Thursday, September 24, 2009

Genes, Memes, and Rick Astley (part 3)

One of the purposes of slang is that it establishes an insider from an outsider, because the insiders know their slang, and outsiders don't. This is a valuable thing when exposure to outsiders can be devastating, like in drug dealing. If you want to buy drugs from someone you haven't met before, you will either need a formal introduction from someone else, or you will have to say bizarre slang words you've never heard anywhere else.

The most common source of slang in America is from urban black culture, with the words disseminating sometimes gradually, by pure word of mouth, and sometimes rapidly, by being incorporated into hip-hop music. (And I do not mean to imply here that all black people are drug dealers. However, I don't think any of you readers knew what "endo" or "chronic" were before Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre put them in songs.) Many consider a slang word to be "dead" once it reaches middle-class, middle-aged suburban America, because this class of people is the quintessence of "outsiders."

It is my contention that memes have become the internet's form of slang.  The coolest people are the ones who know the most recent jokes, the ones recent enough that not quite everyone has heard them. The "lame" people are the ones who still think ancient internet jokes are funny (e.g., the people who think it's funny to say, "All your base are belong to us," without any context). As of this writing, the most popular internet meme that still has cool points is the Xzibit "yo dawg" jokes (e.g., "Yo dawg, I heard you like cars, so we put a car in your car so you can drive while you drive").

This is how many internet memes go: you take a basic joke structure, and make several different jokes out of it by making minor changes. I mentioned the Xzibit meme already; one other is the story from Command and Conquer 2, of the guy who said, "I am in your base killing your d00ds." Permutations of this formed the cornerstone of the lolcat meme:
  • I am in your base killing your mans
  • I am in your fridge eating your f00dz
  • I am in your pr0n collection, fappin to n00dz
  • I am in your sweatshop making ur sh00z
  • I am in your wine cellar drinkin' ur b00ze
  • I am in your bra squeezin' ur b00bz
  • I am within your base of operations, enacting fatal attacks upon your conscripts
  • I am in your base, stealing your intelligencez
  • im in ur dictionaries, verbin ur nounz
Generally, the more creative the permutation, the funnier it is. So, the original form of the Rickroll might have involved a duck (depending on who you ask), but as the joke became more popular, there became a design space to expand on the joke. Permutations have included:
  • Setting "Never Gonna Give You Up" as your ringtone, or a ringback
  • Randomly inserting the lyrics to the song in a handwritten note. For my girlfriend's birthday, I translated the song into Latin, and wrote it in calligraphy on the inside of a card.
  • Putting a video on YouTube that starts out looking like one thing, but then turns into "Never Gonna Give You Up." The first video I saw like this was titled "Muppet Show Bloopers," and had Beaker going up to a microphone, with the Muppet Show band in the background. He squeaked a few things, and then the editor dubbed in "Never Gonna Give You Up," end then edited the video to make it seem like Beaker was singing the song.
  • Limerick form:
There once was a man named Bertold
Who drank beer when the weather grew cold
As he reached for his cup...
Oh, snap! You just got limerickrolled!
Even Nancy Pelosi got in on the joke when she started a YouTube account. The first video she posted started with cats playing in her office, and then turned into "Never Gonna Give You Up."

By the way, you know how slang is "dead" when it reaches white, middle class America? The fact that Nancy Pelosi knows the joke means it's time to give up on Rickrolling being funny anymore.

The next installment in this series will be the EXCITING CONCLUSION! Stay tuned!

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