Like many others, the virulent Pen Pineapple Apple Pen video has infected me. After watching, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, ranking up there with Psy and Gangnam Style. Of course, this is the internet and there are literally tons of stupid things floating around the online swamp, so why does PPAP bother me enough to write about it? Frankly, it’s not PPAP specifically that bothers me; it’s the type of video it is.
PPAP and videos of its ilk are devoid of any artistic merit or insight into the human condition. And even if one were to somehow derive either art or insight from the video, that certainly wasn’t the intention, and so I question the art and insight derived. Similarly, music is an entirely human construct. So while birds tweeting may sound musical it is not music because it was not created by a human with the intention to be so. With videos like PPAP, they seem entirely designed to be insipid, vapid puffs of shareable stupidity. Everything about PPAP appears cynically engineered to ensure virulence, including its ridiculous concept, nursery rhyme-like verses, simplistic dance and tune, and the weird looking actor that all but ensures shares, reactions, memes, and response videos.
Obviously, not everything that goes viral on the internet are these low-budget affairs. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the over-produced videos that are admittedly more entertaining, but ultimately just as empty as their cheaper brethren.
None of this is to say that any of these videos are necessarily bad, just that the videos that went viral during the early days of the internet-in-every-home were better. They felt honest. They opened small windows into strangers’ lives but somehow reflected parts of our own lives back at us. Take, for instance, the Numa Numa Kid, Gary Brolsma:
While he is technically performing, it’s doubtful that he is performing for anyone. Rather, he’s most likely reenacting visuals he’s made up in his mind from listening to that track. Who hasn’t done this? Who hasn’t choreographed some silly routine to go along with music? What really connects with viewers, however, is Brolsma’s commitment. He really is performing as if no one is watching. Contrast the video above with Brolsma’s follow-up Numa Numa video and you’ll see that the magic disappeared once he realized that there was an audience.
Speaking of unintended audiences, the early days of the internet also spawned the infamous Star Wars Kid, Ghyslain Raza. At 15-years-old, he was filming himself at school with a makeshift staff and twirling like a dervish to (in his mind) emulate Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace:
Once again, the commitment here is amazing. When people tell you to dance like no one’s looking, this is what they’re talking about – except in fight choreography form! Beyond that, however, is that Raza must know his body is not moving in the way his mind’s eye is seeing it. And yet the look of utter badassery on his face when he poses after each flurry means he has a very high mental image of himself. Who doesn’t want to feel that way? Regrettably, the video was leaked online, and no amount of high self-esteem could withstand the ridicule rained down on Raza by gawkers the world over.
Finally, and probably my favorite viral video from ye olden times, we have Aicha from GellieMan.
As someone who remembers his high school years very vividly, I completely understand where this guy is coming from. What teenage boy hasn’t been moved to thoughts like this by the object of his affection? The only difference between GellieMan and myself is that I went down the typical route of committing my emotions to paper in the form of bad poetry whereas he went all the way and did a boy band of one music video. It’s easy to ridicule him for his poor singing voice, half-hearted choreography, and Minnie Mouse sheets, but I would be lying if I said that at least a part of me didn’t relate.
Content aside, these videos managed to go viral during a time when they were harder to find. We were still crawling eBaum’s World for our videos. Furthermore, they were harder to share. They didn’t have TV shows that boosted their signals. Social media was still nascent and didn’t have the user base that spans all demos the way we do today. Yet, these videos found a way to capture the world’s attention. That alone makes these videos a cut above what we have today with so many avenues of distribution.
In fact, we now have viral video creators who actually release instructional videos on how to properly imitate their source video. When virulence becomes this artificial, doesn’t it just becoming everyday marketing?