Time was when an internet meme was an oddity that somehow spoke to a narrow but deep segment of like-minded people. Those who perpetuated the meme knew that those who would appreciate it most had something wonderfully undefinable in common. The meme was vox clamantis in deserto — for readers not in the Latin know here, a voice crying out in the wilderness — only those who understood the cry knew how to respond, or appreciate it.
Remember AYBAB2U? This internet meme was single badly translated line of dialog from an obscure video game (Zero Wing), by equally obscure Japanese game developer Toaplan). In the game the standard evil-lord charatacter, who here appeared to be half-machine and half-human declares forcefully (to the player) “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.”
It was right after the Y2K scare. In-the-know techies who had watched the world hold its breath in collective (and now-amusing) terror as the century-clock hit midnight gravitated toward this comical image of the dated, half-machine character threatening, wth his clumsy confidence, “all your base”.
Why open source programmers, role-playing game characters, and the internet-connected assemblage of like-minded nerds so adored, and propogated the phrase in its many forms was an inside joke, and a statement: We are in control — clumsy and nerdy as we may be. We somehow are going to come out on top. All your base are belong to us, you just don’t know it yet. By 2002, the phrase was a shibboleth for this clique, and poked into popular culture in only the most subtle and insider way.
Ah, the good old days. Internet memes now speak to everyone, and speak the same language as mass media: reality. [pullquote]The memes spread now because they are so mildly appealing to so many, not because they are so viscerally comforting to so few.[/pullquote]
Where before the meme said “this is us” to its identity-strong propagators, the meme now says “this is what others will like” to its friend-seeking, identity-weak propagators. Memes of real significance or meaning are drowned out with a monoculture of short-lived YouTube clips. Maybe its just becoming to easy to pass information around — and the wrong sort of people are doing it.
Mainstream media itself, of course, has become a monoculture of reality shows. Odd how slices of every part of reality have a stunning sameness when produced for a television network. Baking cakes is somehow identical to driving trucks through the arctic is the same as singing Whitney Houston songs. Like Polaroid color, reality TV casts everything it sees in an eerie same-tone.
Susan Boyle, a chubby, unassuming, and unattractive person with little charisma got on a reality-show stage to snickers — and , famously (for the moment) belted out songs with confidence and some talent. Then transforms back into a frog when done singing. The oddity stands out in a monotony of Idol-singing, and so becomes wildly popular.
And, as is the case these days, existing popularity drives the internet memes of the moment. Enter Lin Yu Chun, a chubby, unassuming, and unattractive person with little charisma who belts out songs (karaoke standards really) on a reality show with some talent. He’s rather weird looking, and from Taiwan. And he is dressed suspiciously like Susan Boyle — just add a bow tie. As if it were necessary, he is usually called “The Taiwanese Susan Boyle”, and became known to American audiences as a nascent internet meme via YouTube.
But the mainstream US media can’t let well enough (or bad enough) alone. Its not enough that Comcast and other US media companies want to control both the speed and the content of the internet, they also want to control the personality of the internet by drowning interesting would-be memes with manufactured junk-memes. Like having this Lin-Yu-Chun-the-Taiwanese-Susan-Boyle sing a duet of “I Will Always Love You” with William Shatner on America’s “Lopez Tonight” show. In the style of Whitney Houston. With odd looks tender looks at one another that seem designed to entice bloggers to suggest a gay element to the duet. Seriously. (Lin’s Wikipedia entry, suspected of being a shill written by media interests, is under consideration for deletion. It may still be here.)
Of course the Lin-Shatner video being posted and reposted, sweeping through social networks and the internet itself like the virus it is, killing any evolving items that would have naturally moved to the top in due time. There no floating to the top anymore, no natural evolution of odd and compelling ideas. Just intentionally-created junk-meme catnip (crack?) like this.
If you haven’t seen it, unfortunately, here it is.