What we’re looking at here are the ones that had the most staying power (one of them has been going strong and making money for ten years), the most penetration into the offline world, and the broadest cultural impact. You’ll notice a distinct lack of LEEROY JENKINS or Numa Numa or anything else from Youtube – check out Heavy’s Best Viral Videos of the Decade for that list. So here they are, the ten things we just couldn’t stop forwarding for the last ten years:
#10: Oolong the Rabbit: Most of the memes on this list are silly or sinister or just plain strange, but Oolong the Rabbit was probably one of the sweetest things we’ve ever seen, especially given its origins in the breadbasket of insanity that is Japan. Oolong’s owner spent years documenting their lives and adventures, most famously bybalancing various objects on the rabbit’s head. We’re a bunch of macho manly grizzled men here at Heavy, but we have to admit, the photos from Oolong’s last hours made us tear up a bit. A man and his bunny, having a good time. That’s a beautiful thing, and all the furries in the world couldn’t take it away from us.
#9: The Flying Spaghetti Monster: The only people who provided more guaranteed batshit insanity than the Internet this decade were the religious right in the United States. Those guys are bona-fide nuts. They are entirely okay with believing that a bunch of metaphors in the back of a 2000 year old book are totally going to happen in their lifetimes (despite not having happened in the lifetimes of anyone for over 2000 years and that everything on the planet was created in exactly six days, but they have a hard time swallowing the concept that species change over time (you know, that “theory” of evolution). Enter the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s basically a joke religion, like Discordianism before it, except that this one has legs… uh… tentacles. Noodle tentacles. The idea is this – if you operate under the assumption that someone or something magically created the entire universe, why does it have to be an old beardy dude in a robe? Why can’t it be a magic plate of spaghetti? This one found most of its traction amongst edgy and disaffected high school and college kids who are still in their RELIGION IS TOTALLY MESSED UP, MAN phase, but made a bit of an impact.
#8: The Demotivator: The Demotivator in its traditional sense has been around since the late 90s, run as a business. That being said, demotivators didn’t really become a meme until the rest of the internet got their hands on the ability to create their own demotivators. From there it expanded into all kinds of nerdy, geeky territory – demotivators based on video games, demotivators based on D&D alignments, even demotivators based on other internet memes. The meme had become a way to transmit other memes (or, if you will, “Yo dog, we heard you like memes, so we put a meme on your meme so you can meme while you meme.”)
#7: Goatse.cx: For a time, Goatse.cx was one of, if not the, foremost shock sites on the entire internet. It was the answer to every question – “where can I find warez?” “u got pix?” “What’s the website for Amazon?” For four solid years, Goatse.cx was the go-to site if you wanted to freak out, disgust, or befuddle friends, family, enemies, or total strangers. A final dispute with the domain registry brought Goatse to its knees, although it lives on through various mirror sites and its spiritual children; Lemon Party, Tubgirl, and 2 Girls 1 Cup.
#6: Anonymous v. Scientology: So the Church of Scientology. They’re a weird bunch, but more than that, they’re a really secretive bunch. All their holy scriptures are copyrighted materials, so if you try and distribute them without permission, they can sue you for infringement. This didn’t sit too well with Anonymous, the internet’s own home-grown terrorist cabal/LAN party/goon squad, who actually got out of their parents’ basements and dorm rooms and unmarked white panel vans and made a global stink about the matter. For a couple months in early 2008, Project Chanology actually made the news. From relatively peaceful protests in many cities to the riot squad getting called out in Atlanta, a bunch of faceless internet dorks made their voices heard and generally irritated the holy hell out of Tom Cruise and friends.
#5: All Your Base: This one is significant for a couple of reasons. It’s one of the first internet memes to really leak significantly into the offline culture (it was covered in Time!). It has all the hallmarks of a classic meme – it’s catchy and memorable, easily modified and exploited (anyone with photoshop and free time can whip up their own All Your Base sign), supremely silly, and incomprehensibly cryptic to outsiders. It’s also the textbook example of the quick rise, brief life, and rapid decline of an internet meme, as within a year or so of its arrival, All Your Base was one of the first Old Memes.
#4: Pirates vs. Ninjas: The dumb pseudo-argument that launched a thousand angry nerd debates. The Ninja vs. Pirate meme seems to have roughly spun off from Real Ultimate Power, a dumb joke website about how ninjas were totally sweet, wailed on electric guitars, and cut people in half. Obviously, the natural enemy for the sneaky ninja is the boisterous pirate. The pirate camp quickly rebutted with their own dumb jokes – Talk Like A Pirate Day being the biggest by far. The entire thing has spawned dumb comic books, dumb video games, dumb t-shirts, and other dumb things for nerds to buy with their parents’ money.
#3: Chuck Norris Facts: If there’s one thing the Internet is good for, it’s nostalgia. Hey, remember Walker, Texas Ranger? (so does Conan O’Brien!) Remember how badass Chuck Norris was? He was so badass that… A bit like “yo momma” jokes, Chuck Norris Facts worked because it was all about hyperbole and excess. What’s the manliest thing in the world? Whatever it is, Chuck Norris’s beard can kick it’s ass. Easily spread, easily understood (who doesn’t recognize Chuck?), Chuck Norris roundhoused his way off the internet and back into popular culture, slapping his face (and his facts) on t-shirts and notebooks and every other kind of ridiculous tchotchke you could hope to buy.
#2: The Rickroll: Arising from the sinister depths of 4chan, the Rickroll is another deceptively simple meme, because it works on the old bait and switch principle. Promise something exciting (say, the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV) and provide something completely different (say, a cheesy 1980s pop video). The combination of a relatively harmless prank and a still-catchy pop song produced one of the most effective and popular memes of the decade. Youtube, Google, and The Daily Show Rickrolled their viewers. So did Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Internet wags voted Astley as MTV Europe’s “Best Act Ever.” Pretty much the ultimate culmination of the Rickroll was the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that bastion of Americana, when Astley and a bunch of puppets Rickrolled the entire country. The fad seems to have died down now, because let’s face it – how are you gonna beat that one? Anything less would just let us down, and we all know Rick Astley would never do that.
#1: LOLcats: The meme of the decade? You can has it. We’ll go ahead and dump all of its broken-english image macro cousins (O RLY/YA RLY, IM IN UR BASE KILLIN UR DOODS, etc.) in the broader LOLbasket (or LOLbukkit, if you will). The LOLcats work because they’re so retardedly simple that anyone can create one. Take a dumb picture of a cat (or a walrus, or a president, or a concentration camp), slap a stupid misspelled caption on it in 16-point Impact, and you’re good to go. Your mom gets the joke. She forwards it to all her friends in the bridge club who barely even know how a computer works. It’s so insipid and goofy that it just spreads and spreads and replicates, appealing to that terrible reptilian part of our brain that thinks cats are delicious funny and broken grammar is hilarious. While other memes fade as quickly as they appeared on the scene (Sorry, Kanye – we’re happy for you, and we’ll let you finish, but you’re old meme now), LOLcats appear to be here to stay. GOD CAN HELP US ALL PLZ?
HONORABLE MENTION: Snakes On A Plane – For like six months, we were really excited about these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking plane… and then the movie actually came out.