Wanna-meme

You remember the finger breakdancing video that went viral a couple of years ago? Earlier this year, an advertising campaign for Sony-Ericsson’s Xperia phone sought to emulate the memetastic success of the original; the spot above is the shocking result. With its faux-hip graphics and its jumpy nostalgia cuts (even fading out through a screen grab from the freaky, hipster-favorite sixties bike-safety film “One Got Fat“), it’s hard to believe the “Boston Typewriter” didn’t catch on. But “Boston Typewriter” has garnered barely more than four thousand hits (the original finger breakdancing video counts more than ten million). According to Sony-Ericsson, thousands of entries were uploaded to the corporate YouTube channel. The winning entry doesn’t say much for the competition:

There ought to be a name for memes that are faked for marketing purposes—like the “astroturf” of market-tested political action, only with the taint of infectious disease. Videos, images, or characters that have all the wacky, vernacular signifiers of Internet culture pasted on like stickers: maybe we can call them “wanna-memes.” The clearest sign that Sony-Ericsson’s finger-dancing campaign remained a wanna-meme? Google “boston typewriter”: the lamecore performance troupe Boston Typewriter Orchestra wins the search results contest hands down.

Over at Semionaut, Louise Jolly notes that a number of ad campaigns this year featured dancing that looks almost compulsory and totalitarian in nature, citing a Marks & Spencer holiday advert that warns shoppers: “[d]on’t put a foot wrong this Christmas.” Jolly notes although dance offers “a utopian fantasy of unity,” it can quickly turn into “a vision of togetherness that’s as tightly choreographed as a drill.” For this I blame Matt Harding, whose infectious we-are-the-world global happy dance set the bar for compulsory viral-video dancing. But the stillborn nature of Sony Ericsson’s finger dancing meme gives me hope: despite our dependence on literally digital technologies, our fingers remain remarkably free from scrutiny; no one has to ask, “when I do the Boston Typewriter, do my fingers look fat?”

2 comments

  1. “There ought to be a name for memes that are faked for marketing purposes”.

    I believe there is one: “Marketing campaign”. Isn’t the aim and hope of every marketing campaign to go viral?

  2. It’s true in the broad sense, Justin—of course, marketing wants to grab all the mindshare it can, regardless of medium. More specifically, I suppose, I mean marketing that uses the vernacular of Internet culture to accomplish that end. The line between vernacular memes and viral marketing, I admit, is very fuzzy.

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