Made-up statistics suggest that 43% of all Internet communication is the simple recitation and repetition of catchphrases, script snippets and sketches from popular TV programmes. I’m not taking about random usage either – there are specific scenes, phrases, words and even syntactical structures that attain totemic significance. See my previous entry “Banned Phrases of 2008” for examples.
If you were to peruse the archives of this blog – you would soon discover that I am both irked and fascinated by this phenomenon. On the one hand, the process of memetic saturation and subsequent loss of meaning is a perfect model of post-modernity. On the other, the presumption on the part of the poster that the simple cut and paste repetition of iconic phrases is automatically hilarious make me want to use IP location tools to track them down, squirt butane on their pets and set them alight.
The latest manifestation I’ve noticed is this:
1. Do X
A quick Google reveals that this is a quotation from an episode of South Park called “Gnomes”, in which the titular characters steal underpants for profit. At one point their business plan is revealed to be:
1. Steal underpants
In its original context, I’m sure this was hilarious. I wouldn’t know as I haven’t watched South Park since about 2003. However, when you’ve seen the same thing 132 times in one morning scattered across various Digg, Slashdot and LiveJournal threads, that initial jocularity wears off. Also, note the increased number of question marks and the addition of an exclamation point in the ersatz version. As everyone knows, extra punctuation makes everything funnier – if you’re a twat.
Why does this happen? My hypothesis is that the appropriation of catch phrases from popular culture is more than just a simple substitute for invention. Children in playgrounds the world over repeat and re-enact their favourite bits from the shows they watched the night before. Adults in British pubs parrot Peter Kay’s stand up act, finding the words “garlic bread” unnaturally hilarious when three pints south of sober.
These are both acts of cultural bonding – looking for common experience and values in their peers. And while the Internet equivalent is partially marked by social ineptitude, it is similarly born of a desire to belong – to be part of a group. In other words:
1. Repeat comedic phrase made popular on TV or YouTube