From Micro-Fame to Nano-Fame: Nyan Cat, Me Gusta, Huh?, and Double Rainbow at #ROFLCON | MIT Center for Civic Media
At the Center for Civic Media and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Nathan designs and researches civic technologies for cooperation across diversity. At the Berkman Center, he applies data analysis and design to the topics of peer-based social technologies, civic engagement, journalism, gender diversity, and creative learning.
Nathan's current projects include large scale research on community building online. In the summer of 2015, Nathan will be a PhD intern at the Microsoft Research Social Media Collective. A full project list is at natematias.com.
Nathan regularly liveblogs talks and events. He also publishes data journalism with the Guardian Datablog and PBS IdeaLab. He coordinated the Media Lab Festival of Learning in 2012 and 2013.
Before MIT, Nathan completed an MA in English literature at the University of Cambridge, where he was a Davies Jackson scholar. In earlier years, he was Riddick Scholar and Hugh Cannon Memorial Scholar at the American Institute of Parliamentarians. He won the Ted Nelson award at ACM Hypertext 2005 with a work of tangible scholarly hypermedia. He facilitated #1book140, The Atlantic's Twitter book club from 2012-2014, and was an intern at Microsoft Research Fuse Labs in the summer of 2013.
From Micro-Fame to Nano-Fame: Nyan Cat, Me Gusta, Huh?, and Double Rainbow at #ROFLCON
ROFLCon has talked about microfame before, but the time to complete internet domination is even shorter than before. Memes now come and go at the rate of several per day, and they're also ever tinier and tinier splices of content: moving away from whole blogs to a few seconds of video here or a single image there.
What's it like to be known for a few seconds or pixels of content?
- Matt Oswald of Me Gusta.
- Nate Dem (Huh? Guy) reveals that in the script, the line was "Say what now?" When they asked him to improvise, he decided to use fewer lines. He reckons himself famous for about 30 seconds. How no longer famous is he? When he said to Jonathan Zittrain, "You're much hotter than Huh? guy," he thought I was just a guy.
- Chris Torres, creator of Nyan Cat. Mike asks Chris if there is a real world inspiration for Nyancat. Did poptarts fall on the cat? He was drawing for a Red Cross charity drive.
- Paul "Bear" Vasquez, the double rainbow guy. He would like people to recognise that there are no people in the video; he sees his mission to bring spiritual to humanity.
Have people had public experiences of their fame? Matt responds, "nobody has stopped me on the street and said, 'you're the me gusta guy!'" But at the Cheezburger meetup in Seattle, he got the opportunity to design collectibles for Cheezburger and add "Illustrator" his resume. Nate Dem shares an anecdote about how it didn't change his life. He reckons himself to be the most nano-famous- perhaps famous for 1.5 seconds. On Reddit, it was recently his cake day; he got exactly one downvote. Chris Torres, like Me Gusta Guy-- isn't known as the creator of Nyan Cat. Nobody really knows the person behind specific memes.
Mike asks, "is that weird, or normal?" Chris loves the fact that people love and remix his work. People make scarves with Nyan Cat and dress up in costumes. It's an amazing thing to know that people love your work. It doesn't change his everyday life, but it's heartwarming.
Paul's experience has been different. "It's gotten me out of the house," he says. He doesn't go anywhere without being stopped. When Jimmy Kimmel tweeted his video, it was like an explosion. His phone started ringing off the hook. Microsoft wanted to do a commercial. MTV called two days in about broadcasting his videos. Paul had been living alone in a farm on the side of a mountain, and suddenly humanity is paying attention to him because he saw a rainbow. A high school have actually thrown a festival, where they gave him a throne and scepter, surrounding him and dancing. "That's why I make videos, because it doesn't sound believable."
How did double rainbow come about? He had just finished written an email about how he had felt like he was in an ark. And then his room filled with colour. He looked at the rainbow and it looked like the eye of god.
Nate Dem responds, "All that happened to me too, but that's normal."
Mike asks about the mainstream media treatment of Internet Culture. Each of the panelists have experienced the. Jimmy Kimmel and Time gave Paul video of the year. Nightline called his video "poorly shot and widely watched." For the most part, the media have been kind.
Chris Torres responds that there has been a lot of mainstream coverage of Nyan Cat, but mostly on the news. Jimmy Kimmell put it on the show but didn't invite him. Conan O'Brien did a Conyan. Did mainstream get it, or just cover Nyan Cat because it's popular? Chris thinks the media often get it, but the media often doesn't get memes, especially the Anonymous stuff. Because Nate Dem's "Huh? guy" was taken from a commercial, there was a lot of skepticism that it an ad campaign. In fact, within 20 hours, the ad agency tried to capitalise on it by releasing out-takes. They didn't understand why it was happening, just that it was popular.
Matt Oswald hasn't had any experience of the media. What has led to people spreading the meme? It started on 4chan and became more popular on Reddit, with the F7 U12 board.
Mike asks what it means for communities to use the thing that is responsibility for fame. He thinks that celebrity has a personality associated with it, but that people accumulate fame for doing a thing. So what happens when your thing takes off; did you have previous experience with those online communities?
Once Me Gusta became popular, people started selling t-shirts. Matt thinks it would be rude to demand royalties. Me Gusta is famous because people took it on. These days, he looks at Me Gusta on the Internet but it doesn't strike him as something he "owns.
Paul has been making and editing videos since the 80s. So when the Double Rainbow video went viral, he already had 200 videos online. And when he saw the video, he thought it might become a viral video. The first remix he saw was the autotune, which he thought was cool. When the Gregory Brothers asked if they could make a music video, he thought it was cool but didn't think it would make him a lot of money. On the Internet, people connect with his video, feel his experience, and want to be part of it.
Before the NyanCat era, people didn't pay attention to LOL-Comics. When the Internet discovered Nyancat, it was like discovering pure happiness in cat form.
Nate Dem points to Duncan Watt's recent book, "Everything is Obvious," wondering if there's something intrinsic to things that become viral. He thinks it's retrospective thinking -- the difference which makes something awesome on the Internet is the fact that people online rally around it.
Matt Oswald thinks we have a responsibility to share the good things we find on the Internet. Hardworking people make amazing things all the time, and we have the power to share those things with each other. The panelists agreed. At the same time, we shouldn't base our work on whether it gets shared. We should do the things we love and be true to ourselves.
Have we reached the "Memeularity" a rate of cultural production that prevents us from fully experiencing any single thing.
On Twitter, someone asks if there was ever a Pop Tart Lawsuit against Nyancat. There wasn't.
Blake Boston, aka Scumbag Steve, asks if the panelists could spare 20 dollars.
An audience member asks Paul Vasquez about commercialisation offers. YouTube wanted to put ads on the video, but he declined; "it's a sacred video." When Microsoft got in touch, he used that offer to get an agent and produce an advertisement.
Another audience member asks, is there something else you created which was more worthy than what the invisible hand of the Internet chose? Paul Vasquez mentions a video a year earlier with a single rainbow. Before Me Gusta, Matt Oswald created a labour-of-love webcomic which went nowhere.
An audience member asked Chris Torres about the Nyan Cat apps. His favourite is Nyan Cat Adventure<?a>.
Someone asks about the other people involved in Nyan Cat. Chris met up with Saraj00n, who posted the original Nyan Cat video.
What's the name of Chris's cat? (it's Marty, a 2 year old Russian Blue named after Marty McFly). Matt Oswald also reveals that Mount Mememore was a design he created for Cheezburger.
What do you do when people try to post copies of your meme? Paul Vasquez has learned to use YouTube's takedown service. However, if people put in their own creative content, he would promote it. Chris comments on the practice of stripping the watermark from images and pretending that a thing is their own. Mike Rugnetta sums up: it's okay for people to adapt your thing, but not if they pretend it's theirs.