I’d like to explore how memes happen and spread. In my last post, I lamented how over the top modern movies and television are. I recently read a few excerpts from “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit”. Stopping short of actually telling me to add sex scenes, it more or less told me to do what HBO’s Game of Thrones did: make everything over-the-top, easily understandable, and the characters either outright likeable or a pleasure to hate. This advice has problems outside of its original US context, and the book acknowledges it. It’s not directly applicable to TV series. Nor is it always applicable outside of the US, as other cultures may have different expectations of what good protagonists are and how plot should flow. And it’s hard to fit everything it advises in under five minutes. Take this video for example:
The protagonists qualities aren’t stated clearly. She has a goal, but gets get sidetracked from it to have some cool experiences, and that’s the point of the film. It just creates a fun spectacle for the audience. It’s also not a major success on youtube, because it isn’t attention-grabbing enough. So how do you make it grab enough attention?
Make it a meme, specifically a viral video. To get mass appeal, the best way seems to be through ridiculous dancing and a simple melody. Numa Numa and Gangam Style are two examples I’ve discussed before. Here’s an example from a few years ago:
It’s ridiculous. The music is ridiculous. And there are tons of derivative versions and duplicate uploads. But here’s the thing: The spectacle or novelty at the core of a meme doesn’t have to come from dancing. In fact, it doesn’t matter why the source material of a meme is interesting as long as the effort required between remembering the meme and sharing it is low.
In my opinion, viral videos are good at spreading because most people can transmit the meme in person with low effort: they make a recognizeable attempt at copying the dance, and then show amy confused and uninitiated friends the video to get them in on the fun. To express it as a youtube video, they only need to play a song and dance on either a webcam or for a friend with a cellphone. If someone wants to make image macros, there are sites like QuickMeme. Rage comics were already quick to make, but then sites like rage maker sprung up.
And each of these do one key thing: They make the act of memetic replication and mutation require little specialized knowledge or effort. Without this, you have no meme.