Mass Participation and the Propagation of Memes

As recently as twenty years ago, pop culture ideas used to last a few years: parachute pants, pet potbellied pigs, the Super Bowl Shuffle…  Over time, as communication platforms began to supersede regionality and even nationality, those lifespans began to shrink: think William Hung, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Dancing Babies…

Today, pop culture ideas have the lifespan of mayflies.  As fast as something interesting appears, it gets shared, modified, name-checked by celebrities, then tossed aside like an empty soda can.  These accelerated life cycles spring directly from the internet and how it simplifies the act of forwarding.  Just this morning, a friend of mine in Italy posted this remarkable two minute video to his Facebook page and I’ve already retweeted it from Element 79’s Twitter account.  Simply because it’s awesome.  Best as I can tell, it’s a two minute viral piece for Levi’s but that doesn’t matter–again, because it’s awesome.

Clay Shirky cites this incredible ease of sharing as the driving force behind our ability to organize without organizations.  People in one region can share local news with the whole world simply by pressing a computer key.  And so we now enjoy an endless series of unrelated comic memes like Double Rainbows and Trololo Man and Kia HamstersDennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

All of this is an incredibly long set up for a silly but highly-enjoyable website I tripped over this past weekend called “Motivated Photos.”  The entire site is dedicated to viewer submitted riffs on the classic “Successories” style of motivational poster: those pedantic images framed in black with atop two-sized serif font headlines set in white capital letters.  Except this site is less focused on inspirational platitudes and more inclined to smartassery like this, or this, or this.

Sure, the site features way too much political stuff and many of the posts are exceedingly puerile, but that’s what you get with user-generated content: 70% dreck, 20% good, 10%great.  You have to skim for the cream, but it’s definitely there.  And definitely funny.

Happy Tuesday.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


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