Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Occupy meme fairy tale #OWS

Once upon a time, Wall Street got occupied.

Around the same time, in the basement of a distant enchanted forest, a group of heroic graduate students discussed best practices for making an idea go viral. They talked about internet memes and network theory, and later they all went to sleep with visions of double rainbows and rickrolls dancing in their heads.

But one of the students - a beautiful but mischievous princess - was unable to sleep that night. Instead, she disobeyed the warnings of her father the king and went to visit a giant network monster, known to all as the Facebook. This monster had attacked and eaten most of the other smaller networks in the land and was a fearsome sight to see as he sprawled outside his cave chewing on the bones of MySpace and spitting out the indie rock bands.

Our princess hero wasn't frightened to face the monster, because she knew that Facebook could be good or evil depending on how you treated him - and she had come prepared. She whipped him up a nice big breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and hashtags, and he sighed in contentment and coughed up a lolcat hairball. Then he gave her a gift in return. It was a newborn video. It cried out as it took its first feeble breaths:

The princess took a liking to the video, because it was smart and fresh and relevant and had a good beat.  So she cared for it and fed it and let her friends play with it. She waited for it to grow big and strong so it could play with the other videos and be shown on Jimmy Kimmel and have someone do an autotuned remix of it.

But in spite of the care taken to raise it properly, the video never grew as much as she had hoped. "Why not?" the princess wondered. "It was a really good video and deserved to go to meme school as much as that baby who dances to Single Ladies."

Clearly, however, the princess was wrong and out of touch, and really probably part of the 1% because, come on, she's a princess. Even if she was actually completely broke from paying tuition to the enchanted forest. So no one really lived happily ever after, unfortunately. Sometimes videos just die. Although of course they never really die. They just wait around until you decide to run for office or your new girlfriend is meeting your mom for the first time. Or maybe until you decide to post them on your class blog just before everyone's blog comments are due?


  1. Allison,

    I think that this meme's rejection from meme school reflects a problem in our network society that is inherently linked to attention deficit disorder augmented by the "paradox of plenty" mentioned in Nye's piece.

    While humorous and relevant...it lacks the sensory stimulation that has enabled the double rainbow guy, Sophie Grace Brownlee, Rebecca Black and others to go viral. The ability to capture an audience's attention and stand out among the myriad Youtube videos is directly related to a visual aesthetic too...I'm not certain why but I feel like audio memes haven't been quite as prevalent as visual ones and most audio memes like the "Bed Intruder Song" became popular due to a viral video being adapted and remixed in an audio meme.

    Unfortunately for your baby meme, he just doesn't have what it takes to be on top in the world of America's Next Top Meme (sorry...I tried to avoid ANTM referencing for a day but I couldn't).

  2. Jeff, I think you have a point about audio memes. I can't think of any that have really taken off sans video, even though often memes tend to be pretty stupid in the video department (think "peanut butter jelly time", for example, where the dancing banana was hardly captivating rapt attention on its own) - but the video is still there to further overload our senses. I'm not sure why my - I meant the beautiful princess' - baby meme decided not to grow into a more visually diverse video, because I really think it could have taken off. Jay-Z himself had already been capitalizing on the OWS phenomenon (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/jay-z-pulls-occupy-tees_n_1092648.html) so with the right (even amateur) search engine optimization, the video could have gotten some initial hits from people trying to find information on these shirts. I don't think it's too late, though; if the baby meme grew some video, perhaps including some OWS footage (time being partly to its advantage by this time because of the potential to reuse now-existing memes like the pepper-spraying cop), added more hit-worthy keywords to his video description, and probably worked a bit more to get the video seen outside of the Facebook realm (read: post in the comments on Childish Gambino's blog??), the princess' beloved meme could still flourish.

  3. Hahaha, love the whimsical tone of your post Allison! It takes me back to our discussion of what role the content of the meme itself plays in regards to how fast it spreads. I personally remember feeling like the content of the meme was the most important factor in how fast it spreads, but there was some compelling arguments that said otherwise. Ironically, the movement that the song references, Occupy Wall Street, is a real life network effects; too bad where not seeing those same networks effects occur with the video the princess shared.

  4. Thanks, Tunde! I'm with you about meme content being important, although of course things like pure bizarreness and luck in exposure and appealability to the lowest common attention span are all just about equally important. And as Jeff brought up, the princess' meme only appeals actively to one of our five senses. Of course, if there was a magic formula for these things, anyone who knew it would be on a fast track to riches and fame (and would likely not be going broke paying tuition to an enchanted forest...) but I could venture some suggestions - a video component is a start (and who wouldn't want to see a [yes, I'm biased] good-looking guy rapping about OWS?! This could become the next Obama Girl, haha), and some more aggressive guerrilla marketing could help it get seen by the right people. Conclusion: add more to your video and try again, Willie!