Saturday, July 30, 2011
Trololololo, Memeabago Man
A few months ago, I was reading "Car and Driver", like a dutiful little motorhead, and I came across a small blurblette, reviewing the documentary film, "Winnebago Man". It sounded entertaining-- a film documenting old outtakes of a supremely angry Winnebago pitchman trying, in vain, to make an industrial film back in 1987, and said clips winding up on YouTube as an internet sensation.
So, I rented the film, and I came away from it feeling somehow unsatisfied, though it was difficult for me to put my finger on exactly why. I found the film's pacing to be a little laconic, and self-serving for the director at times-- that he made too much of his own existential struggle with the protagonist, ex-Winnebago pitchman, Jack Rebney. The filmmaker sought out Rebney, who was, at first, bewildered at all of the attention he was receiving all of a sudden, courtesy of YouTube, the internet, and its legions of meme-hungry attendants.
"I just cannot comprehend what possible interest you could have in any of this," Rebney said in a recording left on the filmmaker's answering machine. Clearly, Rebney did not comprehend the power of the internet. If he didn't understand it then, he's since gotten the message loud and clear.
Memes that announce themselves with intensity have a tendency to pass me by, and I don't mind. I suppose you don't mind what you miss because you've missed it. I pick things up, or people send me things, or I don't, and they don't-- that's sort of just the way it goes. I can remember one of the last arguments I had with my former best friend was over a clip of an SNL skit featuring Natalie Portman cursing, rapping, being a total badass, and then breaking a chair over an interviewer's head. I mentioned to my friend that I had seen the clip and enjoyed it, and he laughed at me. And not in the way I was used to being laughed at, in a snarky, derisive way, that hurt. For good measure, he added:
"Wow-- that came out, like, last year. Where the hell have you been?"
Well, I thought, obviously not sitting at the cool kids' table.
Not that I ever have sat there, at any point in time, but this was another acute reminder that I never would. A few nights ago, a coworker of mine sent me the "Trolololololo" video, of Russian singer Eduard Khil singing his famous song. I was captivated, as I'm sure you were, too, by not only the bizarre music, but principally by Khil's disturbingly psychotic grin, his moving-through-Jell-O choreography and his stalwart refusal to play to the camera-- one envisions him performing the song for the *ahem* benefit of some poor, frightened woman tied to a chair with electrical cord with an apple stuffed into her mouth. To cheer up a friend, I shared the clip with her, and ended up feeling sepia once again, as if I had been cryogenically entombed for the last year, only to emerge with no internet-based cultural knowledge whatsoever.
The fact of the matter is, you don't just have to observe a meme, you have to be amongst the first to see it, to be the discoverer in your circle of friends, or your enjoyment doesn't count for anything. There are people who have seen "The Book of Mormon", and paid exorbitant amounts of money to do so, and the rest of us who've heard some of the songs in passing. We'll get around to seeing it when the touring company comes around.
When my wife and I saw (the touring company production of) "Next to Normal" I ran into one of my private monologue coaching students on the steps of the Academy of Music, waiting for rush tickets. She is sixteen years old.
"Oh," I asked stupidly, "have you seen this before?"
"Yeah," she answered, raising a perfectly-groomed, judging eyebrow at me, "this'll be my fourth time."
Ah. Yes. Back at the schdork table, where I belong.
It's funny-- when I started writing this post, it was originally going to be a critique of meme-culture: how vacuous and vapid it is, how we as a society are content to supplant carefully-constructed, scripted entertainment that takes months to prepare with a cheap laugh at the expense of some Russian singer from the 1970s, or a Winnebago pitchman swatting furiously at fuckin' flies, or some moron orgasming over double rainbows, but it's turned into a post about my own inferiority, and maybe that's where my anger is most properly directed. Maybe it's just another thing that I just don't get.
I'm not alone, though. Eduard Khil didn't get it either. His son says that Eduard "keeps asking, 'Where were all these journalists 40 years ago?'"
The fact of the matter is that the type of journalist who would be interested in Eduard Khil for the purposes that we are interested in today wasn't alive in the nineteen seventies. That's a product of modernity, or memedernity, and only the cool kids are apathetic enough to give a damn.
At least until the next status update.