Up until about eight or nine years ago, if someone mentioned the word viral, it usually referred to something pertaining to or related to a virus (that's the "technical" definition). Today's definition of "viral" has broadened to include a phenomenon that exists when something "catches on" in society in a big way, often despite humble or simple beginnings. For example, this could include fashion trends, a viral e-mail (you know, the ones that say "you must send this to 50 people in the next five minutes or you'll have bad luck for the rest of the week"), a chain letter or viral video are common examples.
Yes, with all the serious topics that I could have used this space to discuss, I choose to opine on viral videos, a humorous topic that I find fascinating, mindboggling, mysterious and unbelievable all at the same time.
OK, the actual truth is that I couldn't come up with a "real" topic I wanted to write about, so I asked my friend Derek Van Dyke (a Minot State University senior from Mandan) to help me come up with a topic and this is the best thing we could find on short notice!
So, here we go.
How many of us remember the "Obama Girl?" A good-looking 20-something, possessing an obvious love for then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama, lip synching a song professing her undying support for Obama. The story behind the video is that it was produced by BarelyPolitical.com, made for fun, produced in less than three weeks, and it was seen by 16.5 million people on YouTube and millions more across the country when the 24/7 news channels and networks picked up the story. Truly, a viral video that proves it is possible to have an overnight sensation.
That video was done in 2007, during a very long presidential race. Other online videos attract just as much attention, if not more, based on almost nothing.
How many people know what I'm talking about when I mention William Hung of American Idol non-fame from 2004, popular for his horrendous rendition of Ricky Martin's song, "She Bangs?" Or, the Mentos guys, with their "experiments" in dropping Mentos into Diet Coke bottles? How about the generously overweight Canadian teenager with an obsession for Star Wars, attempting in 2002 to wield a light saber like a Jedi? Or the Numa Numa video (34 million views on YouTube)? How about the wedding procession in St. Paul, Minn., where the wedding group danced down the aisle to a Chris Brown song? That made the bride and groom famous on an international level. All because the video went viral.
The Hung story was popular because of his positive response to American Idol judge Simon Cowell's negative retort and resulted in a cult following on an independent Web site dedicated as William Hung's fan site. Hung's rise to inadvertent celebrity can be tied back to a simple piece of video, seen by millions.
Our friend the Star Wars impersonator takes the cake in my opinion. If you haven't seen the video yet, a simple Internet search for "star wars kid" will let you know what I'm writing about. I know it's ridiculous, yet entertaining; sad, yet compelling; trite, yet original. It's viral.
On more than one list, the Star Wars kid is ranked as the number one viral video of all time. One Web site estimates that the 1-minute, 34-second clip has been viewed more than 900 million times. Think of that. That's almost three times the population of the United States. All for a video about a high school kid who did what probably millions of others have done. Yet, he did it with the camcorder on record and that video made it online.
(Mark Lyman is one of four community columnists for The Minot Daily News)