Memes: Funny or Not?

Browse through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other social media site, and you will see the latest video or must-hear song.

The YouTube sensation Antoine Dodson and his hysterical “Bed Intruder” interview is a prime example of a “meme.”

You might surf the Web a bit more and find a remix or an amusing Photoshopped image. If you are really dedicated, you might share your own spin on the video, song or image.

For the less Internet-savvy readers, a meme (pronounced “meem” rather than “me-me”) is essentially a file that quickly spreads throughout the Internet. It may be a video, like “Bed Intruder,” an image, like the famous “Courage Wolf” pictures or a song, like Cee-lo Green’s hit, “F**k You.” These memes generally have a few days, weeks or rarely, months of popularity before the Internet moves on to the next new big thing.

While a meme does occasionally come out of something commercial and intentional, most are not posted to the Web with the intention of sharing them with millions of people.

In Antoine Dodson’s case, the interview that has now been remixed into a best-selling song came from a news report about the attempted rape of his sister. And while Dodson has clearly profited from his video, now selling shirts and singles on iTunes, other people have not been so lucky as to gain positive results from their accidental Internet stardom.

A prime example of this is the famous and ancient video of the “Star Wars Kid.” If you have not seen the video, it shows an overweight, uncoordinated kid violently re-enacting a lightsaber battle with a metal pole.

This video was quickly spread over file-sharing services, receiving millions of views (and this was before the days of YouTube). As admittedly funny as the video is, it certainly wasn’t for the kid that made it: 15-year-old Canadian Ghyslain Raza.

Raza filmed the video in the basement of his school using a tripod, on a video camera used to record a basketball game. Some of Raza’s classmates found the footage and quickly posted it online.

The unwanted publicity caused Raza to drop out of school, become clinically depressed and enter a mental institution for a short period of time. His parents, in fact, sued the kids that posted the video for around $250,000 dollars, although the dispute was later settled out of court.

Another example of the negative impact of memes can be found in a popular image of an old, African-American man named William Todd. In the picture, which was taken while Todd was homeless and addicted to crack cocaine, Todd has a graying beard, a raggedy jacket with the hood up and an intense, somewhat irritated look in his eyes.

Originally published in a coffee table book about America’s homeless, the image was scanned and given the superimposed subtitle, “You Gonna Get Raped.” Years later, luckily, Todd beat his addiction, reunited with his family, and got a job at a newspaper in Mississippi.
Unfortunately, this was also when the photo surfaced on the Web. His bosses found the image, and although Todd himself was in no way a rapist, the image was shocking enough that he was let go from his job.

What these incidents show us is that what makes the Internet such an amusing, informative and free place also makes it somewhat dangerous. With sites like YouTube, Warhol’s famous quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” is incredibly true.

What we, as users of the Internet, need to think about is that not everyone will enjoy these 15 minutes. For every Epic Beard Man (who, after further investigation, turned out to be not very epic at all), there is a Jesse Slaughter. For every Double Rainbow Guy, there are unfortunate, troubled kids like Latarian Milton (who said famously, “It’s fun to do bad things.”)

What this comes down to is simple common sense. In this day and age, with a video camera in every cell phone and with most people having access to high-speed Internet, nothing is truly private.

To a degree, you must assume that everything you say, write, play or sing may be posted on the Internet, and could be seen by millions of strangers. And while this can lead to some incredibly funny moments, remember, you are laughing at someone else’s expense.