adjective vi·ral \ˈvī-rəl\
Quickly and widely spread or popularized especially by person-to-person electronic communication <a viral video> (also found in every client’s brief.)
In this bizarre realm of social media where the only thing we can predict is its unpredictability, we were greeted with yet another trending Vine video which the world know as “Damn Daniel”. A first glance at the catchy alliteration would tell us that this is probably going to linger for quite a while in people’s minds *Brace yourself, memes and parodies are coming*.
Upon its birth on the 15th of February, the video — starring Daniel Lara (the Daniel) and the comical voice narrator Joshua Holz — has been retweeted around 264,000 times and liked over 331,000 times in a short span of just one week. The video content is generally the same: there will be an enthusiastic high-pitched voiceover going “Daaaaamnnnn Daniel”, followed by a quick glimpse of Daniel in his pair of Vans (which changes all the time) with an expression mixed between bashful and coy. Note! You must end the video with the all-too-popular quote, “back at it with the white Vans!” And there you have it, the instant formula to be casted in the social media spotlight. To aid your visualisation, here’s a video from Youtube:
The week after, the now-famous duo were asked to be guests on the Ellen Show, received a lifetime supply of Vans, signed autographs in fan meet events and became a household name. Recently, their catchphrase was used in politics — “Damn Donald, back at it with the white supremacy”, and they are using their newfound fame to do charity work. At the age of 14, they are named the second most influential people on the Internet by Times, alongside known figures like Kanye West and J.K. Rowling. Just take a while to let that sink in.
We could either say Internet users are extremely bored or the level of humour has generally hit a new low. But besides these reasons, we must look beyond the seemingly meaningless content and explore the concept of ‘Virality’, which has more depth and complexity than how we perceive it to be.
Let’s think about “Damn Daniel” and another expression that went viral, “ain’t nobody got time for that”; there is an unmistakable groove to it that makes it catchy and unforgettable. You may find them nonsensical at first, or probably for a long time, but the phrase just grows on you ever so subtly. How do we know that? Simply, through the way we use and say them. When situations arise and the first thing we can think of is “Damn Daniel”, that’s when you know you’ve got the virus. The interesting thing to note here however, is that there is an unspoken rule governing the world of viral memes. There is a specific way of utilising the viral expressions and you cannot use it in any way you like; if you’re going to throw out “Damn Daniel” without proper usage i.e. a wrong situation and/or not saying it with the correct intonation, you’re most likely going to be greeted by a excruciatingly painful awkward silence or get mocked by other law-abiders: “that’s not how you use it bruh”.
Which brings us to the next point. Virality reflects how human beings work and it is a form of socialisation. What do all viral videos/ memes have in common? They are relatable; people from all around the globe have similar experiences, no matter where they are from. To describe something, a norm is formed and people pick it up intuitively, no instructions needed. That’s socialisation in its everyday form. The need for connection is also emphasized here and this is ultimately what makes virality so powerful. People crave connection for several reasons – a sense of security, to reduce first-meeting awkwardness, to explain something without much elaboration. Viral memes and videos make the world go round; they allow that desired connection to be achieved to the extent that they can even be classified as a convenient universal language (well, at least for countries with internet connection) due to their widespread popularity.
Now that we think about it, all of these cannot be sustained if human beings are not, for the lack of a better word, lazy. Sure, it takes effort to create content that becomes viral. But what we are referring to is the sustained usage of the viral expression. These taglines simplify everything: Stuck in the past? “Let it go”; did something wrong? “Left Shark”; annoyed? “Deez nuts”. Simple, fuss-free, and relatable. And best of all? They are highly entertaining at the same time. They even serve as euphemisms to replace harsher words that can dampen the mood.
Viral memes have their functions in the digital realm and they work equally well in the physical world as well. Perhaps we should all try to goof around one day onscreen and we might just hit the jackpot someday – a sudden grant of influence, a lifetime supply of Vans and a surge of fans maybe? But remember, the next time another trend surfaces, look beyond the (usually vacuous) content and think about what it means for knowledgeable agents like us human beings.