August 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
Jonah Paretti, “Notes on Contagious Media” (2008)
There’s this thing called the Bored at Work Network (BWN) wherein people spend their time fucking around online because working sucks. As a byproduct of alienated labor, BWN is an untapped market for activists, hackers or anybody hoping to reach a large audience. Media spread via BWN is therefore “contagious” (starts with patient zero, ends up infecting half the township), making the audience as important as the author. Content derived from BWN are memes in the flesh, due to preexisting human networks. To be successfully transmitted, content must come in easily digestible bits (tl;dr imperative), though format is inconsequential (tv is just as potentially contagious as movies or the internet or your mom). The important thing is that it’s easy to pass around & is the kind of gift that keeps on giving. VD for your soul. It’s hard to predict what will catch on, though, as most popular content becomes popular by accident, and/or who knows why.
Note on this selection: Paretti presented a thing at ROFLcon II which addressed these basic talking points (which by 2010 had achieved their own memetic status). He added a potential schema not exactly for forcing memes but for increasing the likelihood of contagion — namely by taking inspiration from Mormons, mullets and madmen. Mormons go door-to-door; the more people they throw at you, the more likely you’ll be to entertain (and/or murder) at least one of them. Same idea with memes, really it’s about times at bat & not waiting for the people to come to you. Mullets represent the enfreakment of the human body, so anything that people can laugh at (and implicitly feel superior to) will have a great deal of appeal. See “Bed Intruder,” which is six levels of fucked up and illustrates this point beautifully. Finally, people are mostly narcissistic and self-involved, especially online (tips hat to my dear friend at lemonparty.gov) and it pays to play up their own sense of self-worth. In other words, if you make it about them, people will come. (not necessarily my opinion, I just work here)
Jason Scott, “Before the LOL” (ROFLcon talk, 2008)
Everybody talks about the internet like it’s some new thing. And it is, but there’s also ample institutional, behavioral and technological precedent. Like the telegraph, that was social networky from the very beginning. Can you say prequel?? And who can forget the HAM radio, not me! People even found ways to transmit images from set to set. inb4 naked pics, of course there were! And speaking of that, the photocopier! Haha that shit was awesome, just ask Alan Dundes. Plus of course BBSs & Usenet & the rest of 1.0. The point is that when it comes to technology, people tend to do what people tend to do always, no matter the medium — play, screw around, take the piss, make connections, look at porn. Money quote: “It is normal. It is neat, it is wonderful, it is rich, it is delightful. It is sometimes stupid. It is sometimes fucking stupid. It is sometimes incalculably stupid. But all of it is perfectly fitting into our history as people.” Amen brother! (link to talk here)
“Mainstreaming the Web” (ROFLcon II panel 2010)
The keynote panel at ROFLcon II was titled “Mainstreaming the Web,” and featured moot from 4chan, Ben Huh from the much-maligned Cheezburger network, Kenyatta Cheese from Know Your Meme (which has since been acquired by Cheezburger), Jamie Wilkinson from Internetfamo.us and Greg Rutter from You Should Have Seen This. Throughout the discussion, which focused on the increasing visibility of internet culture, moot was characteristically—let’s say—mootish. “It’s an interesting group we have up here,” he noted. “Because essentially I run the site that produces memes, you all study it, Greg kinda collates it, and Ben, essentially you profit from it.” The audience tittered at this last statement, recognizing it as half true and half trolling. Later in the talk, moot revealed the source of his frustration with collectives like the Cheezburger Network:
The problem I have with your model is that you’re essentially an oil tower—it’s milking and milking and extracting, but it doesn’t really return much. And you can say we’re giving people tools to create LOLcats, and that’s great and all, but more or less you’re giving people those tools so you can post them on your site because you monetize them with display ads. Do you feel that you put something back? Because I don’t.
In short, it’s not that Huh makes money off on online content; it’s not that the content itself has been monetized. It’s that users don’t get anything back from the site they help build. Which of course begs some of the questions I considered yesterday, namely the degree to which the internet is, or should be, “closed” vs “open,” and the degree to which ownership shapes or should shape the structure of content-generated websites, and the degree to which ownership is or should be a thing at all. (link to talk here)
More extensive discussion of ROFLshit in my next post…