My last post was about a phrase I feel is vague and overused. This one is about a word that is growing exponentially because of the speed of the Internet’s mass transmissions. The word is “viral” — You’ve probably heard it and know what it means. It’s anything that spreads and multiplies really, really fast, like a computer virus or an Internet email hoax or an epidemic. Speaking of epidemics, Malcolm Gladwell has penned a timely book about the science of social epidemics — fads, trends, and ideas that start out relatively insignificant, but when a few small changes are factored in, become outrageously popular. Those little changes, often surprisingly, are what cause the trend to reach a tipping point, where it then quickly becomes an epidemic. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell gives lots of examples from history. Anyone involved in the marketing of ideas and products should check this book out.
But “viral” is a word that is also a little vague. On a website that features the top 10 viral videos and photos, I found a video with 7 views and one with over 2,500 views. It seems they’re all humorous too. Obviously, the selections are made by the author of that site. But truly viral videos are the ones with over 6 million views on YouTube.com (Chocolate Rain, for instance), and are not the ones you see on “America’s Funniest Videos.” These videos get major broadcast and newspaper references, which only makes them more viral, but not necessarily any good. Some are downright stupid.
Remember The Numa Numa video posted last year? I think this one was the tipping point for the whole concept of the viral video. This one was so viral, there were over 3,000 parodies and re-mixes posted and about 25,000 comments. It was stupid, but the tune was catchy and the star of the movie, Gary Brolsma, was funny looking and animated. It made me laugh and laugh, just like you might if you caught me playing air guitar and lip-synching to an Abba song.
“Chocolate Rain” might be more appropriately presented as a poem because the lyrics are meaningful, if not perplexing. But what exactly is it about the video that has caught the attention of so many people? It’s just a teenager with a deep voice and an unremarkable face repeating “chocolate rain” over and over. More interesting than the video itself and the feature that I think has made the video so popular are the viewer comments, over 75,000 of them. Probably what’s making this song viral is the diversity of public feedback. Some people said it’s a great song, some thought it was funny, and some were nasty and belligerent, attacking the poor kid with racist epithets and other insults. This makes it controversial, and controversy is viral. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the bandwagon principle: I just wanted to see it because it was on the news and obviously, everyone else was viewing it. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t get the song out of my head (the concept of the annoying ad jingle comes into play here) and I’m actually writing about it. So there you go — I am spreading the virus to you now, if you haven’t caught it already.