The web is watching (Oct. 15, 2010)
The Internet isn’t the world, though it’s easy to forget that when it’s the only thing standing 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 an even shorter attention span, as surfers collectively click over to the next meme-of-the-moment before that online viral video 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.
I’ve talked before in this column about the life cycle of memes, how they can burn bright and die out before settling into the lower echelons of Internet cultural awareness. But some memes just don’t have the consideration to follow this timeline I arbitrarily created in order to support a tenuous thematic connection in an Internet column. Memes can be jerks like that. Take our old friend “Bed Intruder,” which I officially laid to rest a month ago—I have that power, you know—thanks to complete Internet oversaturation. But “Bed Intruder” has gone the William Hung route, morphing from the story of a funny TV clip that went viral into that of an outsider’s unlikely ascendance to pseudo-celebrity. “Bed Intruder” has become more interesting in terms of what it’s created—namely a new life for Antoine “run and tell that” Dodson—than in terms of the original clip. Witness the gleeful reception Dodson received at the BET Awards this week, where he “performed” the “Bed Intruder” remix live with Michael Gregory of The Gregory Brothers, who composed the song.
The “Bed Intruder” meme may have reached its saturation point, but it’s hard to stop rooting for Dodson the person, so I’ll let him have this one. Just please don’t go releasing a Christmas album, Antoine.
Another long-running meme took a positive turn this week with the ascendance of “Happy Keanu,” another photobomb centering on the emotions of everyone’s favorite emotionless actor, Keanu Reeves. For so long (months! Several lifetimes in Internetland!), Reeves has been Sad Keanu, a mopey, donut-munching guy lurking in the background of whatever picture he’s been Photoshopped into. But with the appearance of one paparazzi photo taken on the set of his new movie, Generation Um, the Keanu meme got happy. Since then, he’s co-starred with fellow jolly meme-makers Strutting Leo and Prancing Michael Cera, and even traveled back in time on some sort of excellent adventure to cheer up his formally sad self.
Looks like the 4chan-spawned “Happy Reeves” project worked!
Obviously, viral content evolves rapidly—it’s practically spelled out there in the name. It took all of one week for a video of old Donald Duck cartoons set to audio of Glenn Beck’s ranting to go viral on the Internet, then make the transition to the real world when Beck addressed it on his radio show, then transition back to the Internet in the form of this video, in which the audio of Beck’s response is set to an old Mickey Mouse cartoon:
Of course, while the fast pace of Internet evolution is good for more than ensuring we don’t go more than a day without some new stupid crap to laugh at, it can also help create a movement, as seen a few months back with the web-spawned “Team Coco” campaign and now, more significantly, the rapidly growing “It Gets Better” movement. In one month, the project—aimed at encouraging gay teenagers who have been the target of bullying—has grown dramatically; you can’t open your browser without seeing an “It Gets Better” video from celebrities like Tim Gunn or Neil Patrick Harris or Kathy Griffin. Of course, the cause of this proliferation is much more grave than Internet bandwagoneering: Three more gay teenagers have killed themselves in the past month, making the “It Gets Better” project a tragically timely cause célèbre. Hopefully these celebrities are opening their checkbooks as well as their video cameras, and donating to organizations like The Trevor Project—or better yet, taking their message beyond the confines of YouTube, as Fort Worth, Texas city councilman Joel Burns did when he brought his emotional “It Gets Better” message in front of a council meeting on Tuesday. I dare you not to cry:
The Internet never forgets
It’s hard to be a celebrity in the Internet age, what with the web’s fixation on tabloid gossip, and controversy-happy bloggers waiting to jump on a poorly thought-out tweet. But perhaps the biggest danger the Internet poses to celebrity pride is its collective memory: Thanks to the celeb-obsessed Internet, past career indiscretions can easily be unearthed and quickly disseminated among millions of readers in the time it takes to read a single page of US Weekly.
For example: Surely Justin Timberlake The Serious Actor would rather the millions of pages of BOP! and Teen Beat featuring his teenage self were left to gather dust in garages and paper the bottoms of dog crates. But JT was unfortunate enough to come of age in the time of scanners and Geocities fan pages, which means there’s plenty of virtual evidence of his time as a ramen-noodle-haired boy-bander. And now that The Social Network has given him a shred of legitimacy as an actor, the time is ripe for the Internet to reach back into its collective memory and dredge up those photos, courtesy of a widely circulated round-up of The 25 Most Embarrassing Pictures Of Justin Timberlake. Then again, Timberlake is a millionaire many times over, has forged a genuinely respectable solo career, and no longer has to worry about Lou Perlman’s “friendly hugs,” so he’s all like, “Whatever, bro.”
The same probably can’t be said for poor Aaron Carter, who’s been granted no favors by the Internet or life in general.
Yes, the Internet is great at dredging up and rehashing old embarrassments in order to delight cubicle-bound miscreants, but it’s also great at shining a light into the corners of pop-culture to discover celebrity past lives we didn’t even know existed. Witness this clip that made the rounds this week, a snippet from a 2001 episode of The Sopranos featuring one Stefani Germanotta. If that name isn’t ringing a bell, picture her with no pants, a giant bow made of hair, and 12-inch heels. Watch and imagine a terrifying alternate universe in which Lady Gaga is a successful actress. Though considering the Madonna corollaries, it isn’t inconceivable that she could go back down this road:
The collective detective skills of the web provided us with another alternate reality this week, unearthing photographic and video evidence of the mythologized-but-never-visualized version of Back To The Future featuring original Marty McFly Eric Stoltz. (True, it was obtained from the real-world Blu-ray rerelease of BTTF, but the Internet got there first, dammit!) Gaze upon the Stoltz-ified McFly family photograph and imagine what could have almost never been if it weren’t for that fateful moment at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance:
Granted, this isn’t really embarrassing so much as novel and kinda weird. Then again, Stoltz could probably do without the reminder of what could have been.
Web by numbers
With all its fluctuations and ADD tendencies, it’s easy to forget that the Internet is concrete. Sure, things are changing and being added and disappearing all the time, but at any given moment, the Internet is quantifiable: Popularity can be measured in terms of page views and search results. People can be counted, ranked, and sorted. Trends can be tracked and analyzed. It’s chaotic, yes, but there’s order within the chaos. This provides us with an interesting mirror to our real lives, which inform everything on the Internet, but are qualitative, measured only through our own experience with them. Of course, Internet existence is not an exact mirror, as not everyone uses the Internet, but it’s a healthy sample size, enough to provide us with some interesting data about ourselves.
The data-mining counterpart of algorithm-based dating site OkCupid, OkTrends uses the vast amount of user data at its disposal—3.5 million members sharing their likes, dislikes, demographic data, and more—to sort and analyze the way its members (and presumably, by extension, people everywhere) interact. Though it’s filtered through the lens of the online dating world, OkTrends often explores Big Social Issues like race, gender, political affiliation, and this week—which just happens to fall during LGBT history month and include National Coming Out Day—gay sex vs. straight sex. In the words of OkTrends, “Gay issues have been in the news a lot lately, from the debate over same-sex marriage in Congress to a sickening rash of gay-bashing here in New York City. We see a lot of emotion out there, instead of information, and we wanted to provide some data-based context on sexuality so that people might make better choices about what they say, think, and do.” The study both supports and debunks several stereotypes (gay men are not more promiscuous, but they are more likely to be artsy, and to like Project Runway) and also offers some data that’s distressing no matter what your sexual orientation:
When you see something like that, it’s comforting to believe that maybe the Internet isn’t an accurate barometer of the world around us. It certainly isn’t when it comes to television: Observe this nifty infographic that breaks down the top 25 shows according to the Internet, combining online viewership numbers with critical rankings from sites like Metacritic.com and, ahem, The A.V. Club. The list abounds with ratings-challenged critical darlings like The Wire, Arrested Development, Futurama, and even Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which are ratings juggernauts in terms of cable TV, but a far cry from your Dancing With The Stars and your Two And A Half Mens. Clearly, just because the Internet believes something doesn’t mean the rest of the world does. But you know what? I’ll take a world where 10 percent of women think the earth is bigger than the sun if it means that The Wire is definitively the best show of all time.
Play us out (three times!)
A little visual web candy to end the week on a high note.
(This week has been light on new single-serving sites and time-wasters, so in lieu of “Now Tumblr-ing” and “Procrastination Inspiration,” here are three nifty videos to send you on your way.)
• As a copy editor, it’s tough to hear Stephen Fry condemn the grammatical nitpickery to which I devote my days. But after watching his essay on language conveyed through this neat typographic animation, I suddenly become a lot less concerned with reckless verbing and the difference between “over” and “more than.”
• Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” RJD2’s opening-credits theme for Mad Men, and the lovely voice of Brian Williams’ daughter Allison Williams: three great tastes that taste great together:
• To promote the DVD release of season two of Dollhouse, some of the team behind the show made this music video to the song “Remains” from the episode “Epitaph One,” starring Fran Kranz (a.k.a. Topher) and Maurissa Tancharoen (who played Kilo on the show, wrote several episodes, and co-wrote this song with Jed Whedon). The video isn’t related to Dollhouse in a narrative sense, though it touches on a lot of the same themes, and is darn pretty, and a nice song to boot.
Got a tip on a recent Internet trend? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.