The Internet is indeed uniting the world, but probably not in the way that the idealists were hoping. While we're still waiting for a new era of cross-cultural understanding and peace, what we get in the meantime are memes. Bad photoshops, endless running jokes, image macros... you find them at every corner of the globe. All of them are ridiculous in their own way.
Spawned from an Internet community called Encounter Urban Games, the rules of the Russian online phenomenon known as PhotoExtreme are simple: Someone comes up with a random, oddly specific scenario. Then everyone else acts it out and takes photographs. Bonus points if your scenario is insanely dangerous.
"A Cheating Wife: You need to make a photo of a man, 'a lover,' hanging outside a real window. The window should be not lower than the third story of a multi-storied building. 'A husband' should lean out from another window with a gun, aiming at 'the lover.' From yet another window 'the cheating wife' should look out in despair."
Note that "red boxers" are not specified in the scenario. That just seems to be what every man in Russia wears.
The scenes often take place in public and in broad daylight, and remember that this is an Internet thing: The unsuspecting denizens of meatspace have no idea what's going on, or that some people on some forum somewhere said, "OK, this time we're all going to get naked in a bathtub in the middle of the street."
All in all, it's a fine hobby.
This is therefore one of the few Internet memes in the world that has the capacity to lead to federal charges, international incidents or flat-out War of the Worlds style riots for fear of a zombie outbreak.
These aren't staged. This is just how the Russian mob settles its debts.
In many ways, an Internet meme is like a virus. It can spring up in one country and be cured with two aspirin and a day in bed, but you don't notice until much later that it mutated, traveled to Europe and infected a billion people with terminal madness. Russia's "Preved Medved" phenomenon started in America, when the actor John Lurie made this ridiculous painting:
They don't have a lot to get excited about over there.
There are at least a dozen things in this artwork worthy of merciless ridicule (is that his arm, or is the bear wearing a stove pipe hat with fingernails?) but the Americans dropped the ball. Unbeknownst to all of us, the Russians picked up that ball and ran with it to the cover of Newsweek.
Don't you dare judge them. LOLcats have been on network news.
"Preved Medved," though slightly and deliberately misspelled, means "Hello Bear" in Russian. In practical terms, the rules of the meme are the same as for his equally retarded American cousin, Pedobear: take any regular picture, Photoshop Preved Medved into it and it's as good as a joke.
But while flash in the pan memes like this tend to fizzle out after a week or so, this particular phenomenon became weirdly huge. Here it is, graffitied on some isolated shack in Belgium:
Still. It's nicer than Oklahoma.
In 2006, at the height of the craze, a political debate was held for Russian president Vladimir Putin, for which the organizers made the always unwise decision to ask the Internet to submit their questions. The overwhelmingly most popular question? "PREVED, Vladimir Vladimirovich! How do you regard MEDVED?"
Those responsible were swiftly dealt with.
Interestingly, because Putin's presidential successor was Dmitri Medvedev, the joke went over everyone's head, as they just assumed people on the Internet have trouble spelling words, which, to be fair, is kind of true.
If you exist, then you know about LOLcats. It's the image macro phenomenon that basically defined the concept of the meme, and consequently represents the most depressing thing about the Internet: You can spend a lifetime working in vain to secure some kind of popularity, but the guy who superimposed the words "I can haz cheezburger" over a picture of a cat is raking in billions and drinking cocktails out of coconut halves in the Bahamas.
This is him. This is the man responsible.
In a weird kind of simultaneous intercontinental madness, some people in Sweden had a similar idea. Meet "Snel Hest" - "Nice Horse."
Translation: HORSE MATHEMATICS- Nice horse + Wheat + Pat = Happy Horse
The macro usually looks like an MS Paint collage with a freaky anthropomorphic horse-man and a mathematical formula describing what happens to the horse when you add certain things to it:
But the Swedes are all about wordplay, and the evolution of Snel Hest is all about Swedish puns. The title itself is a LOLcat-style misspelling of "snall hast." Incidentally, the Swedish term for hate speech is "hets mot folkgrupp," which provides an unmissable opportunity to turn the nice horse into the Nazi horse.
Hitler was a comedy genius.
This meme became weaponized at one time in opposition to the guy who brought down The Pirate Bay - a notorious anti-piracy advocate named Henrik Ponten, who is basically the Swedish Eliot Ness, if Ness had been predominantly concerned with bootleg MP3s. At one point, Internet pranksters discovered Ponten's cell phone number and bombarded him with text messages reading "klapa snel hest" (pat the nice horse).
He looks less like a hard-bitten lawman and more like a math teacher.
In a phenomenal convergence of terrible ideas, Ponten later attended a televised interview which enabled people to send questions to him via text message. Expectedly, the show received so many oddly misspelled questions about horses that it actually crashed their servers. There's a lesson here, somewhere. If you have a problem with dogs chasing you, don't put bacon in your underwear.