By Michael Pfister
In class, during a unit of remix and mashup, we learned about memes using the Downfall parodies as an example. This particular meme is robust; although it’s well past its prime, Youtube users continue to upload examples of this meme today. Our study of the meme concluded with an assignment: make a Downfall parody. With the guidance of a few examples and some advice on video editing, the class was sent out to conquer the meme. Immediately, I hit the gas in my head; however, the wheels weren’t turning. I was surprised that an idea didn’t occur to me right away, but I’m glad my brain held out. I went back to my dorm room and found a copy of Downfall. “In order to understand the meme,” I argued with myself, “I should know where it came from.” It turns out the movie was very good, but I still had no ideas. Then, I remembered something I learned about the life cycle of genre.
A parody keeps a genre fresh; unlike a revision, which takes a genre a step further, a parody offers commentary on the genre. Using this logic and a lack of any other ideas, I decided to make a parody of the Downfall parodies. Using the original source of the meme in my video editing software, I made Hitler’s character aware of the parodies and, naturally, quite upset that one of his favorite movies was running the gauntlet. I wrote the story as I went along, using the natural structure of theDownfall meme as a model. Hitler is in a meeting with his officers. They brief him on the “situation,” which is that Downfall parodies keep popping up on Youtube. All is calm as Hitler strategizes. Then, the “incident” occurs: Steiner (the name taken directly from the film, which tends to happen in the various parodies) has uploaded a parody. Hitler, shocked, requests for all those involved to leave the room, and then he explodes. Everything was playing out well—until I ran out of ideas.
I’ve found that many of the Downfall parodies run out of steam around halfway through, and I was afraid my piece would fall victim to a similar fate. I reflected on our class discussions and remembered why these videos were ever funny in the first place: They parody one of the most notorious murderers in history. It’s not about making a parody of Downfall; it’s that Hitler, the man responsible for unspeakable crimes against humanity, is reduced to a petty, whiney, raving lunatic in these videos. “Hitler gets his Xbox live taken away.” “Hitler wants to go to Walmart.” “Hitler runs out of coffee” (another parody produced for the class). I decided to drive the piece forward by giving Hitler performance anxiety coupled with emerging fears of his lifelong bully, Stalin, and his love for certain Disney princesses. At the end, his crippled sense of self-worth drives the man to create a new Youtube account and make a parody of his own.
I finished the piece and uploaded it. It received a modest amount of hits (partially because I posted the link on my Facebook wall), and then, it exploded. The video generated a few thousand hits within several hours, and I wanted to know why. After doing a bit of research with Youtube’s excellent Insight feature, I found out that a website in the Middle East, possibly Israel, picked up the video. This caused a spike, and as quickly as it happened, the hits stopped coming. Now, the video rests at under 10,000 hits. Such is the life of a meme.
Entire television networks have been created based on user-generated content. I feel like this is enough to justify the importance of studying the Internet’s organic and sometimes parasitic nature. As a writer, I tend to feel swept up in the whirlwind of Internet trends and emerging technologies. One could view the Internet as a fresh frontier, ready to be conquered by the gun slinging Zuckerbergs, and they’d be right. My idea behind the Internet allows for the meme: We have before us a library of unquestionable magnitude, and it is housed within a growing building. The memes are graffiti; they greet the visitor with confidence and drying paint, and they confirm that the denizens, the people, have a voice as well.