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How Memes Transformed Hollywood – Wisecrack Edition


Today, I want to talk about one of the most
important moments in recent cinema history. Perhaps, you remember it. It went like this: “Don’t you know who I
am? I’m the juggernaut, bitch! I’m the juggernaut, bitch! I’m the juggernaut, bitch!” In case you weren’t spending hundreds of hours
on the internet in the early aughts, this line from the 2006 summer blockbuster, X-Men:
The Last Stand, was cribbed straight from an amateur parody video – “I’m the Juggernaut
bitch!” “Motherf**ker, I’ma whoop your ass.” “Silly bitch, your weapons cannot harm me. Don’t you know who the f**k I am? I’m the juggernaut!” It inspired a wildly popular meme, which,
against all odds, traveled from the depths of the web to the big screen. X-Men’s reference to Internet culture was
no mere comedic moment. It was the birth of an entirely new relationship
between Hollywood and the internet. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Memeification
of Actors. And no spoilers ahead… I guess. This X-Men thing wasn’t an isolated incident,
either. Just months earlier, the world’s most prolific
speaker of profanity, Samuel L. Jackson, saw his own fame eclipsed by a series of gifs
when his new film, Snakes on a Plane, was announced. It quickly became an online meme-ified sensation. Most notably, a couple of Internet fans created
an overdubbed R-rated audio trailer for the film, inspired by Jackson’s role in Pulp
Fiction. “I did not ask for motherf**king snakes on
my motherf**king plane!” Unable to ignore the Internet’s insatiable
demand for good, old-fashioned Samuel L Jackson f-bombs, the film’s producers scheduled
reshoots to add new scenes that played up the ridiculousness, including the now-famous
line: “I have had it with these motherf**king snakes on this motherf**king plane!” Samuel L. Jackson’s public persona was crucial
to the internet frenzy. The incredibly salient motherf**king mantra
of the film’s viral bubble exploited Jackson’s firmly established on-screen image as the
potty-mouthed badass. “Say ‘what’ again! Say ‘what’ again, I dare you! I double dare you, motherf**ker. Say ‘what’ one more, g*ddamn time!” Then, to great humorous effect, it placed
said-badass into a delightfully absurd situation: the greatest reptilian invasion in the history
of aviation. Fans were explicitly waiting to see how Samuel
L Jackson, the celebrity entity, would respond to the scenario. They were envisioning some kind of fabricated
combination of the characters played by Jackson and the man, himself. This moment represents what we’re going
to call the “memeification of actors.” While X-Men’s Juggernaut moment, or Snakes
on a Plane, may seem like a bizarre blip on our collective cultural radar, it’s much
more than that, encapsulating a revolutionary breakdown in the separation between film and
fan. And yet, at the same time, it represents the
next step in a process that’s preoccupied Hollywood’s efforts since its earliest days. While the memeification of actors is new,
the processes that lead up to it aren’t. So how did we get to this moment, a time when
Sad Keanu can literally inspire the sad vengeance-seeking hero of John Wick or when Ryan Gosling is
known as the face of the “Hey Girl” meme to scores of people who have never seen his
films? First, we have to understand something called
serialization, but not in the narrative sense. So, what is this kind of serialization? Most literally, a franchise. Most metaphorically, according to media scholar
P. David Marshall, you can compare it to a series of related products, such as a car
or an on-screen performance, “that are stylistically linked.” Marshall argues that serialization fulfilled
a need of early day Hollywood producers: it helped them cement an individual movie star’s
persona into the public consciousness, thus setting them apart from the rest of the pack. In the early Hollywood star system of the
1920s, branding celebrities was an economic strategy, a way for studios to make their
films stand out in a crowded market. It was quite literally product differentiation. In a sea of attractive movie stars, cultivating
demand for individual actors like your resident ‘Cowboy” or “Blonde Bombshell” was
like popularizing Diet Coke to the other studios’ “soda pop.”And so, a complex infrastructure
of public relations professionals, star magazines, and studios grew in the pursuit of moulding
actors into name brands. Once a star became a household name, studios
could then exploit said star’s fame by making the exact same, generally sh*tty serialized
movies over and over, using their resident “good girl,” “Casanova,” or “vamp.” When people got bored, actors could be cast
against type, and thus consciously evoke the very same audience expectations. For example, Schwarzenegger became a brand,
so the studios gave you Terminator, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, etc. Tired of that? then, they gave you Junior
and Jingle All the Way, where our Last Action Hero has to fight not with aliens, but with
Sinbad for a toy. With this serialization of performances, came
what Marshall calls “celebrity personnage.” Personnage refers to “a structure of familiarity
for the audience, but also a structure of performance for the actor.” In other words, a feedback loop of typecasting. Sometimes, that familiarity becomes so encompassing
that it literally supplants any sense of the actor as an autonomous being. When you picture classic stars like James
Dean, you picture them exactly as they looked and behaved on screen, not their real selves. You could say the same about Samuel L Jackson,
who, for all I know, goes home and soothes his children to sleep with the calming refrain,
“go the f**k to sleep.” Because branded stars equaled easy money,
studios invested in them heavily, and Hollywood celebrity “personnage” was mediated by
the aforementioned PR reps, star magazines, agencies and more. They worked in synergy to create and safeguard
celebrity reputations. Back in these good old days, a celebrity name
was enough to generate reliable box office returns. But that’s all changed. Today, not even heavyweights like Tom Cruise
or J-Law are totally safe bets. That’s partially because celebrity identity
no longer belongs exclusively to powerful movie executives. Why? Because the internet. It allows us to actively participate in creating
the narrative of each celebrity, giving us, as scholar Paul Mcdonald writes, “the opportunity
for an interactive construction of star discourse that was not possible with previous channels
of mass communication.” That’s changed our position in the food
chain of media. According to Marshall, the audience member
is now a “hybrid of producer and user that is engaged in the media consumption/production”
or a “prosumer” and this fact is “redefining the dynamics of popular culture.” Which brings us to memes. The Internet meme is comparatively more egalitarian
than most art forms. It’s nearly effortless to make one, anyone
with an Internet connection, the know-how and a couple of minutes of free time can do
it. And, unlike literally everything else in the
cultural industry, they’re typically not made to generate money, they’re made for
the lulz. Because memes operate somewhat outside the
realm of economics, they can actually act as an authentic intervention in our consumption
of culture. Particularly given the source material: memes
can pull from literally anywhere, since we have access to nearly the entire history of
American modern visual culture at our fingertips. As a result, we can use memes to evoke powerful,
shared moments of our collective cultural identity. And we are doing that literally every day. As a result, so much of our visual exposure
to celebrities is happening via user-generated culture. This means a more level playing field. Back in the day, fandom meant passively reading
canned stories in gossip magazines or joining a celebrity fan club. Today, the fan can actively shape the way
they and their entire social networks view individual celebrities via dank memes. All hail the great prosumer! But now that we have the means to meme – what
are we doing with it? When it comes to celebrities, three major
things. First, some memes are reaffirming celebrity
brands and making them even more powerful. Consider the Sad Keanu meme. The meme was instantly comprehensible because
it exaggerated pre-existing notions of Keaunu as vulnerable, his life as tragic. It emerged and spread organically in June
2010, after paparazzi published the now-famous photo. While the meme began with words superimposed
on the image, Photoshoppers got creative, and suddenly Sad Keanu was kickin it with
everyone from Stalin, to the Breakfast Club Brat Pack. At one point, Sad Keanu was a more popular
Google search than Oprah. Hollywood had a knee-jerk reaction to the
blowup, issuing takedown notices to sadkeanu.com. RIP. The sad man himself expressed annoyance about
the meme’s characterization of him — “I mean, do I wish that I didn’t get my picture
taken, and, while I was eating a sandwich on the streets of New York? Yeah.” But whether Keanu is or isn’t sad, the widespread
sharing of the image has the power to literally shape our conception of his personnage. Because the image of him looking sad was serialized
widely across the internet, the preconception of his sadness, confirmed and solidified that
personnage. Until, inevitably, Hollywood found a way to
capitalize on it with: John Wick. The film and its titular role, which feels
tailor made for Keanu, casts him as a sad action hero, creating a sort of feedback loop
between his memed self and the performances he gives. Sometimes memes can also recontextualize the
meaning of a celebrity brand and tap into a larger, broader cultural sentiment. That process can be totally subconscious. So, let’s go back to Samuel L Jackson, who
as previously discussed, saw his badass “personnage” set the Internet ablaze. Now, to be clear, the intertextual commentary
about Samuel L Jackson’s unique brand of badassery is not unique to the Internet. You can trace it back at least to the days
of Chappelle Show in 2004 — “No, I can’t stop yellin’, cuz that’s how I talk, ya
ain’t never seen my movies?” Since then, memes have reaffirmed and hyperbolized
his persona, giving the commodified “Samuel L Jackson” even more value via increased
recognition and visibility. But at the same time, there’s an underlying
explanation for why Samuel L Jackson, and the particular movie “Snakes on a Plane,”
captured so much Internet attention beyond Jackson’s famous potty mouth. “Personality goes a long way.” Consider the specific setting: a post-9/11
world, in which Jackson, a beloved figure of strength, saves an airplane from attack
the perfect encapsulation of post 9/11 anxiety and our collective desire to feel safe. This performance helped solidify Jackson’s
badass rep, which then became a feedback loop in which Jackson was repeatedly cast to play
the character of “Samuel L. Jackson the actor.” Most recently, that’s landed Jackson a 9-film
deal with Marvel. “Motherf–” “Motherf–” Meme-making isn’t just a fantastic procrastination
tool: it’s the paradigm-shifting act of a modern prosumer. What’s more, our ability to make memes,
i.e. to actively participate in cultural production, inherently changes the way we view visual
culture. In seeing movies and tv shows, in part, as
source material for great memes, we’re developing a critical distance from the media we consume. If you’ve ever made a meme, you’ve probably
experienced that light-bulb moment, when you’re watching a Youtube video and thought, “Man,
that would look really dope on loop.” In that moment, you were thinking less like
a consumer, passively waiting for the next thing to happen on screen, and more like a
prosumer, searching for your next source of inspiration in your day-to-day media consumption. So, what does this mean for the future of
Hollywood casting, and celebrity persona? Well, a few things. First of all, it means that the cultural currents
of Internet fandom could become increasingly visible in popular entertainment, such as
the potential Netflix heist movie announced in 2017, to be based on this classic 2014
meme of Rihanna and actress Lupita Nyong’o sitting together at a fashion show. Now, unfortunately, Danny Devito won’t be
playing Detective Pikachu… yet. It also means that actor identities will become,
if anything, increasingly reliant on the Internet masses. The rapid serialization unique to the medium
of the meme means it will continue to have the power to create some of the key defining
moments of popular celebrity and popular culture, sometimes overnight. And it will guarantee that Bill Murray will
keep wishing you happy birthday for years to come. So, what do you think? Are memes creating a new class of prosumers
or are they just good for the lulz and an upvote? Let us know what you think in the comments,
and as always, thanks for watching, guys. Peace.

100 Comments

  1. Shawn Ravenfire Author

    Keep in mind that the memes have a pretty short half-life. In five years, no one will remember what meme inspired what movie, and only the movie will remain.

    Reply
  2. Nealio Author

    Memes are mean and that's why we like them. A good meme is copied so many times it's hard to find the original, but i guess imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Unless your Apple that is.

    Reply
  3. Jorge Rosa Author

    "Man that would look really dope on loop"

    "Man that would look really dope on loop"

    "Man that would look really dope on loop"

    "Man that would look really dope on loop"

    Reply
  4. Sly Annah Author

    lol how did i miss the sad keanu era. i laughed so hard, the guy was just minding his own business eating then whoop overnight he was on meme central.

    Reply
  5. jawzdeadeye Author

    Too bad you couldn't post this at the end of the Shaggy memes. Shaggy's live-action actor has been voicing him for some time now. https://youtu.be/ltn7yrEGdhI

    Reply
  6. Stasys Čhepulis Author

    On Samuel Jackson and Marvel: notably, his casting as the MCU Nick Fury was preceded by the Ultimate version of Nick Fury being based on his appearance

    A similar process happened with Internet campaign for Donald Glover to play Peter Parker, which inspired the creation of Miles Morales and references in Community, and in turn Donald is now playing Miles' uncle in the MCU.

    Reply
  7. Cleetus Vonbehren Author

    1. Carl Sagan
    2. Richard Feynman
    3. Unsolved mysteries guy
    4. Morgan Freeman
    5. Wisecrack guy

    List of favorite narrators/hosts to listen too.

    Reply
  8. Kofi Mills' Videos Author

    I love your channel anytime, but I'm surprised! For once, I truly didn't know about nor could I guess any of this before starting the video. You have opened my eyes to the effect of memes on movies, and I even get to see a ton of memes that I had never seen before. Some of those "Sad Keanu" variations are amazing.

    Reply
  9. parker469a Author

    Just so you guys know. SLJ actually forced the studio to change the name of that movie to Snakes On a Plane and if I recall also pushed really hard for that "MFER SNAKES ON THIS MFER PLANE" line.

    Reply
  10. Samuel Mensah Author

    The Shaggy memes probably the funniest things I’ve ever seen 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭

    Reply
  11. Roach DoggJR Author

    It's weird because by the time we see a meme being exploited in movies or tv shows, we consider it "main stream" and "normiefied" so is not cool anymore.

    Reply
  12. Ella Pauzner Author

    Another way of being a *prosumer*: fanfictions. Kind of like yelling to the creator(s) of what you consume "I want this to happen!"

    Reply
  13. Jon B Baca Author

    Who's the most memed actor? Nicolas Cage? Arnold? Samuel L Jackson? Chuck Norris? Charlie Sheen? Bill Murray? Vote below

    Reply
  14. Jon B Baca Author

    Similar to this topic, I'd like to see a video about how fan theories are affecting creators. Star Wars, Marvel, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, and pretty much every ongoing series these days has to contend with them. I know some creators go out of their way to avoid them, but they've gotta be one of the hardest parts of being a writer in the internet age

    Reply
  15. Brett Clift Author

    Interesting about John Wick. I’ve always wondered what was different about that movie, but I never thought it was my preconceived identity of Keanu that made me emphasize with a character who speaks so little.

    Reply
  16. Douglas Driving Author

    This has some resemblance to the way "service dominant logic" is describing value as always being co-created between a company and a customer (producer and consumer). It's very interesting to see this taking place in media such as films where the one watching the movie is traditionally just thought of as a pure consumer. I wonder if filmmakers think about this these days and aim to deliberately build systems or things into the things they produce to make it easier for the audience to become a co-creator.

    Reply
  17. chris jensen Author

    i highly doubt that it was the first time a meme was in a film considering memes existed before someone blurted out carpe diem et memento mori.

    Reply
  18. Alfonso Razo Author

    I saw this talk at GDC, where the lead developer of the game Dream Daddy explains a similar effect in videogames… and a sneaky way to manipulate the type of memes people do about your product.
    By this two talks i've come to a conclusion about being a public figure in the modern age: "Don't try to make yourself something desirable on your terms because you'll end up as cringey at best and hated at worst… rather, you should own the joke, make something positive (and profitable) about what people think about you, because there's already a popular opinion that you just can't change by complaining".

    Reply
  19. Alejandro Arturo Pumpido Author

    Fun fact: Jhon Wick was directed by Keanu Reeve's stunt action for the matrix movies. The movie was literally tailor made for him

    Reply
  20. Adam Baldwin Author

    Snakes on a Plane was a terrible turd of a movie. The way that Jackson talks about the movie makes it sound like it was supposed to be campy and funny, but it plays like a serious movie that was so bad they decided to try to turn it into comedy. I feel sorry for anyone that got duped into paying money to watch it just because of the re-shoot stunt.

    Reply

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