Much Ado About a Meme

Eight years ago, a filmmaker by the name of Charles Stone III was approached by Anheuser-Busch to turn his short film into a series of adverts for Budweiser, and the Whassup? meme was born. (There is extensive history and information on the awards this ad campaign won on Wikipedia.)

Soon, “True, true”, “Yo dookie”, and of course, “Whassup?” became part of the vernacular, at least in North America. The popularity of the series led to a torrent of parodies and homages. My favourite is the painstakingly crafted mashup wherein the Superfriends play the roles of the Whassup boys.

In 2008, this meme is pretty old, and basically out of circulation. And so it goes with these things: they come and go, enjoy their moment in the pop culture sunshine, and then are replaced with something else. But this time is different: with the American election imminent, the Whassup boys are back, imbuing their initial schtick with substance and effectively playing on the power of the meme created by the initial advert and subsequent parodies. Enough time has passed that people have forgotten about Whassup, but not enough time has gone by for it to be a totally irrelevant reference.

It’s marvellous to see such a clever re-use of a much-loved meme. …and it gives me an excuse to say: get out there and vote, my American friends!

Art & Culture

Lead Into Gold

“…the majority of popular culture is worthless, anti-democratic, scelerotic garbage”, according to Stephen Moss, writing recently on the Guardian’s blogs. Mr Moss’ article is in part a reaction to a new report from Oxford sociologists that has determined that the cultural elite does not exist. The report suggests that there are actually four groups of cultural consumers, which Moss summarises as: “univores, who like popular culture; omnivores, who like everything from Posh Spice to Puccini; paucivores, who absorb little culture; and inactives, who absorb none (is that possible?).”

Moss’ article takes a rather extreme stance against all forms of pop culture, and revels in the notion that despite the research taking place at Oxford, there may still be those faithful enough to high art that they are blissfully ignorant that pop culture even exists.

While I consider myself an “omnivore” as defined by the report, I sympathise with what I believe is the underlying sentiment in Moss’ article – that in general, we don’t recognise and appreciate true quality enough of the time. However, in my recent trawling of “best of 2007” lists that multiply across the world wide web like mushrooms at the end of December, I found two pieces of work that, once and for all, firmly solidified the value of popular culture in my mind.

As the CBC’s “Best of 2007” list editors put it, Alanis Morissette’s parody of the song “My Humps” by Black Eyed Peas “…almost justifies its existence”.

Alanis, herself a pop princess (albeit with a more “serious” persona) takes lyrical gems (cough, cough) from the Black Eyed Peas like this:

What you gonna do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
How’m I gonna get get get you drunk
Get you drunk off this hump?

…and makes it actually, almost, kind of — beautiful. The melody is memorable, and the parody is spot-on. It takes a “hit” that I never bothered to listen to, and recycles it into something infinitely more interesting, if even to simply take note of precisely how ridiculous the original lyrics are.

Peaches, another “popular culture” phenom, takes the whole parody of this one amazingly banal song to the next level, by applying her usual raw and raunchy treatment, but also folding in elements of Alanis’ parody.

What’s marvellous about Peaches taking the parody a bit further is that it picks up where Alanis left off. Alanis did a great job of laying bare the inanity of the lyrics of the original song. Peaches links the whole thing back to the inanity of daily life – our dumps, our humps. Perhaps there will never be a Top 40 hit about our dumps, or our shopping list, or taking children to daycare, or going to the gym and doing the same routine for the fortieth time. It makes one wonder why there is a song about “how’m I gonna get get get you drunk” at all, since that sentiment is about as interesting as my shopping list. Or perhaps even less interesting, depending on what I’m shopping for?

And so, Mr Moss, that’s the value of pop culture today, for those of us who fancy ourselves to be a bit more highbrow, or at the very least, “omnivores” by the standards of Oxford researchers: the best and the worst of it can be fodder for other artists to make bigger, more interesting statements. To turn lead into gold, as it were.

Hat tip to the CBC’s “Best of 2007” list, which led me to both of these gems. If you really want to get get get the original version of “My Humps”, you can click here.