The Low Specific Heat of Internet Celebrity

Sand has a rather low specific heat.  That’s why a burning desert becomes so frigid when the sun goes down: sand’s temperature changes easily with the application or removal of energy.  Water on the other hand, has a high specific heat; it requires a great deal of energy to heat up or cool down, thus helping regulate both our ecosphere’s and our own body’s temperature.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingThis metaphor becomes relevant when you consider the internet celebrities 2010 gave us: Eduard Khil, Antoine Dodson, and Jimmy McMillan.  Each exploded from obscurity into a well-known and widely traveled web meme, based on little more than momentarily capturing the attention of a society ever hungry for distraction and entertainment.

Neither ‘the rent is too damn high’ nor ‘trololo’ nor ‘we go’n find you’ stayed in the collective cultural consciousness longer than three or four months, but each hit like a supernova, lighting up the Immedia to fuel standup routines and t-shirt sales.

That’s the way internet celebrity works; it burns hot and intense and then, like the Canfield’s Diet Fudge soda craze, quickly fades into well-deserved obscurity.  Non digital celebrities like The Rolling Stones or Stephen King couldn’t build a career this way–even worthwhile internet sensations like Captain Sully Sullenberger get only one halcyon moment instead of a long, sustained career.  Whether that’s a result of our restless attention spans or the way we parse out recognition, today celebrity burns brighter and faster, then cools much more quickly than any sort of fame that came before it.

Once celebrities built careers…today internet celebrities capture moments.

Kind of like how once advertisers built brands…today, they try to build quarters.

That’s neither right nor wrong–it’s just how it is.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


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


On Memes, Payback, and Illogical Conclusions

The rise of the internet meme has been a largely amusing thing: keyboard cat, Hitler ranting on issues of the moment, and of course, Kanye.  Kanye, Kanye, Kanye/Hitler… But like anything that soars in popularity and finds a way to touch the masses, it can be turned and used…less positively.

Watch this video of Gilbert Gottfried roasting his friend Bob Saget in 2008…  It is only a minute–just watch it, I’ll wait…

Admittedly, that’s a harsh joke.  But it’s ragging between comedians–one of whom does a decidedly-filthy version of The Aristocrats joke–and it’s on a platform that’s intended to be outrageous.  Remarkably. this is the explanation used to explain what inspired one man’s response to something he believed to be outrageous–talk radio, specifically the Glenn Beck show.  This guy’s response?

Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

The site positions itself as a sort of social experiment, cataloguing and measuring the responses it generates.  And the author defends his intentions by claiming to be mirroring the same kind of willful, agenda-serving truth-bending that Mr. Beck regularly employs.  Further, he cites how the word ‘parody’ appears again and again throughout the homepage.  Yet the basic provocation remains, a snarky, one-sided smear along the lines of that classic unanswerable yes or no question: ‘do you still beat your wife?’

It will be up to the courts to decide whether an offensive domain name constitutes defamation, but the sad truth remains; we’ve become a society riven by shouting, by insults, by loud voices amplifying narrow perspectives. I’m not a fan of political commentary performed by anyone aside from maybe Letterman and Stewart–the opinions are too shrill, too strident, too focused on convenient framings of blame.

If this is how we disagree, maybe we all need to go back to school.  Or at least Sunday School.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79