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Archive for Friday, March 26, 2010

Net Worth: Viral phenomena tracked and scrutinized by Know Your Meme

Soviet-era pop singer or cosmonaut suffering from space madness? A listen to "Trololo" does not help to clarify this question.

Soviet-era pop singer or cosmonaut suffering from space madness? A listen to "Trololo" does not help to clarify this question.

March 26, 2010

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I often utilize “Net Worth” to pass along new thingies that are sure to go viral online.

Sometimes I’m a tad tardy and instead employ the column to analyze the success of said viral goods.

But I rarely delve into the details of how, when or why something actually goes viral. Now I don’t have to.

Know Your Meme cites as its mission to “document Internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, Web celebs and more.” And it does a terrific job at explaining the origins behind all these widespread workplace timewasters.

Backtracking a bit: If you think the word “meme” refers to a Broadway musical, that’s not quite it. Meme (which rhymes with team) is a unit of cultural ideas that are transmitted from one person to another by any number of methods. It was first coined by English scientist Richard Dawkins in 1976 when explaining the principles of how societal phenomena circulate. It’s no accident that meme sounds like gene.

(How’s that for some in-depth enlightenment?)

My first practical usage for Know Your Meme was to delve into “Trololo,” an annoying musical clip that has initiated all kinds of momentum on Lawrence.com’s Daily Dose. Around the office here, it teeters between being a comical juggernaut and the bane of our collective existence.

The site explains the song is called “Indeed, I am Very Glad that I Finally Am Returning Home,” a Soviet pop ditty staged in the ’70s by Edward Hill — who exerts the vacant stare of a cosmonaut suffering from space madness.

The video’s afterlife is due to the robotic Hill’s shoddy lip-synching of a tune sung in the “vokaliz” style of a lyrics-less melody. Add in the fact that his range veers from basso profundo to prepubescent choirboy, and it’s hard to watch the performance without the term “off-putting” coming to mind.

Along with all the background reporting, Know Your Meme actually pinpoints the exact moment the clip appeared (in November when YouTuber RealPapaPit uploaded it). Then the site tracks how the contagion spread: first in January on the Russian port of the Lurkmore Wiki, then wider in February when it hit The Huffington Post, then positively viral when it reached BoingBoing on March 1. It appeared on Lawrence.com a day later.

There’s no shortage of memes that I’ve explored in past “Net Worth” columns that can be investigated on Know Your Meme. In fact, I was just sent a new one titled “Hitler finds out KU lost to UNI in the 2010 NCAA tournament.”

The video is part of the “Hitler reacts” series I covered in August, which takes footage from 2004’s Oscar-nominated German film “Downfall” and makes Der Führer’s rantings seem directed at a contemporary event through the use of subtitles.

Know Your Meme traces this all the way back to October 2006, when a Spanish version parodied the Nazi enraged about a lack of features in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. Hundreds of videos later this bizarre comedic gift keeps on giving. The site includes an interview with “Downfall” director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who admits to being a huge fan of the gag.

As for this latest KU version — in which the subtitles have Hitler say, “No wonder they call this ‘March Madness’ with a capital ‘SS!’” — well, there’s no need to employ Know Your Meme to determine the origin behind that punch line. Most Lawrence readers are painfully aware of the how, when and why it was posted.

— Entertainment editor Jon Niccum explores facets of pop culture that have established a unique niche on the Internet in Net Worth. He can be reached at 832-7178.

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