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.
When you think of Australia, you're probably thinking about two things: violence and alcohol. These two aspects of the Aussie condition are perfectly represented in this video, wherein a news reporter attempts to interview some drunk people about a very public shooting:
In a scene that is equal parts hilarious and awkward, the girl tells her ridiculous and virtually incomprehensible version of the story, which you may not realize is full of Australian racial slurs referring to non-white races. This builds up to her acting out the shooting with, "...and then he pulled out a gun and went CHK-CHK-BOOM!"
The Internet's response? Remixes. So, so many remixes.
Much like some ethereal, divine force, the Internet does occasionally reach down to the mortal coil and pick out a Chosen One. "Chk-Chk-Boom Girl" became an overnight Australian hero and because the media obeys the Internet's every whim, her elevation to meme status shot this random human being to the realm of a C-list Australian celebrity. That probably isn't enough for a recording contract, but is enough for a spot on a reality show, or to take your clothes off in a magazine.
Back in November 2009, French president Nicolas Sarkozy tried to pull the wool over the Internet's eyes, and the Internet would have none of it. Sarkozy tagged himself in a photo on Facebook that he purported to have been snapped in Berlin on the day people started to demolish the Wall, thus being one of the first to start hacking away at the great symbol of Communist tyranny. It's the kind of propaganda that you half expect to come out of North Korea, an image of their Fearless President displaying leadership at some great historical event. Also, it was totally a lie.
Making use of the obsessive attention to detail that the Internet is known for, it was a blogger who called Sarkozy's bluff, insisting that the dates he was quoting didn't quite add up. The media quickly dug up some archival footage that proved the not-yet-President didn't just quote the wrong date for the fall of the Berlin Wall, but he wasn't even in Berlin until a full week later. This is what is known as a "fuck-up."
Nevertheless, it wasn't long before more forgotten photographs from Sarkozy's past began to surface on the French Internet:
No matter how hard you work...
No matter how much you achieve...
...a few nerds with pirated copies of Photoshop can turn it all to ashes in your mouth.
Mercilessly mocking their president's faux pas as only the French can, it became an Internet sensation to Photoshop Sarkozy into every important event in history from the storming of Normandy...
...to the execution of Socrates.
And it wasn't just message boards and the denizens of L'QuatreChan, but the French media who actively encouraged the phenomenon. Because, say what you will about the French, they don't mess around if they think you're due some ridicule.
From our lofty perch on top of the world, it's easy for us to think that, short of the Moon, there's no less likely source of Internet memes than Kenya. As a matter of fact, Kenya has the largest Internet presence in Africa with a whopping 25,000 citizens wired. In March 2010, they broke their meme virginity when this video went viral:
For context, the word "makmende" has been part of the Kenyan lexicon ever since the Dirty Harry movies found their way to Africa and people started mispronouncing the phrase "make my day." It started out as a genuinely badass moniker, but eventually, any kind of try-hard thug who considered himself a Sub-Saharan Clint Eastwood was mocked as "Makmende," and people started coming out with exaggerated facts about this character. That's how cultural evolution turned Harry Callahan into Chuck Norris.
We're thinking .357 beats round-house.
The trend solidified into a meme when the Kenyan funk trio Just A Band released the music video for their genuinely catchy song "Ha-He," featuring Makmende as a kind of blaxploitation-style superhero. Now that they had a face to put with the name, Makmende fever took hold, and Photoshopping ensued.
Adobe products provide 67.2 percent of the world's laughter.
Makmende has a website, too, and we can tell that the Internet is already giving its newest community a trial by fire by filling their forums entirely with automated bot spam. That's payback for all the 419 scams, Africa. Chew on it.
For more on Internet memes, check out The 9 Most Obnoxious Memes to Ever Escape the Web. Or check out more horror the rest of the world has to offer, in The 25 Most Baffling Toys From Around the World.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn how to make your own meme.
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