PR's Blog

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.

January 21, 2010

What is a meme?

Filed under: Memes — Tags: , , — perryrobbin @ 1:13 am

Memes are ubiquitous and uniquely hard to describe. Richard Dawkins, the biological theorist who wrote the influential The Selfish Gene on genetics, evolution and other topics far outside my scope of understanding, originally defined the term. He called it the cultural version of a gene, an explanation of how information spreads throughout a society.

This concise definition, from a Web site that hosts and maintains visibly objectionable content as well as a large catalogue of underground Internet memes, is simply, “a packet of cultural information.”  A key part of a meme is that it replicates, similar in a way to how genes replicate through the reproduction of living organisms. Living organisms, mostly humans, also reproduce memes.

A key difference: genes are reproduced sexually; memes are reproduced through thought and expression. A key similarity: memes, like genes, can change, mutate, as they are replicated, creating variations on a theme and sometimes entirely new memes. Additionally, memes, like genes, require more than one organism to spread.

Pants on the Ground” is an example of a recent, widespread and almost mainstream meme. A meme both you and your parents a are probably aware of. It seems like Hot 93.7 plays a remix of it every day.

All Your Base are Belong to Us” is an old and much more underground meme, not referenced often anymore. But, If I said “somebody set up us the bomb” to some of my friends, there would be a look of understanding on their faces. I would probably get a response along the lines of “main screen turn on” or “for great justice, move every zig.”

Social media spreads, replicates and changes memes faster than at any point in history.

If it was 1995 and you didn’t see “Pants on the Ground” on “American Idol” on Fox, on Tuesday, at 8:00 p.m. (and if “American Idol” was on 15 years ago) you likely wouldn’t see it, unless it got popular enough to bear repeating on late-night shows or maybe the nightly news.

Now? Twitter has thousands upon thousands of tweets about it, 22 more in the minute it took me to type this sentence and go back to copy the link. You have to try to not see the video, not try to see it.

Social media is a powerful tool when it comes to inclusion, to sharing information.

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