Beginnings of a Viral Trend
In a white walled basement somewhere, an afro clad ninja is about to attempt an amazing stunt. He readies his nunchakus and performs a backflip, but his landing is less than graceful. In the background, an anthropomorphic banana dances to an obnoxious tune, while a man named Leeroy charges into battle without a plan. Such is the wonderful, and at times truly perplexing, world of the Internet.
A plethora of trends pass through the diseased bowels of the enormous beast known as the World Wide Web on a daily basis. Among the droppings left behind by this behemoth is viral media. These fads, ranging from images to flash games and videos, garner a humongous amount of popularity very quickly, and virtually disappear just as suddenly, washed away to the dark corners of the internet by the seas of time. Unfortunately, some of these trends don’t go away.
Where do these strange trends trace their origins? How does a video go “viral,” and why? How much stock should be put into something so seemingly random and arbitrary? Honestly, the answer can never really be known. The Internet is far too vast to trace back where and why something started. No one can really tell why one day the top trending search is for a sneezing panda and the next everyone is staring in awe at the world’s most photogenic man. It would be impossible to figure out when, where, and for what purpose the first person sent their friends a link to the “Chocolate Rain,” song, but soon those friends started to spread it among their social circle until the video became a viral sensation. When observing the completely random nature of viral media, it appears almost as if the overwhelming majority of Internet culture is controlled by the fancies of some great, cloistered network god, which seems to have an unnatural penchant for feline celebrity look alikes.
In a study last year, Jonah Berger, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, theorized that the reason behind a viral video’s success has to do with “the visceral emotions it arouses in viewers.” He argues that the popularity of these videos is deeply rooted in how the mind becomes excited by the content of the video, causing the viewer to be more likely to share it with friends. While this analysis is very deep, it does not quite answer the question at hand, and honestly reveals nothing about why certain videos attract more attention then others. Of course the viewer is enthralled by the content, but what is truly puzzling is what kind of videos create such reactions.
There really does not seem to be any pattern to what does or does not achieve popular status online, just an indiscriminate miscellany of different things with little to no connection. There is no true unifying factor that makes something viral, in fact, various media has received amounts of esteem that would be incredibly surprising to most. Take for instance, the newest incarnation of the My Little Pony franchise. Although typically targeted towards young girls, the show has drawn a considerably large and dedicated fanbase among viewers of all ages and genders. Something about these colorful pastel ponies has earned the show an unusual viral status. Regardless of the actual appeal or quality of the show, it begs the question, why has it become so popular? Who first decided to try the show, and what made them spread it to such an extent?
As inexplicable as these trends are, at least one thing can be understood from them, and that is the incredibly diverse and unpredictable nature of internet culture. The web is something that can never be tamed or even understood. No one can possibly tell what the internet will be like years down the road. Maybe someday, future generations will dig up these viral videos, like relics of a bygone age, and scoff at our primitive civilization and its obsession with captioned pictures of cats.