“Why we’re never gonna give up on the Rickroll”: Milner + Phillips Article on The Conversation

July 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Do a barrel roll

Today my collaborator (we’re working on the title) Ryan Milner and I published an article for The Conversation on the history & significance of the Rickroll phenomenon, specifically the recent 5-second YouTube takedown that never was. Quoth:

Rick Astley, 80s pop singer and unlikely king of internet memes, is dead. Or at least the most persistent song in his catalogue is. Or at least its most popular unofficial YouTube upload is. Or at least it was, for a few hours, most recently in July 2014 but before that in 2012 and again in 2010. And in the exaggerated rumours of its death are lessons on intellectual property, internet culture, and what resonates in the ephemeral swirl of the socially-mediated web.

And while I’m feeling nostalgic, here are three precious Rickroll memories from my meme-vault. The drafting of our respective memories helped Ryan and I shape the subsequent “what does Rickrolling mean to you” analysis, at least in part. It’s PERSONAL you guys.

1. It’s early summer of 2008 and I have just moved to Eugene, Oregon. My PhD program won’t start for another four months, and although I’m doing some part time ESL tutoring, I’m new to the area, haven’t really met anyone in my program, and therefore have plenty of time to kill. Because I am interested in political humor –the projected focus of my dissertation– and because the liberal blogosphere is crackling with pro-Obama (or perhaps just as significantly, anti-McCain/Palin) energy, I’m spending hours per day reading and pouring over the comments sections on Daily Kos and Wonkette, Wonkette being my favorite because it is meaner. One day, June 18th to be exact, I come across this post on Daily Kos, which chronicles the story of some “idiot troll” who, in a fit of insolence, declared that he was “aware of all internet traditions.” Buried in the comments of the above post (or maybe it was a Wonkette post? or possibly the original Balloon Juice post? there were a lot of posts to sift through), someone linked to a screengrab of a YouTube player featuring Rick Astley’s smiling, ginger face. “I am aware of all internet traditions,” the poster had written across the screen. “And I am never gonna give them up.”

2. Flash forward a year. I am now working on a dissertation about trolls, due in part to the fact that trolls’ engagement with the 2008 election proved more interesting to me than “earnest” punditry, whatever that means. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my parents in Spokane, and am screwing around on the office computer while my mom watches the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the living room. Suddenly I hear a familiar melody. I jump up and scamper over to the tv screen. And there Rick Astley stands, Rickrolling the shit out of America. I remember thinking how weird it was, to see an internet reference on television.

3. I was too new to the meme scene to attend internet culture and nerd conference ROFLcon I in 2008, but in 2010 made the trip out to Cambridge for ROFLcon II. One of the most annoying things about the weekend was that damn duckroll guy, who wore a facsimile of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna GIve You Up” wardrobe (complete with dyed red hair), walked around with a boombox playing, you guessed it, “Never Gonna Give You Up” on repeat, and took every chance to show off the “duckroll” sign taped to the back of his coat (“duckroll,” from which “Rickroll” was derived, was the original bait-and-switch on 4chan; it consisted of promising to show a fellow anon something disgusting and then linking him to a picture of a duck rolling on monster truck wheels). It was sort of funny the first time duckroll guy walked by with his boombox turned up to eleven, but by the end of the weekend –one filled with Goatse condoms, Chatroulette Bingo, and Three Wolf Moon weirdness — everyone wanted to kill him with their hands.

Unfortunately the really gross stuff –about Goatse, Tubgirl, and Meatspin (infamous trolling bait-and-switches; go ahead and google them) had to be cut from the Conversation piece. Better luck next time!

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