by Catherine Simon
America’s Funniest Home Videos. The success kid. The dress controversy. “Damn Daniel.” Bad luck Brian. Whether these internet trends are comical, influential, controversial or just plain stupid, they all tap into a different spirit of modern entertainment. But why do we spend all this time looking at these viral sensations? Why do we click “share”? What is behind our fascination with this form of digital content?
Scrolling through a newsfeed often will lead you to memes: photos accompanied by a witty short phrase. They are a quick form of entertainment, and take little to no time to read. In a way, they are addictive; once you are sucked in it is easy to spend multiple hours finding the best or funniest meme. For example, a recent popular meme compared Donald Trump’s hair to an ear of corn. This absurdity shows that a meme´s popularity is not just a coincidence, but a true cultural phenomenon.
Part of this fascination stems from social media’s ability to generate conversation. ¨The dress” photo became extremely popular last year because it was a puzzle. It was an activity to show the dress to everyone, and it almost became necessary to know what color dress someone saw. The dress was not just popular among teenagers, but was also discussed by adults. The dress itself wasn’t anything particularly special. However, because it could be conversed about, it really put the social back in social media. This is key in a world in which people are separated culturally through the movies that they watch, or Twitter accounts that they follow. Viral content brings us together.
But viral content can also be divisive. Not surprisingly, we often find humor in watching people hurt themselves. They ride their bikes into walls, or fall down while skiing. Memes often make fun of the people in the photos. Finding these images and videos funny brings out the darkness inside humans. It also shows how sitting behind a computer screen can dehumanize subjects of digital content. People do not often think of the people in memes or videos when they share them with friends; they just think about getting a quick laugh.
The popularity of internet sensations sometimes defies explanation. A current series of internet videos shows a California teenager walking around wearing white sneakers while his friend videotapes him and says, “Damn, Daniel, back at it again with the white Vans.” The video is random and reveals how illogical the things we find funny are. Although the video is not high quality, Daniel is now world-famous and has a lifetime supply of Vans from Ellen DeGeneres, and Clorox is using the “Damn, Daniel” catchphrase as a slogan. Social media can be endlessly entertaining, but also incredibly random. What will be popular next? No one knows until it appears on their feed.