10. eHarmony Video Bio (June 2011)
There are only a few things more popular than a good fail video, and watching people crash and burn on camera is one of our favorite things to do – because, as the Fine Brothers like to say, “we are such great people”. So when Debbie’s failed attempt at online dating hit the tubez in June 2011, it became viral in no time. People enjoyed making fun at the expense of the over-emotional girl, and many of them came to mock her in the comment section of the video. The Internet loves cats too, yes, but not to such a psychotic level. Poor Debbie became the joke of the Internet, easy prey for trolls to feed on.
But some of us had a different reaction to this video. This was 2011, and we weren’t as naive as we were in the early days of YouTube. So by the 1:40 mark many of us just felt their head slowly tilting to the side, and their glance becoming askance. It was too good to be true. Journalists who had the same suspicion went out to explore, and a few days later the truth came out: “Debbie” was actually a comedienne named Cara Hartmann, and the video was a sketch. But, of course, many people did not get the memo, and many still think Debbie is for real.
2011 was YouTube’s greatest year, the year when it was just non-stop creative fun. Among other things, it was the year of the troll. A troll is basically someone who pretends to be something they’re not just to cause a disruption and elicit a reaction, and the early Internet trolls were almost invariably just mean people who wanted to make you angry. They fed on the angered reactions they manage to provoke, and the more you fed them with your reactions the harder they trolled. Gradually, however, we started to know more creative trolls, and by 2011 they just blossomed. Debbie is what I call a meta-troll, and what some have called the “cannibal troll”: it is a troll that feeds on the reactions of other trolls. The eHarmony Video Bio is troll bait, inviting trolls to come and be mean to the hapless girl, not realizing that she is actually laughing at them because they are earning her more views and making her video more viral. Of all the great and creative trolls of 2011, Debbie was the most successful.
Cara carried on from there and tried to build a YouTube career, with only mild success. She never managed to recreate that magical moment. But this video lives on.
9. Nyan Cat (April 2011)
So, how can we explain this YouTube phenomenon? This YouTube icon? How is it that with all the wonderful videos of real cats on the Tube, this dumbass badly-drawn poptart-bodied annoyingly-vocaloided excruciatingly repetitive 8-bit feline troll is by far the most popular one?
Apparently, this is what we humans like. Repetitive videos that use low-tech electronic music and very silly animation have been popular on YouTube from the start. ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’ and ‘Badgers’ are just a couple of notable examples. It is because these videos defy our expectations to make sense that we find them funny, and the silliness of it all just fills you up with mirth and sends you into hysterics. So when this rainbow farting nuisance appeared in our skies in April 2011, it took over immediately and became one of the biggest memes ever. You don’t get it? That’s ok, neither does anyone else.
8. Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! (May 2007)
The only thing that can rival animals in cuteness are cute babies, and while there are several contenders for the cutest animal video on YouTube, when it comes to cute baby vids there is one that stands head and shoulders above all the rest. Hitting the web in May 2007, that month when YouTube began producing memes, ‘Charlie Bit My Finger – Again!’ is one of the most famous Internet videos in history. It is definitely the most viewed none-musical one, with over eight-hundred million views to date. What puts it above the rest? For me, it’s because it kind of tells a story. Also, evil baby laugh!
7. Leeroy Jenkins (April 2005)
World of Warcraft is a multi-player online game – meaning, a video game which players from anywhere in the world can play together, if they have the suitable console. Based on the adventure board game Warcraft, it already had a vast and intricate mythology when it was introduced in late 2004, so Players could band together and form groups and set out on a quest through the many realms of the fantasy world of Azeroth. It became hugely popular right away, and to this day players get consumed in the characters they play in this world and the many adventures they can experience through them. The rest of the world, however, was largely unaware of this other world existing in cyberspace. The players of WoW were an underground subculture, living their second lives while cooped in their own rooms, unknown to the world. Until one moment in April 2005, after which everything changed.
It all started when a group of WoW players that called themselves “Pals of Life” posted a recording from their last game on a WoW message board, innocently asking other players to help them figure out what they were doing wrong. The video shows them standing outside a dangerous rookery of dragons which they plan to raid, debating how they are going to do it without being killed. They form a meticulously detailed plan, but they fail to notice that one of them, who goes by the name Leeroy Jenkins, is away from his console (presumably to warm a plate of chicken) and is unaware of their strategizing. Then he comes back, and…
Everyone who saw the video laughed their ass off, and Leeroy became an instant hero in the gaming community. But it didn’t end there. On the same month, YouTube became active, and the Leeroy Jenkins video could find its rightful home through which its fame could spread beyond the gaming world. Because of Leeroy, the game itself, and the whole world of online multi-player games, became more well known and was no longer an underground thing. Leeroy (whose real name is actually Ben Schultz) became the first celebrity gamer, and his legend continued to spread. The makers of World of Warcraft soon created a character called Leeroy Jenkins, noted for his impetuousness and courage. And the video is a YouTube classic.
Today, Leeroy Jenkins is a pop culture icon, referenced in many places you wouldn’t expect. The battle cry “Leeeeeerrooooooyyyy Nnjjeeenkeeeenssss!!!” has now replaced “Geronimo!” or “Bonsai!” as the thing you scream when you venture on a suicide mission. Sometimes, all you need to do to make history is have some chicken.
6. Bed Intruder Song!!! (July 2010)
It didn’t start out as a funny story at all. On July 28th, 2010, a TV news station in Alabama aired a story about an attempted rape of a local girl named Kelly Dodson by a man who infiltrated her bedroom, which was luckily foiled by her brother Antoine. But the news story fell into the pattern that from thereon would typify several news stories that went viral on YouTube: it had an ok ending, so we could forget about the story and focus on the flamboyant antics of the people being interviewed. In this case it was the hero of the tale, Antoine Dodson, whose hilariously campy posturing, jiving and taunting of the failed rapist steal the show. Someone had the sense to tape the news story and upload it to YouTube, and it instantly went viral and got hundreds of thousands of views in the first couple of days. It should have ended there, but then, it got amplified.
The Gregory Brothers are the most original musicians of our time. They are the only ones who present an entirely new way of making music, a way that can work only with the help of YouTube. The auto-tune, a device which traditionally was used to correct the pitch of singers in recordings, was popularized in 2007 by rappers like T-Pain who used it to turn their rapping into melody and essentially make a song out of it, but the Gregory Brothers took it a step further. In 2009 they started airing their YouTube show called “Auto-tune the news”, in which they took news stories and turned them into songs, using the auto-tune to make newscasters and politicians sing and (beings singers themselves) adding harmonies on top. But they always used the stuff that was on the top of the news, and footage from national networks. This gave them only mild success, until they realized that the Internet isn’t interested in the boring old farts on the national TV news but rather in the everyday heroes found on local news or on YouTube. In the beginning of July 2010 they scored their first viral hit when they auto-tuned the Double Rainbow guy, and at the end of the month, as Antoine Dodson broke into our lives, they had the perfect vehicle to create their masterpiece.
With hundreds of millions of views, ‘Bed Intruder Song’ stands shoulder to shoulder with videos made by the biggest names in pop music, and became a bona-fide Billboard hit. The Gregory Brothers carried on from there, songifying similar stories and turning them into thrilling and inspiring songs about the everyday heroism and awesomeness of the simple folk. Antoine Dodson made a nice profit from the royalties and could move his family to a safer place, and the local TV stations took note as well and you can see them searching for similarly colorful interviewees and then uploading the segments to YouTube in the hope that they will turn viral. Everybody came out a winner from what was initially, we all like to forget, a heinous rape attempt. And the perpetrator? Oh yeah, he was never caught. Apparently not so dumb, after all.