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The internet is responsible for many terrible things, which the world tolerates as long as these terrible things stay on the internet.

But some internet memes become so popular they spill out and infect the real world in ways that simply cannot be tolerated. Such as ...

9
Hamster Dance

Origins:

In 1998, a Canadian art student began a site dedicated to her pet hamster, which features four .gifs of hamsters and a nine-second loop of an irritating song that was basically the aural equivalent of pubic lice. The popularity of the site remained blissfully small until January 1999, when it inexplicably shot up from around 4 hits a day to 15,000 thanks to a campaign of emails, early blogs, bumper stickers and what must have been a worldwide drop in taste and sanity.

Where it Crossed the Line:

By the end of 1999 Hamsterdance.com was drawing an estimated 250,000 daily hits. Worse still, a band called The Cuban Boys released a song called "Cognoscenti Versus Intelligentsia," which consisted mostly of that irritating Hamster Dance sound loop and high pitched yodeling you might recognize as the sped up voice of Satan. As you can guess, the experience was similar to having feces injected directly into your eardrums.

Before too long, versions of the Hamster Dance were being released in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the tune was featured in 2001 film See Spot Run and the 2005 film Are We There Yet? (presumably a chilling trip into the human psyche in which a sadistic father drives his family around on an endless journey, blasting the Hamster Dance tune until they beg for the eternal silence of death).

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8
All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Origins:

The meme began in 1998, with an innocent animated .gif on a video game website. It was taken from the opening cutscene of a Sega Genesis game called Zero Wing, in which a villain called Cats appears on a space craft's monitor and says "How are you Gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction!"

If you've never seen the whole thing in context, here it is:

This one line, which existed purely because game companies back then couldn't afford translators, spread across the internet like ... man we hate to keep using the pubic lice analogy, but when the irritating contagion fits.

Where it Crossed the Line:

We're thinking right about here:

And by the end of 2000, it had international media attention--we're talking mentions on Fox News, the BBC and articles in Time magazine. Or course, by the time the rest of the world had jumped on the bandwagon, use of the phrase would earn you instant rebuke from the daylight-dodging denizens of internet gaming forums.

But that didn't stop it. In 2003, as an April Fool's joke, seven teenagers placed signs bearing the slogan all around the town of Sturgis, Michigan. The joke backfired when the town's residents got worried that it was an act of terrorism, Sturgis being widely regarded by its residents (and no one else) as one of al-Qaida's next likely targets.

To this day you can find several t-shirts bearing the slogan.

Those shirts are all probably being worn ironically at this point, since internet memes age in dog years. One irony that's probably lost on the makers of Zero Wing: More money has probably been made off of their inadvertent catch phrase than they ever saw from the game.

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7
Chuck Norris Facts

Origins:

If you just bought your first computer today, Chuck Norris Facts are an internet fad that consists of hundreds of user-created facts about the actor, usually involving his ability to roundhouse kick your mother into next Tuesday.

It started with a thread on the Something Awful forums back in early 2005, one of probably nine million threads created that day. It simply asked members to post facts about Vin Diesel, at which point hundreds of pieces of completely false and exaggerated Vin trivia came pouring in. Later they were gathered into the Vin Diesel Fact Generator.

The site substituted Chuck Norris by popular request and a phenomenon was born.

Where it Crossed the Line:

Around the time that a World of Warcraft add-on featuring a Chuck Norris Fact generator was released in January 2006, corporate America started realizing this thing might have some crossover potential. Soon enough, references started turning up in non-internet media and then, finally, Chuck himself got on board.

Norris has appeared on several talk shows since this all started. Rolling Stone did a small piece about them, and in 2006, Time interviewed Norris, calling him an "online cult hero."

Then, in a turn of events almost too absurd even for politics, Norris campaigned for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee ... based purely around the premise that he had the magical powers claimed in the facts.

But the ridiculous circle would not be complete until the guy who started the fact generator website, former Cracked.com intern Ian Spector, wrote a book The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 Facts About The World's Greatest Man).

Norris has sued ol' Ian, the person most responsible for reviving his career. Either Mr. Norris wanted more of a cut of the goods or he was pissed off about the revealing of his super powers, which he had presumably hoped to keep a secret.

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6
Crazy Frog

Origins:

Crazyfroghits.com

This meme is an example why early detection is so incredibly important. We had many chances to stop this thing before it spread. But it seemed so benign at first.

In 1997, 17-year-old Swede Daniel Malmedahl recorded himself mimicking the sound of a two-stroke combustion engine and posted it on a website. The sound became something of a meme itself, at least in its native Sweden. A local TV producer convinced Daniel to perform his sound on national television, probably on a Swedish prime-time hit called Sounds Made By People.

In 2003, another Swede, Erik Wernquist, created an animated frog to go with the sound, and correctly christened it The Annoying Thing.

Pretty harmless, right?

By 2004, what would come to be known as "Crazy Frog" had spread all over the internet, making the rest of the world wish Sweden could just stick to making Volvos and Victoria Silvstedt.

Where it Crossed the Line:

Shortly after Wernquist combined the frog with the noise of a nearly grown man pretending to be a motorcycle, he was contacted by a German ringtone company called Jamba!, who asked to use it as a downloadable ringtone for cell phones.

The ringtone became one of the most successful ever in the United Kingdom. Jamba! quickly earned approximately £14 million from download sales and everyone who downloaded it quickly lost all their friends.

Again, it seems like some kind of intervention could have kept this thing from going any further. But the world's government turned a blind eye, and soon a dance track was recorded.

It charted in Europe and follow ups were released. By March 2008, the Crazy Frog had three complete albums, all of which serve as proof that music can be weaponized effectively.

Also released in the UK was a string of merchandise including an electronic game, key rings, backpacks, lunch boxes and air fresheners. Two computer games, each widely loathed by critics, have been released for the Playstation 2.

Worse yet, a German production company called The League of Good People have made a sad mockery of their name by entering into talks with a production company to create a Crazy Frog TV show. A film is rumored to be in the works, and is likely.

Unless, of course, it turns out that there is a just God.

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5
Dancing Baby

Origins:

One of the earliest internet phenomena, the Dancing Baby (or if you're official about your internet meme history "Baby-Cha-Cha") first appeared on the internet back in 1996-97.

The 3-D-rendered animated dancing baby comes complete with a somewhat disturbing hip thrust and mincing arm movements that suggest his parents shouldn't hold out for grandchildren. It was created as a product sample source file for release of a groundbreaking 3-D character creation program "Character Studio" which was apparently dedicated to creating the creatures that populate our nightmares.

Where it Crossed the Line:

Its most famous crossover was on the popular 1990s legal drama Ally McBeal, as a hallucination Ally experienced.

On the show, it was supposed to represent the ticking of Ally's biological clock or some shit, but to us, it just interrupted our fantasies of "accidentally" entering the firm's unisex restroom to find Calista Flockheart and Lucy Liu having a race to remove their underpants first.

The baby appeared in the music video for Blue Suede's cover of the 1969 hit Hooked On a Feeling. Then a song called "Dancing Baby (Ooga Chaka)" was released by a UK group called Trubble, who not only used an internet meme extensively in their marketing, but also felt the need to spell their name as if an infant had written it.

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4
Back Dorm Boys

Origins:

The Back Dorm Boys are two former Chinese college students who lip-sync most notably Backstreet Boys songs. Using a grainy webcam, they filmed themselves lip-syncing in a college dorm room whilst an uninterested third student sat in the background with his back to the camera, playing a computer game.

They completed their first video in May 2005, a synced version of "As Long As You Love Me" by the Backstreet Boys. They released it on their local college network, but their act was so compelling that it showed up on YouTube and quickly accumulated millions of views.

Where it Crossed the Line:

Before the end of the year, while still in college, the Back Dorm Boys were signed up as spokespeople for Motorola cellphones in China and became the hosts of Motorola's online lip-syncing contests.

They were also employed by Sina.com, China's biggest internet portal, presumably meaning that to millions of Chinese peasants, the internet appeared to be nothing more than a high-tech karaoke device. The Back Dorm Boys also maintain a blog, one of the most popular in China, which, in a somewhat unsurprising turn of events, was awarded the "Best Podcaster" award in 2006. The award was given by their employers at Sina.com, but still.

In February 2006, just before they left college, the Back Dorm Boys signed a five-year deal with Taihe Rye, a Chinese talent management company in Beijing, to continue making lip-syncing videos. As it stands, the Back Dorm Boys have made at least 19.

At this point the Back Dorm Boys began to infect the rest of the world, getting mentions in the US on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, South Park and in the first episode of Heroes. We can't imagine that anyone has gotten more famous on less talent. And luckily we don't have to, because our number 3 meme exists.

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3
Numa Numa

Origins

In 2004, a somewhat portly young gentleman named Gary Brolsma, from New Jersey, filmed himself lip-syncing and dancing along to Dragostea din tei, a song by Moldovan group O-Zone.

The term Numa Numa comes from a refrain in the song; "nu mă, nu mă iei," which roughly translates from Romanian as "you don't, you don't, take me (with you)." The video up there has 13 million hits, but that's just scratching the surface (it was originally uploaded to Newgrounds.com on December 6, 2004, where every single internet user watched it four times).

Where it Crossed the Line:

In February 2005, the New York Times wrote an article about the dance and its creator, and in 2006, UK TV station Channel 4 listed it at number 41 of the 100 Greatest Funny Moments (upsetting critics who thought a home video of some guy getting hit in the nuts with a wiffle ball bat deserved the spot).

A story in the June 2006 edition of The Believer claims the video "singlehandedly justifies the existence of webcams (...) It's a movie of someone who is having the time of his life, wants to share his joy with everyone, and doesn't care what anyone else thinks."

While he does certainly appear to be enjoying himself, we submit that for all your singlehanded webcam justification, boobs will do just fine. At the height of its popularity, the video was receiving mainstream attention from shows such as ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's The Tonight Show, and VH1's Best Week Ever.

The New York Times said Brolsma was an "unwilling and embarrassed web celebrity" and Brolsma canceled several media appearances, suddenly realizing that people were laughing at his hilariously embarrassing private moment.

At the end of 2006, a report on the BBC, based on figures collected by a viral marketing company, reckoned the Numa Numa Dance was the second most viewed video of all time, with 700 million views. Brolsma reappeared in September 2006 with a professionally produced video and began a non-Chinese competition in which contestants pretend to mime to lyrics and win cash, finally accepting that when he lies on his deathbed at age 86, he'll still be "The Numa Numa guy."

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2
Star Wars Kid

Origins:

Maybe the most well-known internet meme ever, this began back in 2002 when Ghyslain Raza, a wonderfully named 14-year-old French-Canadian, filmed himself swinging a golf ball retriever around, as if it were a weapon.

The filming was done in his school's studio, and somewhat foolishly, Raza forgot about it and left the tape in a basement. Some time later, he found the tape, and, even more foolishly, showed it to his friends. His friends thought it would be funny if they converted it to a .wmv file, and shared it on the peer-to-peer file sharing network, Kazaa. Within two weeks, it had been downloaded several million times, and an adapted version of the video was made, with added Star Wars music and effects.

Where it Crossed the Line:

In 2006, the Viral Factory claimed that the Star Wars Kid was the most popular video on the internet, with over 900 million views. Jumping onto the bandwagon, hundreds of internet users created their own videos, versions parodying everything from Terminator 2 to the Blues Brothers.

Soon after it became a global smash, it was extensively reported in the mainstream news media. The New York Times, CBS, BBC News and GMTV all gave the video a lot of attention, all to the horror of Raza and his family, who, in a huge show of ass-hattery, filed a lawsuit against his friends. The lawsuit stated, in part, that Raza "had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his school mates and the public at large."

The joke was on him though, because in a wonderfully ironic move, mainstream media outlets who covered the video's startling popularity covered the trial as well, all the while tutting about the internet's ability to ruin a person's privacy while at the same time giving their readers a chance to watch the original video again and laugh once more at Raza's tubby, uncoordinated shenanigans. Raza eventually received $351,000 in Canadian money from his (former) friends, who apparently had way more money than we did when we were in high school.

Among the Star Wars Kid's many references on television, including Arrested Development ...

... and American Dad ...

... the most famous occurred towards the end of 2006 when Steven Colbert, an adamant Star Wars fan, filmed himself mimicking the Star Wars Kid in front of a green screen.

He showed the clip on The Colbert Report and started a contest, asking for viewers to edit in their own CGI and sound effects with the best being aired on the show. Thousands of amateur filmmakers rose to the challenge and it eventually culminated in George Lucas himself making a video, with CGI done by Industrial Light and Magic.

That sounds like cheating to us, but whatever.

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1
The Rickroll

Origins:

So there's this message board. And just as most of the goods in your house were made in China, most of the internet's irritating memes were manufactured there.

They used to have a tradition there called the Duckroll, where you would provide a link and lie about what was on the other end, often promising underage porn. Once the user clicked through, they'd get a Photoshopped picture of a duck with wheels. It's difficult to explain.

Anyway, at some point that was mutated into the Rickroll, where the goal was to trick users into watching a video of "Never Gonna Give You Up" by '80s ginger pop singer, Rick Astley.

Where it Crossed the Line:

Rickrolling had become widespread by May 2007, with hundreds of thousands of occurrences popping up all over internet message boards, despite the fact that it had stopped being funny around the second time someone ever did it. By 2008, it somehow began appearing outside the web, which you wouldn't think would be possible for a joke based around a misleading link.

A real-world Rickrolling appeared during Anonymous's anti-Scientology marches on February 10, 2008. In marches in Edinburgh, London, New York and Washington DC, protesters marched up and down outside Scientology sites, blasting the song through boom boxes, in what the UK paper The Guardian said was a live Rickrolling, and which bystanders said was some guys playing a song on the radio.

On April 8, after a web campaign starting at Fark.com, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" won a poll to be played as the 8th inning sing-along at the New York Mets' Shea Stadium. Five million people voted for the song and, as promised, the New York Mets played it, to the extreme displeasure of the fans who didn't grasp the four or five layers of irony required to enjoy the experience.

This should highlight the "fish out of water" aspect of internet memes. Take them into real life and, like the fish, they'll die and stink up the house. And give you pubic lice. Probably best to leave them in the water is what we're saying.


If you enjoyed that, you'll probably like Steve's article about The 7 Viral Videos You Didn't Know Were Staged (and How They Did It). Or check out what the 08 election would look like this if the candidates had balls. And be sure to get the Cracked Hit List delivered in your electronic mailbox every Thursday.

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