The world is now fully meme-ified, meaning that trends on web culture often drive pop culture as a whole. Remember when MTV was developing its visual style with quick camera cuts and a fast pace and so forth? After a while, sports broadcasts started picking up on that style, and then other shows, and now it's everywhere. You're seeing the same progression with web culture. You saw sports and pro wrestling really integrate Twitter into their shows and now you see hashtags in the corner of the screen during TV shows of all kinds.
Heck, if you need any further proof that the world is meme-ified, listen to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard address the end of the world.
So without further ado, here are my top 10 web trends and viral moments of 2012:
10. The American consumer!
In January I predicted two things about the web in 2012: one, that consumers would become more conscious of their power to collectively shape how companies do business, and two, that as smartphones and tablets became more ubiquitous that consumers would start to ask more questions about where those devices were being made. We saw that last point as Apple had to call for changes at the Foxconn factories in China.
The former point we saw over and over and over – consumers amplifying each others' voices and making change happen. Most recently Hasbro announced it was going to make the EZ Bake Oven gender neutral, that it wouldn't be marketed exclusively to little girls anymore. It's so easy to share an idea now on the web that companies have to be more responsive than they might have been in the past. And so, by the way, does Pitbull.
9. Gangnam Style
Just when you thought “Call Me Maybe” would be the musical meme of the year, along comes the man from South Korea, Psy, who got everybody dancing. Even MC Hammer got into the Gangnam Style! K-Pop was big on the web well before Gangnam Style, and that's often how this works now – the web builds a following around a style of music, or a comedian, or a writer, and a few years later that's the new big thing everyone is talking about.
8. McKayla is not impressed!
The Olympics as a whole were notable as a great example of the “second screen” effect, in which TV viewers were tweeting and Facebooking as they watched. But what we remember most about the Olympics now is US gymnast McKayla Moroney, who, with one slightly irked facial expression, became the cultural arbiter of her generation. Or not. But hey, she got the president of the United States to do her meme, and how many people can say that
7. Election 2012
A very meme-ified election, and this was another prediction I got right back in January... I said voters and campaigns would consciously use memes to try to influence the campaign – BUT that “it's the ones you don't intend to create that go viral.” And boy did we see that. In fact, Obama might be the first "meme president." Memes are fleeting, but the advances in technology we saw in 2012, especially from the Obama reelection campaign, are probably more lasting. Nothing flashy about it, but you saw a get out of the vote operation that literally left the opposition speechless. Romney's aides worked hard to scrub his Twitter account. There were those "binders full of women." And Nate Silver, predictor of just about everything that actually happened, became his own memes. And, of course, there was this:
Kickstarter and similar donation sites went seriously mainstream in 2012. We saw musicians, filmmakers, and especially video game designers raise millions upon millions of dollars. However, a lot of these successful projects were going to be successful no matter what, because they were done by people who were already well known. Kickstarter is not a marketplace of ideas – the best ideas don't necessarily win out. But it's a very handy place for artists and makers who have a fan base and have a next project in mind.
5. The Oatmeal
Artist Matthew Inman didn't just draw comics this year, he got into some of the year's biggest internet dustups. First, he complained that a site called FunnyJunk had been reproducing his comics without permission, and the site's lawyer sued him over it. He turned that into a fundraiser for charity and raised his goal in almost no time at all. Having become aware of his power, he used it to raise money for a museum to scientist Nikolai Tesla. Matthew Inman has a big fanbase and one that's willing to follow his lead. That's a big deal.
4. KONY 2012
Critics of this charity campaign derisively asked the question “Has the Internet caught Joseph Kony yet?” And it looks like the answer at the end of this year will be no. This video got something like 70 million views in its first week – that's enormous, especially given that it's a half hour long. And I think it's in large part because it presented a very web culture-friendly solution to the problem of child soldiers in Uganda: awareness will solve the problem. Share the video on Facebook, put up some posters, buy a set of wristbands... but critics noted that, well, if everyone is busy being aware of the issue, who's solving it? And, critics added, shouldn't the voice of ending child soldiers in Uganda be, well, Ugandan, and not a blonde dude from California? Not to mention that whole breakdown-caught-on-tape thing:
3. Shaming sites
The idea here is that people post offensive statements on the web, where they're available for everyone to see, and that when you see a racist or sexist statement you can call attention to the person who said it, confront them and stand up to it. We also saw this in the story of the bus driver who was getting bullied by the kids on her bus, and in a story where Gawker revealed the identity of violentacres, a guy who was running some very sketchy-sounding bulletin boards on Reddit. We also saw it this week with some truly shocking reactions to President Obama's speech in Newtown (warning, don't click on that link if you are easily offended by racist epithets). Does this work? Hard to say. In the violentacres case, the boards the guy ran were shut down, and if I remember right, he lost his day job, so there's certainly some cause and effect. But a lot of these shaming sites find tweets and posts by teens – and that's not to excuse racism by teens, but it's a question of whether thousands of internet users all slamming a single teenager is a) the best way to handle the situation, or b) if it has less to do with the actual person making the racist comment and more to do with users feeling very righteous about themselves. On a funnier side note: Dogshaming was one of the funniest trends of the year. People posting pictures of their dogs with signs saying “I eat my own poop” and so forth.
2. Internet cats! Yay!
There is an internet cat film festival, and the winner shouldn't surprise any of our listeners.
Henri the Existential Cat:
Also, the big cat meme of late 2012: Grumpy Cat, who may actually just look grumpy, but boy is he funny. The most famous meme is a picture of Grumpy Cat that says “I had fun once... it was horrible.”
And now, for number one, following in the illustrious footsteps of Keyboard Cat, Double Rainbow Guy and Rebecca Black... the web trend of the year?
1. Drunk arrested guy sings Bohemian Rhapsody
This man, Robert Wilkinson, was arrested for driving under the influence, and while riding to jail in the squad car decided to sing Queen's most well-loved song. We have an update: Wilkinson was convicted in November of impaired driving. He was fined $1400 and his driving privileges suspended for one year. While we cannot, of course, condone driving under the influence, we cannot deny that the video in which his singing was set to the original Queen recording captures the zeitgeist of our times, a crazy and chaotic and sometimes funny video in a crazy and chaotic and sometimes funny year.
NHPR's All Things Considered host and our very own Awesomator Brady Carlson joins us to talk about 2012 in memes, viral trends, and internet culture. You can listen to the interview right here:
Producer's note: Hey, Brady, where's Texts from Hillary??? /RL