Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Here's a helpful hint in garnering attention for your silly, senseless ideas: simply jump on the bandwagon as early as possible in the technological timeline. If you can somehow finagle yourself a little corner of that virtual marketplace when the competition is light, people will probably find their way to your inane website. Nowadays the internet is over-saturated with all kinds of drivel but in the web's earlier days, these useless pages made up a far more significant proportions of websites. When you only have so many websites to visit, you're far more likely to check out a singing hamster or a dancing baby. That's just simple statistical analysis. So, sorry self, you've entered the world of novelty websites a decade too late. I'll give me some time to grieve.
We've all grown increasingly more difficult to entertain over the years. We have constant access to multiple forms of entertainment, many of which we choose to employ simultaneously. Have you ever noticed that you get bored just putzing around on the computer if there's no TV on in the background? This constant buzz of entertainment has dulled our reactions to internet stimuli. In the 90s, though, if a site offered us some sort of animation with accompanying irritating soundtrack, we were enthralled and immediately forwarded the link to all of our friends. While today when I get a forwarded email my major reaction is disdain to the sender for clogging my inbox, in the early internet days I would cross my fingers that my inbox contained a chain letter or a link to one of the following early meme gems:
In 1996, all it took was a couple of GIFs and some captivatingly irritating music playing on loop to lure us to a pointless website. The site featured four different types of hamsters arranged in rows, with each type feverishly perpetuating its signature dance move as a sped-up version of a song from Disney's Robin Hood played in the background. Hampsterdance exploded onto the meme scene overnight, jumping from just a couple of pageviews to a shocking 15,000 visits daily. It was sort of cute, yes, but not exactly the stuff groundbreaking internet phenomenons are made of.
This animated three dimensional rendering of a dancing babies made its rounds on the internet before ascending to television fame on Fox's Ally McBeal. It was, as the straightforwardness of the name suggests, a dancing baby. Really, that was it. A baby. Who danced. Like I said, it didn't take all that much to impress us in these early days of the internet; most of us were generally enthralled by the ever-growing capabilities of the internet. Sure, the dancing baby site probably froze every couple of minutes on your dial-up internet or shut down when someone picked up the modem's phone extension, but it amused us all the same.
Bill Gates Chain Letter and others
Over the years, we've become more and more accustomed to monitoring our emails for spam. I no longer jump for joy every time a Nigerian banker tries to share his lucrative fortune with me or when I'm notified of my winning $14 million in a foreign lottery I never entered. I used to experience a brief, gullible thrill at these messages, but they've since lost their luster.
In the 90s, however, we weren't quite so disillusioned with the notion of our inboxes bringing us great luck and free cash. Many chain letters were of the old-fashioned variety, warning that failure to forward it to 12 friends will leave you unlucky in love and life. Some, though, were a bit more enticing, notably the notification that an imminent merger of AOL and Microsoft meant Bill Gates wanted to send you a big fat check. Most of these fraudulent emails claimed the now-merged companies wanted so badly for Internet Explorer to remain the most popular browser that they were putting forth a little cash to cement its status. Who wouldn't press "forward" in hopes of receiving a check for somewhere between $200-$1000? As in most cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Bill Gates is a generous guy, but I think his money's a bit more useful in funding clean water supplies for impoverished African villages than ensuring I don't switch to Firefox.
Ate my Balls
Just as the name implies, the site depicted popular characters with thought-bubble overlays detailing their desire to eat balls. Sound stupid? It is.
Mahir Cagri: I Kiss You!!!
Who can deny the charm of a Turkish accordion aficionado with a standing offer for a kiss? Apparently none of us can, or so reveals the incredible amount of traffic to Mahir Cagri's personal web site in the late 90s. His site was full of little tidbits of broken-English self-proclamations, such as "I like music , I have many many music enstrumans my home I can play" and of course, "I Kiss You!!!" Cagri alleged that Sacha Baron Cohen's based the Borat character on his website. There are definitely an assortment of similarities, but Cagri's post-Borat movie lawsuit against Baron Cohen seemed more like a cry for lost attention than a legitimate legal claim.
Bert is Evil
Much to the chagrin of Susame Street producers, this website showed the puppet Bert consorting with all manners of unsavory characters such as Osama bin Laden. The idea was that Bert was actually some form of conniving evil genius and not just the disgruntled foil to the cheerier Ernie. The site's proprietor eventually took down the site, but not before Bert's image began cropping up on the posters of actual bin Laden supporters. Scary stuff. I thought it was bad when he was getting mad about cookies in the bed, but this is taking it to an entirely new level.
What does a group of rogue MIT students do when they get together to kick back and have some fun? Why, start an elaborate internet hoax, of course. The Bonsai Kitten website claimed that you could raise a Bonsai kitten in the same manner as you would grow a Bonsai tree, complete with photographs and descriptions of the process. Gullible animal lovers worldwide cried out in outrage, forwarding the site to all of their friends in hope of putting an end to this cruel, inhumane kitten-pruning practice. The joke may have been in poor taste, but it was just a joke nonetheless.
Rating Sites (Rate my Face, Hot or Not)
Have you ever wondered whether you were attractive? Do you have a camera and an elevated sense of physical self-esteem? Then we've got a whole slew of websites made just for your own mirror basking self-admiration. You simply uploaded a photo of yourself to the website and people would give you a numeric rating based on your looks. I'm not totally sure why we needed this type of validation from the general internet-roaming public, but the site was admittedly fun to browse. Now many of these sites have added a dating element, which I suppose hinges on the notion of matching individuals of equal attractiveness.
Peanut Butter Jelly Time
The meme featured just a dancing banana emoticon and the song "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" by the Buckwheat Boyz. The frantic banana has had many imitators including Family Guy's Brian, but none can compare to the simplicity of the original.
There's no means of predicting just which of these crazy little corners of the internet will skyrocket to disproportionate fame, but they do seem to have a common thread throughout: complete and total ridiculousness. The internet's bursting at the seams with heaps of viral memes and trends, but in the 90s the novelty was enough to draw us in to watch a dancing banana instruct us in the art of sandwich making.