The Betty White Meme: When The Internet Stopped Making Sense


Betty White is a talented comedic actress who has been in the entertainment industry for over 50 years. This is a screengrab of a search of "Betty White."

The top three results, all within the last month, are about Betty White and the show Saturday Night Live. The bottom article, the one with the most diggs, describes a Facebook campaign demanding that SNL let Betty White host the show, the one in the middle lays out a few sketches she should appear in. (That Facebook group, by the way, has almost 500,000 fans.) The most recent story in that screengrab links to the story confirming that Betty would in fact be hosting the show. The day that article went live, Betty White was a trending topic on social networking site Twitter, just below the show Skins and above something called a justin bieber.

The Facebook campaign starts it, keeps us posted and Twitter celebrates. Congratulations, Internet, you got Betty White to host SNL. Quick question though: Why did we do this? This is one of the most perplexing Internet things I've seen in a while but, before we get into that, I wanted to quickly get something out of the way. I Have Nothing Against Betty White No problems with her whatsoever. I thought she was great on The Golden Girls, and as far as old people go, it doesn't seem like she's completely lost her mind, which is good. She's a terrific entertainer and seems like a pretty sweet lady (though I have no idea what that means). I'm not a Betty White hater. I'm not sure if I'd call myself a fan, exactly. I guess if I had to answer the question, "What do you think about Betty White?" I'd respond, "I don't." But still, nothing against the old broad.
Meanwhile, Why Did We Do This? I work for the Internet. It's sort of my job to know why we do the shit that we do, and this one leaves me stumped, I just don't understand. This wasn't a small campaign. This was a massive, giant campaign that hit every big Internet site. The mainstream media specifically described it as "the Internet crusade," like we all got together and voted. If the Internet will go down as the responsible party behind Betty White's spot on SNL, I just want to know why.

The Internet is a fickle, complicated and delicate beast of omnisexuality. It can be confusing or alienating at times but, in general, I think I understand it, I have a pretty good handle on why it does what it does. It's not surprising to me that Rick Rolling became a thing. When you and your friends become so desensitized that nothing shocks you anymore, it makes sense that you prank your friends by making them watch something completely, utterly and nonsensically random. And Rick Astley's otherwise entirely forgettable tune hits the sweet spot of pop obscurity (popscurity). And it snowballs from there, and I get that. And I even got lolcats, despite my best efforts. But somehow over the last few months, we made Betty White the darling of the Internet,
and I have absolutely no idea why. Her Contribution to Comedy The Facebook page brings up the fact that White is entering her eighth decade in show business and has been an important mark on the face of comedy in that time, and deserves honor and recognition for it. Sure. But since when is
Saturday Night Live the show to honor anyone for anything? How did someone make the leap from "Betty White sure is a comedy icon" to "Betty White NEEDS to host SNL immediately," and, further, how did the Internet collectively say "Oh, absolutely." SNL used to be about bringing in interesting and funny relevant people to host, and now it's about finding whatever hot-right-now actor or actress has a new movie to promote and having them host. That's why Megan Fox has hosted twice and Eddie Izzard has hosted never. Since when is
Saturday Night Live (the show that last year ran a sketch involving January Jones as a Grace Kelly who couldn't stop farting on the set of Rear Window), the destination to honor someone's career? Christopher Plummer's had a long career, but he's never hosted. Let's get on that pronto, I think he and Kenan Thompson are a comedic match made in laughter heaven. Hey, Robert Gates has been serving America on an administrative level through, like, six presidents. Let's get him in a MacGruber sketch. Musical guest: The Boston Pops.

Does Betty White Even Want To Host? Hey, there's a good question. I'm sure she wouldn't mind, but I'd lean towards "Not really." Saturday Night Live's writing, rehearsal and performance schedule is a hectic, maddening week-long process. I don't want to make assumptions about what old people can and can't do, but she needs to be in the building all day, every day keeping up with a bunch of twentysomethings who've been living this schedule for years. The show that makes it to TV? She has to perform that
twice on Saturday, did the Internet consider that? This is why she's not technically hosting, she's just "appearing" and co-hosting with a number of other women in comedy. Thankfully. 11:30 is late for an old gal. "What skits should she perform in?" Jesus, I don't know, the ones that keep her safe? She's 88 for Christ's sake, just let her relax. Seriously, Why Did We Do This? Was it just to prove the power of the Internet, or the power of numbers? Like, "If we get enough people doing something, a thing will happen!" Is that the thesis we were trying to prove?

I just worry, because there were clearly a lot of people who really wanted this to happen. Maybe they even celebrated when the announcement came that Betty White would be hosting. I'm worried that when they throw their Betty White party the night her SNL gig arrives they'll be disappointed because, seriously, what can they expect to happen? Betty White will play a sweet old lady, or a shockingly inappropriate old lady, because that's mostly what's left in her bag of tricks at this point, right? I suppose if SNL did a spoof on the show Wings, Betty White could play Fay, but I think I just described the worst skit in hypothetical Saturday Night Live history. I'm just trying to understand you, Internet, because it's my job and I kinda like you. Help me out here.
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