In New York City, a recent video uploaded on Reddit showed a group of people tripping over a single subway station stair that was taller than the rest. Within 24 hours, the video had half a million views, and New York City officials had roped off and fixed the step.
The term “meme” is often thrown around in relationship to viral videos. But memes are just elements of culture or behavior passed from one person to another by non-genetic means.
In other words, viral videos are cultural memes spread at a furious pace thanks to the web and mobile technology.
In most instances, viral videos spread because of their zeitgeist factor. Susan Boyle became a YouTube sensation after she sang, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables in her debut appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. Other videos spread because they’re amusing, intentionally or unintentionally. Thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, for example, everyone in America knows about “Double Rainbows.”
Other videos like the subway station video actually spur some social or political action. Remember Kony 2012? The video, according to USA Today, secured 3.6 million pledges from people in 204 countries for the Invisible Children charity in the effort to oust a Ugandan warlord.
Many companies embrace viral video to promote their brands and products. Samsung (News - Alert) recently relied on a series of cameos from viral video stars including the Old Spice man in a viral video promoting its new line of SmartTVs.
“Memes don’t care if we overthinkers have judged them to be cool or not; they live their own lives for the sheer joy of it,” said Anil Dash in an online debate hosted by New York Magazine. “The driving motivation behind the spread of most memes and the audience participation of re-mixing and re-conceptualizing them is that showing up for the party is a delight in itself.”
Comical videos like Chocolate Rain and Numa Numa give us something to talk about at the water cooler. More sober memes like the recent viral video of a New York bus driver being harassed by students can change lives in a positive way or shine a light on cultural malaises like bullying.
In our culture, you never know when you might end up on camera. Your everyday actions could become the stuff of memes.
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Edited by Braden Becker