PR's Blog

February 25, 2010

Hash Tagging

Filed under: Uncategorized — perryrobbin @ 3:08 pm

One of the keys of a meme is its ability to mutate. Depending on the meme’s format, this can mean adding text to a picture, re-cutting a video or adding your own personal touch to a verbally-spread meme.

One of the things I really like about hashtags on Twitter is when they are used to start open-ended sentences or otherwise leave a blank for people to fill in. #tosavemoney and #thingswewantback are basically invitations for people to add meaning to the tagged phrase. #tosavemoney has over 700 new tweets in the five minutes since I opened the search page for it. #thingswewantback has had over 600 in the same time.

These work as memes in two parts: the boilerplate text that defines the meme coming in front, giving everyone who participates a ground rule on what to do, and people’s personal mutations of the meme, which give the meme significance and individuality, coming after.

I particularly like this one, because it sort of subverts the whole concept of “things we want back.” Is the writer really longing for something that tasted bad at first, but he eventually got used to? Maybe. Sometimes, people like weird things for weird reasons.

It's... blue?

Personally, I thought Pepsi Blue sucked. I remember driving to Boston in high school with some friends, one of whom was drinking Pepsi Blue. This was only a short time after it came out. A few minutes into his first sampling of this new product, he turned pale, demanded the driver pull over, exited the car, and puked blue all over the grass by the side of the road.

I guess the point here is that hashtags work really well as a meme because they leave a void that has to be filled. This forces the meme to change constantly and helps it spread. A fair amount of hashtag memes are related to nostalgia, so they also rekindle warm and fuzzy, or in this case blue and puke-y, memories.

Also, I liked Crystal Pepsi better.



February 19, 2010

Shamrock Shakes

Filed under: Classics, Cute, Memes, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — perryrobbin @ 4:14 am
Can food be a meme? Certain foods, like apple pie for Americans, or marmite for Kiwis, have cultural significance that transcends the physical existence of the food and make it a symbol of a nation. Certainly “mom, baseball and apple pie” is an enduring, if well-used, meme. Foods that are unique to a state or area or country often serve as a stand-in or a symbol, they carry information about the country they come from. Say poutine and I immediately think La Belle Province (the restaurant and the actual province).

But what about a food that is mass-produced by a multi-national corporation on giant economies of scale? What about shamrock shakes?

Shamrock Shake

it's GREEN

These beauties come around once a year, from mid-February through St. Patrick’s Day, and have inspired a kind of love and devotion far and beyond what is normally extended to most fast food products. A plethora of fan tributes exist online, including fan recipes. One of the most impressive is a user-generated list of where shamrock shakes are available, so know where to get your fix.

Shamrock shakes also have a fictitious history and seasonal availability that feeds into the unique cult around them. Uncle O’Grimacey came to McDonaldland from Ireland to spread the love. The character has not been used recently, but is rumored to be making a comeback, possibly similar to the Burger King‘s re-emergence as a distinct character. Not being able to get shamrock shakes 11 months out of the year makes them that much more desirable.

Uncle O'Grimacey, purveyor of shamrock shakes

These examples provide convincing evidence that shamrock shakes, or the love of shamrock shakes, more specifically, are a meme– they represent a packet of information (the sensory experience of drinking one), this information is shared with others through various means and some of this information (not the actual recipe, but surely the memories associated with shamrock shakes and information about where to find them) mutates.

Parting Advice: Don’t mix peppermint schnapps and shamrock shakes. It sounds like a good time, but the sugary liquor just won’t blend with the milkshake and make a mess.

February 16, 2010

A Little Meme

Filed under: Memes, Mutated, New — Tags: , , , — perryrobbin @ 3:17 pm

Common experiences are a good starting point for creating a meme. Among the top trends on twitter today is #OHjustlikeme (along with #pancakeday, which seems delicious if not particularly suited to this post). The twitter page for OhJustLikeMe encourages twitter users to “tweet what makes us realize that we’re not the only one who does that.”

The two most-repeated tweets when I search #OHjustlikeme are “RT if you hate it when you eat alot and only your belly that gets bigger,” and “I wish loosing weight is as easy as gaining weight.” These two phrases have been repeated by thousands of retweets and people copying, pasting and reposting. Since memes often function like a mental, cultural cut and paste, it seems appropriate to discuss these reused tweets.

I especially like the tweet about losing weight. It has “losing” misspelled, as in making your weight looser instead of tighter, and it uses the wrong verb (is instead of were). Similarly, the “belly” tweet has a disconnect between the first and second part of the statement, either using an extraneous “that” or missing an “it’s” before the word only. Surely, hopefully, some people who are retweeting have at least noticed the errors. But often it is the quirks of memes that make them memorable, or makes them a meme in the first place.

Additionally, losing weight is a common struggle for people who are affluent enough to have a computer and internet access. This helps spread the meme, in this case just a 10-word tweet, because it is about something that people care about and can empathize with.

Two internet memes that draw strongly on quirky language are “how do I shot web,” based off of a poorly-spelled question on a video game FAQ and “Nod Flenders,” a poorly-drawn Ned Flanders (from the Simpsons) that has inspired a number of crudely-rendered portraits of other characters, both cartoon and real, and this illuminating quote from 4chan’s /b/ board: “After looking at that picture of Ned Flanders, it doesn’t even seem right anymore. All I know is Nod Flenders. Matt Groening should re-do all however many episodes of the Simpsons and rename it the Sompsurns.”

These  two tweets, and these two memes, show that perfect use of language is not a prerequisite for spreading memes. To an extent, flaws in their words make them more memorable and unique than an average tweet (the “loosing weight” tweet) or even form the entire backbone of the meme (Nod Flenders).

February 9, 2010

Jumping the Shark

Filed under: Uncategorized — perryrobbin @ 4:28 am

Simply put, something “jumps the shark” when it peaks and then starts losing cultural relevance. The actual reference, as you can see in the clip linked in the previous sentence, is to the beginning of season five of “Happy Days,” when the Cunninghams et al. take a trip to Hollywood. The Fonz, wearing his motorcycle jacket over his swim trunks, literally jumps over a shark to answer one of the series’ many challeges to his manhood.

Up to that point, “Happy Days” had focused on life in Milwaukee with the Fonz (Henry Winkler), Richie (Ron Howard) Cunningham, his family and his friends Potsie and Ralph Malph. Afterwards, the show drifted away from what made it a hit in the first place, depicting an idealized Midwest in the ’50s, into situations like Robin Williams playing an alien. While it remained a popular program through the early ’80s, subesequent seasons are not viewed with the same fondness and ratings never climbed back to their pre-shark jump levels.

Many good commercials, and especially Super Bowl commercials, strive to become a meme, to stop being advertisements and start being cultural information that reproduces throughout that culture. Do you remember Budweiser’s “Whassup?” commercials? I do, and so does whoever cared enough to upload the video onto YouTube from their VCR, no easy feat. This commerical came out when I was 13, eight years before I became of legal age to drink (and almost four years before the age when I actually started drinking).

This series of ads, including variations on the theme with yuppies and “Jersey guys,” became a catchphrase, a full-fledged meme, that had little to do with buying one domestic macro-brew beer over another. The ads, and moreso the word of mouth generated by them, promoted Budweiser’s product better than 30 seconds of science on Super Bowl Sunday explaining why Budweiser’s beer is fresher or has better ingredients than Coors and Miller.

All of this setup leads, of course, to T-Pain.

Budweiser’s “Autotune” ad during this year’s Super Bowl was possibly worth a chuckle (I didn’t) if you’re not already hoping for the death of autotune, if you haven’t seen autotune the news or the Slap Chop remix. Autotuning speech, besides lyrics, has become a meme, and has been a meme for a while. People already understand what autotune is, what it’s used for and the humor that can be had through autotuning. Succinctly, there is very little that is new in this ad.

Memes are, by definition, fresh. They reflect current cultural consciousness, regardless of what culture. Some memes last, but they eventually stop being relevant without any change. Budweiser made an ad with a gimmick that is already showing signs of use and facing a backlash. Autotuning is already jumping the shark. Starting off and already being behind isn’t much of a way to go, for making ads or for making memes.

February 4, 2010

Local Memes

Filed under: Memes, Mutated, New — perryrobbin @ 9:26 am

Memes are constantly changing. The content of an established meme will change drastically as it is interpolated and reproduced, old memes will die, or maybe take on a second life, and new memes will emerge. How they change, die or live again depends on individuals and communities, leaders and tribes.

One of the most exciting things about memes is that they are one of the most equal, organic creations of the Internet– there are no corporations or governments that can create memes any better than you and me. Large groups may have more resources to create them, but the enjoyment, replication and mutation, or rejection, of a meme is usually dependent on tapping into the zeitgeist of the audience, not marketing from a business.

Here is a meme that has successfully accessed the community it is targeted toward, but probably won’t get much further:

The Donald Brown Drinking Game (Facebook). Are there classier memes to discuss? Yes. Are memes usually classy? No.

This Facebook event has 1,136 confirmed guests right now, and 1,603 more were invited. Each day in my Facebook feed, I see another one or two or four friends have signed up. A look at the guest list reveals that it has mostly college students on it, many from UConn, and most of them are from schools in Connecticut. This meme, despite all the geography-erasing powers of the internet, will probably remain in Connecticut, so to speak.

Do Colts fans feel the same way about Donald Brown that UConn students, and to a lesser all extent people from CT, do? Probably not. Will Saints fans (except for the Tyler Lorenzen references in the game’s rules), or Buffalo Bills fans, or West Ham United fans or  Nippon-Ham Fighters fans care at all about this drinking game? Almost definitely not.

Donald Brown was a first-round draft pick for the Colts and, except for the beginning of the season, has had a quiet but promising rookie year. For everybody else, he’s a pretty good back-up running back if you know football, a non-entity if you don’t. For Nutmeggers (although Connecticuters is evidently acceptable as well), he is recognizable name. For UConn students, faculty staff and alums who follow the football team, he is probably the best player the program has had in its history.

Take a minute to look past the references to snorting pills, body hair removal and running around naked and compare the rules in the Facebook version to the original, found on the creator’s blog and see the differences (and notice that this is not a new game, at least for a few people). Now look at the comments on the Facebook wall and see the changes to the meme that newcomers have created, and see which new rules and changes made the “official” list– this is all very public evidence of a meme mutating.

I discussed this meme because it’s targeting the people who will care the most about it. For the most part, it’s not overreaching or pushing itself on people who don’t know who Donald Brown is, who don’t care about UConn or don’t watch football. It’s using Facebook, a very powerful tool, to contact college students, a group that loves using Facebook, to tell them about drinking and the best football player to come out of their school (or state) and how to combine them, two things that a majority of them are interested in.

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