Aww, Bless. Soon, I Might Have My Very Own Meme

Psychologists don't like framed questions. As a man with a degree in Psychology myself, I'm not very keen on framed questions either. They elicit a response based purely on the context of the question itself, as opposed to a genuine opinion. The absolute opposite of framed questions is free association. It's altogether more random and can sometimes elicit deeper answers about the human id. These two strands of thought lead ultimately to something I've been fascinated by for a long time; the internet meme. And they led to two rather interesting 'watershed' moments last week. Firstly, there was the Iran Election, the first internet meme that finally gave Twitter the proper attention it deserved as a medium for serious internet communication. And, secondly, psychologists themselves raised the problem of the 'framed question' issue and suggested that newspaper polls with a political agenda would only get a self-fulfilling prophecy answer; what followed next was a spontaneous internet meme, as The Snaily Fail had its poll on gypsies roundly vandalised by a meme. I would hazard a guess that the 'internet meme' has now finally come of age; now no longer childlike and obssessed with LOL Kittens, but flexing it's muscles. The internet meme is the ultimate example of a bunch of human ids freely associating and gleefully ripping apart biased polls and elections. So far, and certainly before last week, it shows something that I love about humankind - namely, silliness rules and ridiculous authority figures suck. Since the Iran Election internet meme, the balance has tipped more toward the latter. But after my last serious few blog entries, I'm keeping this internet meme wibble light and frothy. Not a completely intellectual dissection of human nature, I'll grant you that. If you want that, go and read Desmond Morris's blog.

Before the Iran Election and Daily Mail poll of last week, the internet was always throwing up these internet memes. The recent being my favourite 2009 moment so far, namely Keyboard Cat. In a lot of ways, Keyboard Cat demonstrates a very typical internet meme. Firstly, it's surreal and involves animals. Secondly, it's a demonstration of the power of sabotage. Thirdly, it's fucking funny. Oh, and lastly, it only becomes a matter of time that somebody somewhere claims the internet meme has run it's course, usually in a snobby and derisory fashion - and then that spreads and kills the original meme off. Yes, that keyboard cat is getting awfully passé, ain't he? He's just the same joke over and over again. I was there right at the beginning you know. Before all the proles leapt on the Keyboard Cat bandwagon and brought celebrity into it etc etc. The dissolution also normally comes about when internet trolls take the idea too far; currently, there are now Youtube videos of Keyboard Cat playing off the 9/11 bombers (no, I'm not linking to it!), so I'm predicting the end of it pretty soon (although not before someone tries a few variations, such as Mexican Cat and the frankly awesome Hall & Oates megamix).

Except, as raucously funny as I find Keyboard Cat, we've seen it all before in another classic internet meme. In 1999 (yes, that's ten frickin' years ago), some poor Turkish bloke called Mahir did a rather sweet home website. Since this was the naive early days of the internet, Mahir published his web pages on a rather insecure server, promptly inducing the self-indignant rage of some pre-pubescent security-conscious spotty oiks to then go and vandalise it. Okay, I admit to sniggering away at Mahir's website, when I myself was a spotty wet-behind-the-ears software oik. But I'm also totally sure that Mahir had the last laugh. Like, for example, when he became the first worldwide internet celebrity, made a bundle of cash and was invited onto chatshows. This was due to links to another internet meme, the Hamster Dance (told you, this one also involved animals), as well as the astounding variation and repetition of the Mahir theme throughout the internet; indeed, the repetition just made it funnier. So, someone made a techno dance track around Mahir's "I kiss you!!!" catchphrase. There were Warhol-esque paintings of Mahir on the beach with his red swimming trunks. There were numerous silly animations and little movies, animating the photo of Ping-Pong-playing Mahir. More to the point, this was before social networking sites had hit maturity. There was no Youtube. No Facebook. Christ, Friendsreunited hadn't even happened yet. Most of the Mahir internet meme took place over forwarding emails and, yes, word-of-mouth in pubs. There's something gloriously life-affirming that we discovered the capacity of spreading world wide web silliness in the first flushes of internet teenagehood (leaving aside the childrens' years of basic newsgroups and mailing groups).

A few other internet memes followed. A lot of them seemed to involve cats or kittens, moreso than any other animals. Another personal favourite of mine, as an example, was the Catscan website. The name is misleading - people visited it initially, thinking it was a medical diagnosis site where CAT scan slides would be displayed. What they actually found was a website where people sent in scans of their moggies, normally spreadeagled on top of the glass. Again, this internet meme displays all the prototypical features; an example of sabotaging (expectations of medical experts), animals, surrealism and eventual dissolution (mainly due to the concern that poor kitties were being mistreated by being flattened on flat-panel scanners). However, probably the most famous internet meme is Rickrolling. It became so widespread a practice and became so ubiqitous that it eventually transferred over into the real world, with absolute no dependence on Youtube at all. I'm thinking of starting my own new internet meme, particularly as Twitter now makes something like that slightly easier by use of the hashtag. It will be Kingrolling. Links would actually end up leading to a Youtube video of Jonathan King's "Everyone's Gone To The Moon". As well as it having that "clever clever" sheen of irony that Rickrolling had, it would mean that a video of the UK's most famous convicted paedophile would get a huge number of hits, hence confirming The Snaily Fail assertion that the internet is solely a vehicle for child porn. Well, maybe that's a bit tasteless. Plus, it means if this ever becomes an overnight viral sensation, then my name will frequently be reported as linked to a convicted nonce.

Thus, I've decided that my internet meme will be harmless. I've also decided that it won't involve animals, but rather that other staple; namely celebrities. The hashtag or trending topic on Twitter will be called #greatcelebs. It's based slightly on a bit of high jinx that a few of my friends used to indulge in on a Friday afternoon at an old office. Arguably, it got kicked off in fine tradition by Bignose Barry, when he emailed us all a picture of Leslie Crowther. Incidentally, there was no explanation as to why he sent us this picture. No subject heading, no caption, no agenda, no pre-warning. Just sheer unexpected 1970s gameshow host Friday afternoon goodness. It then went a bit wild after that; Dickie Davies, Duncan Norvelle, Jimmy Krankie and Duncan Goodhue. There are no rules to #greatcelebs, as such. But to encourage the meme, I'm going to be marking them like an exam essays - so, here's a few guidelines.

i) The adjective 'great' perhaps needs explained here. By 'great', I'm talking about great in a specific, and almost capsule, period of time. So, people like Al Pacino, David Niven, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Cash, Michael Stipe and Brad Pitt do not fit into this category. They're all 'timeless' celebrities. And, in a few cases, 'dead' celebrities. By all means, you can set your own meme up for that - I'm sticking with my 'great celebrities' (or #greatcelebs).
ii) Extra points will be scored if the 'great celebrity' pictured is obscure. But not so obscure that they're unrecognisable. The reaction you're looking for when your 'great celebrity' picture is sent around, is a gasp of recognition from the viewer, followed by a "I wonder what the fuck happened to HIM/HER?! What are they up to these days?".
iii) By no means are the celebrities confined to the 1970s and 1980s, despite me showing an obvious bias - that's just my age. Indeed, if you get any from the 90s or noughties, or the 40s, 50s and 60s, so much the better. As an example, Rick Witter from Shed Seven would garner you a load of points. Not only did he hail from a lower premier division indie band in the early 90s, his name was rhyming slang and he had a stupid haircut. Similarly, a dreadful Elvis copyist from the 1950s (not Tom Jones, he's 'timeless') or a George Formby rip-off from the 1940s would be a formidable coup.
iv) Evidently, this being a 'Google Detective' job, it's fairly easy to get photos on the internet these days. Therefore, you score a pile of points if it was YOU that took the photo. On top of that, your score is tripled if you have your photo taken with the named 'great celebrity'. And you score a shedload of points if both you and your fellow 'great celebrity' are in the 'thumbs-up pose'. Incidentally, there is a fundamental exception to all this. No pictures of David Hasselhoff will be accepted. Piccies of the Hoff will net you no points. UNLESS, you have a photo of him and yourself, both sticking your thumbs up in the air and grinning inanely at the camera. That's an automatic gain of 100 points.

A typical photograph of my good self (and taken by Broccoli) illustrates the above points. See where I've gone right and where I've gone wrong? Well, Barney Rubble fulfills the criteria of a 'great celebrity', being as he was very famous for a brief period of time during the 1960s and is now becoming a bit obscure over the years - unlike Fred Flintstone, the main lead, who is of the 'timeless' variety. See also how I'm grinning inanely. Also, some extra marks for the fact that I'm pointing at him. However, where I lose out for the perfect 'great celebrity' photo is firstly, the fact that I'm not doing the proper thumbs-up pose and, secondly, by the fact that Barney Rubble DOESN'T EXIST! I'm sure you lot can do better. I'll start the ball rolling by chucking a few generic 'great celebrity' photos out onto the Twitsphere. Please note, however, that the point of this ISN'T to get yourself in the photo. The point is to Tweet some fabulous 'great celebrity' photos. So, get cracking trying to find that elusive photo of that bloke in the hat from "Curiosity Killed The Cat". Or a picture of the "Barrat Man" from those adverts for crap housing in the 1980s. You know you want to. Just remember, the old hashtag #greatcelebs.

I was going to initially write this blog entry on why specific internet memes spread and others don't, illustrating with psychological theories. This was going to cover how Keyboard Cat is actually a Jungian archetype within the collective human consciousness, while Rickrolling appeals to the original Freudian id and regressive childhood. But then, I prefer coming across as a gloriously silly sod, rather than a pretentious New Age cunt, so I thought better of it. Here's a fabulous scrollable internet meme chart.

Next week: No politics, no celebrities, no internet chat, no geeky talk and absolutely NO Michael Jackson. It'll be about Ice Cream Vans. Yes, Ice Cream Vans! You gotta problem with that?