one-liners that don’t have a place in the show itself. When viewed as an extension of the Community writers’ room rather than a calculated promotional ploy—and read in Chevy Chase’s voice, preferably while picturing him falling down—it’s a lot easier to stomach, right?
While young upstart Community is exploring the farthest reaches of the Internet promotional universe, ol’ reliable The Office has been trudging around it for years now, turning out regularly updated character blogs and webisodes, even paying homage to a popular viral video during last season’s much-anticipated wedding episode. Which is why it’s a little disappointing that, to promote its seventh season The Office turned to a viral ploy as old as… well, as old as The Office: a lip dub. Even The Simpsons, which is always at least eight months behind the pop-culture cutting edge these days, covered this territory back in May. Granted, The Office’s rendition of The Human Beinz's “Nobody But Me”—which also opened last night's premiere—is much more palatable than that abomination, but it’s not exactly shaking the web’s foundations.
The Office might be nearing the bottom of the web-video well, but Conan O’Brien is happily splashing around in it as the première of his new TBS talk show nears. O’Brien dabbled in web crossover during his time on NBC, but it was mostly in the form of fake websites or the limp “Twitter Tracker” routine on The Tonight Show. But after the outpouring of web-fueled support in the wake of his being fired from NBC, he seems to have embraced the power of the tubes as he prepares for his new venture. Following the reveal of the name of his new show via his “Team CoCo” website and YouTube channel, Conan announced last week that he would be responding to viewer questions submitted to his Facebook page. This week, the first video response rolled in:
Of course, sometimes—often—the best promotional videos aren’t officially sanctioned. But it’s unlikely the PR machine behind The Big Bang Theory could come up with something as neat as this psychedelic, rotoscoped graphite-and-watercolor recreation of a scene from one of last season’s episodes. It’s certainly a better ambassador for the show than that cringe-inducing laugh-track-less clip that circulated earlier this year. If nothing else, it would probably attract a new audience of stoners to the show.
That’s so gay
Sadly, Lady Gaga’s impassioned Twitter pleas for tolerance wasn’t the nail in the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell coffin, but there was a smaller virtual victory for the GLBT community this week. On Sunday, College Of New Jersey students Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello broke the world record for longest kiss, and they did it live on the Internet, streaming all 33 hours of man-on-man tonsil hockey on UStream. The video is being reviewed by Guinness, and if entered in the 2012 edition of the book, Daley and Canciello will be the first same-sex couple to hold the record.
Another glimmer of hope in an all-around shitty couple of weeks for gay rights comes from sex columnist Dan Savage in response to the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas, who hung himself in his family’s barn last week after being bullied mercilessly for his sexual orientation. On Tuesday, Savage launched the “It Gets Better” project, which collects and features YouTube videos of gay adults telling gay teenagers about their struggles growing up, and how they eventually overcame them. The project kicked off with a video from Savage and his boyfriend and has been adding response videos from other YouTube users, including notables like Dave Holmes and (ugh) Paris Hilton. It’s still in the nascent stage, but it’s a hell of a lot more affecting than shouting your 140-character dissent into the Twitter ether.
(Also, Steve Martin joined Twitter, which doesn’t have anything to do with gay rights, but it sure is entertaining, and a much happier note to end with which to end this section.)
Tumblr insta-blogs sprout up faster than desperate publishers can offer them book deals, capturing a moment in meme history before the next hybrid of ’80s nostalgia, weird foodstuffs, and adorable animals comes along. Catch these while they’re still relevant:
• The life of a struggling actor is tough; the life of a successful actor is much, much easier, which makes it okay to laugh at The Internet Never Forgets, a round-up of hilariously awkward photos of Hollywood heartthrobs during their early male-modeling phases. Sure, Christian Bale might be Bruce Wayne now, but at one point he couldn’t even put a sweater on correctly.
• Banned Books Week is upon us, which makes it an appropriate time to revisit an old favorite, Awful Library Books, and explore some titles that actually warrant exclusion from our nation’s bookshelves.
Each week, Trending Topics provides a website that’s ideal for wasting company time or putting off that term paper. Enjoy!
Geek A Week is a yearlong project that features a different star of the nerdiverse each week, complete with nicely illustrated trading cards featuring stats and copy penned by musical comedy duo Paul And Storm. This week featured the Grand Poobah of Geekdom, “Weird Al” Yankovic, but the full set—29 so far—covers the spectrum from nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot to Mythbuster Adam Savage to RPG designer Monte Cook. There are even accompanying podcasts if you really want to eat up some time.
Play us out
A little visual web candy to end the week on a high note.
This book trailer for Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” may or may not help you come up with that one great idea that will make you millions—it seems to involve turtles somehow—but it is pretty cool to look at.