The meming of life: internet oddness, from Sad Keanu to Hitler cats
Web culture has opened our eyes to comical felines, careful whispers, hijacked reviews of a canvas print of Paul Ross, epic fails, planking and owling, and ‘erotic’ fan fiction
Sad Keanu: sometimes a celebrity becomes lodged in pop culture’s digestive tract
One of the internet’s many ‘cats that look like Hitler’
The Epic Fail
A box canvas print of Paul Ross, available on Amazon.co.uk
Planking, where people photograph themselves lying horizontally
A selfie that has been doing the rounds on Twitter
Since we all live in the “internet” now, we decided to examine those internet-native cultural activities, leisure pursuits and art forms upon which future archaeologists will look and despair – or LOL or ROTF, depending how their work day is going.
To discuss internet artefacts, it’s obligatory to mention Richard Dawkins’s notion of the “meme”: the idea that cultural ideas, or memes, spread via social selection much like genes are spread by natural selection. Of course, this is just a fancy way of saying “some things are popular”. Here are some thoughts on things that have been popular online over the past decade.
It has been argued that the private self came into being around the 16th century when Michel de Montaigne began exploring his thought processes in essay form. The public selfie probably marks the end of all that. The future is clearly a pouting human face stamping on a non-pouting human face forever. If Montaigne was around today he’d forgo all that essay writing and just do a duckface with an Instagram filter. The word “selfie” is now in the dictionary and this is seen by some as a harbinger of the apocalypse. That said, Montaigne wrote some wonderful essays about the LOLsome behaviour of his cat, so I think he’d have loved the internet.
In the first series of the sitcom The Mighty Boosh, way back in distant 2004, Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) tries to enter the literary world by impressing an author with a sentence he has been working on for some time. The idea that we’d all be carefully crafting solitary sentences was funny in 2004. Now we have the social network micro-blogging site Twitter, a sentence-length literary medium, largely considered the repository of all knowledge and debate by 24-hour news services hungry for content. People have written some genuinely lovely Twitter poems, by the way, using the 140 character restriction as a haiku-like challenge.
Since at least the 1960s fans have expressed their appreciation for fictional characters by self-penning further adventures, sometimes of an erotic nature (these latter stories are called “slash” fiction after the “/” symbol used to identify which characters will be having sexy shenanigans in the story – for instance, “Kirk/Spock”). But the genre has proliferated thanks to the community building powers of internet fandom.
The power of these superfans is such that they are being increasingly courted by culture producers, and their work is now referenced in television shows such as Sherlock. Terrifyingly, the sex-romp Fifty Shades of Grey actually began life as Twilight fan fiction (this isn’t a joke).
The Lolcats phenomenon emerged around the mid-noughties with “I can has Cheezburger” a moving piece in which an excited pussy cat seems to consider the possibility he “can has cheezburger!” thanks to the superimposition of letters attesting to this fact (scientists say that we can’t really know what that cat was thinking).