#3. Numa Numa
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."
#2. Star Wars Kid
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.
#1. The Rickroll
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.