Meme police

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  May 5, 2010

This group revels in being out ahead of antiquated Web pedestrians. Urban Dictionary founder Aaron Peckham clowns on Merriam-Webster, which only recently added “spam” — more than six years after his readers defined the word. (Laugh all you want, but UD clocks more than one million views daily, and is catalogued by the Library of Congress.) Similarly, David Lloyd, who is essentially the Russell Simmons of video-game music, announces that his popular OC ReMix site will soon partner with a brick-and-mortar record label to release a proper album.

During a presentation titled “The Secret Masters of Digg,” plumbing the workings of the powerful news aggregator, panelists joke that they exhausted Kanye’s bump with Taylor Swift weeks before the greater population lost interest. But even they get out-snobbed — among this set, even that social network is considered old news. Halfway through the Digg discussion, one heckler writes on the public chat board (from which panelists were fielding questions), in reference to a younger, competing site: “I saw this panel on Reddit yesterday.”

Petty rifts within this notoriously fickle community aside, the fact remains that news, information, videos, and especially jokes will continue being vetted and popularized at the discretion of these and other like-minded arbiters. After all, the Associated Press did recently follow advice from Fake AP Stylebook writers, who are also present, in changing “Web site” to “website.” According to Digg star Andrew Sorcini (a/k/a MrBabyMan): “If memes are viral, we’re the sneeze.” Which begs one major question: who’s going to cash in from selling tissues?

Sick of Rick
The world changed on November 27, 2008, when Rick Astley himself Rickrolled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade–goers. With that unexpected lip-synch performance, the veteran pop-music punchline effectively bridged the gap between subterranean and popular culture. The bait-and-switch ruse — which was born more than a year earlier on — emerged as the major attraction in one of America’s most elaborate commercial traditions.

“The whole thing was already dead, since the mainstream sites were writing about Rickrolling without really understanding what it was,” says Derek Ljongquist. A self-described culture junkie, Ljongquist was kind enough to explain why the ROFLcon attendee playing “Never Gonna Give You Up” on his portable radio had been ambushed by a rogue group of Nerf gun–wielding geeks. “That parade stunt was the final nail in the coffin. Not only was Rickrolling not funny anymore, but it was never really mentioned after that.”

Though some hardcore purists resent those who profit from authentic Net lore, there’s surprisingly little animosity aimed toward the likes of Ben Huh, whose I Can Has Cheezburger portal serves as a paragon of meme merchandising. According to Huh, while there will always be an “I liked this band before you did, so you suck” attitude in fringe culture — online or anyplace else — in the post-Rickroll era, as the present is known, commercialization is inevitable. (It should be noted, however, that Huh declared Facebook to be the new AOL, due to everybody’s mother using the network as “training wheels for the Internet.”)

At the after-party — before the Keyboard Cat posse’s stickering adventures — a dude named Matt (who is dressed like Elwood Blues and wielding a briefcase amplifier) and his buddy Cash put my dream-like experience in perspective, and explain my role as a shameless mainstream media imposter. Echoing the sentiments expressed by 4chan god and founder Moot in the closing panel, they concede that, without lames like me and conventional culture to riff on, much of this carnal tomfoolery would cease to exist.

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