Best of 2012
Over the weekend I posted Part I of “The Most Objective ‘Best of 2012’ List Ever,” focusing on why I think Wilfred is the best, or at least the most unusual and innovative, television show of 2012. I then
promised threatened to continue to devote posts to “Best Film,” “Best Meme,” “Best Single,” and “Best of Social Media” of 2012. That list was ambitious, particularly since I am going on a long vacation in a few days. I’ve realized I may not get to cover everything promised in my first post before 2013 hits (when you will promptly stop caring about “Best of 2012” lists). But as the kids say, YOLO! Let’s move forward as best we can:
I present Part II of my “Best of 2012″ list:
Best Internet Meme
It’s hard to select the best meme of 2012. There are so many and, like all trends, when they hit big they are all-consuming. Then the next meme comes along and we forget. Meme enthusiasts are fickle lovers. For example, all summer long I was enamored with “Mikayla is Not Impressed,” a meme that originated in a photograph taken of gymnast Mikayla Maroney just after she won a silver medal in the Women’s Vault Final at the 2012 summer Olympics. Maroney was the favorite to win this particular event, so when the following photograph was taken, many assumed the gymnast was “not impressed” with her silver medal:
As much as I love “Mikayla is Not Impressed,” the principal behind it is one-dimensional. Take something that should be impressive — like the Mars Rover or the assassination of Osama Bin Laden — and then photoshop Maroney’s unsmiling face into the image to denote that this event isn’t all that impressive after all. Maroney’s recognizability, combined with the ease of the iteration (take photograph, add Maroney, no caption necessary), made this meme very easy to create, disseminate, and understand. Even my children (who are 3 and 6 years-old) understood the humor of “Mikayla is not Impressed” and frequently asked to scroll through the meme’s Tumblr. In fact, the meme has so permeated my home that when one of my children does something that displeases me, all I need to do is scrunch up my mouth and cross my arms and my daughter will say “Why are you ‘not impressed’?” (true story). However, the moment that Mikayla Maroney and President Obama posed together while making the “not impressed” face, the meme effectively came to an end. It was fabulous to see our Commander-in-Chief embracing contemporary internet culture but where could a meme about being “not impressed” go after such an impressive photo op?
Another meme I have greatly enjoyed this year is “One Tiny Hand.” Like “Mikayla is Not Impressed,” “One Tiny Hand” does not require any text to make meaning. Its humor — or rather its horror — is based on seeing a famous person with “one tiny hand.” I enjoy this meme because it performs like a game of “Where’s Waldo.” You know a tiny hand is lurking somewhere in the photo. Sometimes it is foregrounded, as it is in the image of Kim Jong Il below. But sometimes, when there are multiple people in the image, it takes some time to locate the tiny appendage. The jouissance of this meme lies in the sudden discovery of the tiny hand.
Other 2012 favorites:
While I love all of the above memes, they are fairly straight forward image macros: take a stock image and add some text to make comedy gold. Likewise, the joke behind each of these popular 2012 memes is always the same: Grumpy Cat and Mikayla hate/are not impressed by everything they should love/be impressed by; Drunk Baby says things a drunk old man would say if he were actually a little baby; Bad Luck Brian can’t seem to do anything right; and Inappropriate Timing Bill Clinton just wants to have sex.
My pick for Best Meme of 2012 is based on the fact that it has been able to grow and evolve into different iterations, possibly because it has been around since 2007: the “Yo Dawg” or “Sup Dawg” meme. Now wait a minute, you might be thinking, that meme has been around since 2007? Then how can it be on your “Best of 2012” list? Great question, my intrepid reader. But, I prefer to think of memes the same way we think of television series. 30 Rock may have premiered in 2006, but the show’s writers have produced new seasons every year (some better than others). Similarly, the “Yo Dawg” meme came into existence in 2007, but it has continued to grow and change over the years, existing in several different iterations. Its dual structure — based on recursivity and the smiling face of a man — has proved fertile ground for innovation. In its most basic form (pictured below), the meme features an image macro of rapper/actor/ TV host, Xzibit (née, Alvin Nathaniel Joiner), smiling and claiming to know what the addressee (aka, “yo dawg”) “likes” (a car, a kitchen, a rocket ship) and then promising to give that person an even better version of the coveted object.
In order to get the humor of this meme in its original form, you need to remember that Xzibit hosted the MTV reality series, Pimp My Ride from 2004-2007. In the series, car owners in the Los Angeles area were given the opportunity to have their old, broken down cars completely rebuilt (inside and out) and outfitted with luxury features ranging from leather seats and LED lights to TV screens and (yes) fish tanks. These extravagant touches were usually an homage to the car’s owner, like the surfer whose VW bus was outfitted with a clothes dryer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pimp_My_Ride). When presenting the lucky car owner with his new, personally customized ride, Xzibit would point out each of the added features. showcased by MTV’s frenetic cinematography and editing. The original meme plays on Xzibit’s signature voice overs (“Yo Dawg, I heard you like X, so I put X in your X so you can Y while you Y”).
Note: Couldn’t find a clip of Xzibit presenting a newly pimped car, but this episode (hosted by fat Joe) offers the template. Go to the 9.25 mark
This version of the meme always features the same image of Xzibit, taken from a “set of studio portraits that were originally used to promote the 2006 sports drama film Gridiron Gang, in which the rapper plays the role of a minor character named Malcolm Moore” (www.knowyourmeme.com). One of the three images pictured below always serve as part of the image macro.
This image, much like Xzibit’s persona on Pimp My Ride, presents the celebrity as a figure of altruism. His smile, which is just on the verge of a hearty laugh, is inviting and generous. Therefore, when Xzibit claims to know what you, dawg, really likes, it feels loving. In this way, the “Yo Dawg” meme mirrors the popular Ryan Gosling-centered “Hey Girl” meme. Particularly in its feminist iteration, the “Hey Girl” meme is all about turning the Goz into the meme-makers’ own movable Ken doll. Talk about the male gaze, Ryan! Say “interpellate,” Ryan! Mmmm. Yes, Ryan, yessssss. Instead of making sweet, sweet love to Rachel McAdams, the Goz is speaking my language, which is almost as good as making sweet, sweet love to him. Almost.
Likewise, the appeal of the Xzibit meme, at least initially, is that after pimping so many rides for so many years, Xzibit is now going to pimp something for you. As I discussed in a post about memes last year, so many memes are based on a certain amount of cruelty (something or someone is being laughed at). But the “Yo Dawg” meme is based on affection: I heard you like this, so I am going to give that thing that you like, along with a smaller version of that thing inside of the bigger version of that thing. For example:
According to KnowYourMeme.com, the “Yo Dawg” meme is “recursive.” That is, the standard version of the meme relies on nested images — one image contains a smaller version of itself, which contains a smaller version of itself, which contains a smaller version of itself, etc. While the “yo yo” example featured above does rely on an invented image, generally this meme is funniest when the image is a found object:
As the meme evolved, the text of the original is no longer necessary. Just the presence of Xzibit lets us know that the object we are looking at is recursive:
By 2009 the meme was so widespread that Xzibit himself was frustrated with it. He tweeted the following on February 27th of that year:
My guess is that Xzibit wanted to distance himself from his Pimp My Ride days, and resume his rapping career. I would also imagine that, at least in 2009, Xzibit might not have realized the power of social media — if he had, he would have known not to tell his followers/meme-makers to commit suicide via a public Twitter account. It’s futile to try to control the internet, Mr. Xzibit; one can only throw oneself at its feet in supplication. Indeed, that is exactly what Xzibit did:
The most recent examples of “Yo Dawg,” appearing in 2012, are premised, not on recursivity, but on Xzibit’s infectious smile. In this iteration of the meme, Xzibit is depicted in a series of vertical, multi-panel image macros, a structure meant to be read like a comic book (only from top to bottom rather than left to right), in which his solemn expression is proven to be unsustainable:
The version of the meme below combines sad-to-happy Xzibit with “Happy Motorcycle Dog,” a meme that first appeared in December 2011, further proving the adaptability of the Yo Dawg meme:
Thus, the contemporary iteration of “Yo Dawg” is almost completely different from its standard, recursive version. The semantics of the meme (smiling Xzibit) are divorced from their original syntax (Xzibit likes recursive imagery!) and instead become a meme in their own right (Xzibit can’t stop smiling!). Here we see memes functioning in a manner similar to that of film genres and cycles, which are able to take familiar imagery and use them for different purposes. It is this complexity and adaptability that makes this particular meme my favorite of 2012.
So now I must ask: what are your favorite memes of 2012 and why?
Around this time of year, every newspaper, magazine, and blog offers up some form of the “Best Of” list, chronicling the best films, television series (or episodes), music, books, Broadway shows, trends, etc. of the previous year. Obviously, ranking the year’s best of anything is subjective and also impossible (after all, only an individual who was watched every television episode that aired in 2012 could state, definitively, which were in the top 5). And yet, such lists are so alluring. As a working mom, who reads, watches and listens to only a fraction of what I would like to read, watch and listen to, these “Best Of” lists take an unwieldy set of pop culture possibilities and whittles it down to a manageable chunk. These lists tell me “These are the only films from 2012 that you need to watch.” Then I take a deep breath and load up my Netflix queue.
You might thinking to yourself “Why would I read a ‘Best Of’ list compiled by a woman who has just admitted that she relies on other people’s ‘Best Of’ lists to tell her what pop culture was worthwhile from the previous year?” Excellent question. Why are you reading this? Don’t you have something better to do? No? Well then settle in, friend. I have some completely subjective selections for you based on an unrepresentative sampling of the year’s popular culture. I think you’ve made the right choice.
So without further ado, I present Part I of my “Best of 2012” list:
Best Television Series
2012 was an excellent year for television. I loved watching Walter White (Bryan Cranston) lose the final pieces of his soul on Breaking Bad. The last shot of the Girls season finale, in which Hannah (Lena Dunham) finds herself on Coney Island (after passing out in the subway and getting her purse stolen) and slowly stuffs her face with cake, was the perfect end to a first season filled with uncomfortable, body-focused stories and imagery. The look on Don Draper’s (John Hamm) face when he sees his daughter wearing fishnets and go-go boots or the scene in which Henry (Christopher Stanley) feeds his newly-plump wife (aka, “Fat Betty”) some steak at the kitchen table in the middle of the night were two highlights of the Mad Men season. I also loved watching all or most of the 2012 seasons of Louie, Boardwalk Empire, Happy Endings, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23, Parenthood, Teen Mom, and Game of Thrones. No, I don’t watch Homeland, The Good Wife, or Justified. I’m sure I would like all three, but right now I don’t have room for them in my TV diet. Like I said, “best of” lists are subjective. Let’s move on.
Dog smoking cigarette = win
While I loved all of the aforementioned programs and could make a “Best” case for many of them, my choice for “best” television series of 2012 goes to the FX series, Wilfred, because it is, simply put, the most bizarre show I have ever watched, with the exception of (of course) Twin Peaks.
“Can you hear it?” “No, ma’am, I cannot.”
The pilot episode of Wilfred opens with Ryan (Elijah Woods) trying and failing to commit suicide. We eventually find out that Ryan used to be a successful lawyer, working in his father’s firm, but when we meet him he is unemployed and estranged from his father (the reasons for this are only explained in the second season). Ryan’s attempts to end his life are finally interrupted by his neighbor, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), who wants him to watch her dog, Wilfred. Ryan is surprised to discover that Wilfred appears to him as a large, vulgar, Australian pothead (Jason Gann) wearing a very unconvincing dog costume. And the kicker is: Ryan is the only one who sees Wilfred in this way. This may seem like a gimmicky basis for a show, but it is also the source of some of the show’s greatest gags: one minute Wilfred is lecturing Ryan on ethics and the next he is chasing and maiming pelicans on the beach (“It’s a pelican !!! IT’S A PELICAN!!!..It was a pelican!!!”):
In a lukewarm review of pilot, Todd VanDerWerff explains “the show gets a surprising amount of mileage out of having Gann running around in a dog costume and saying things a dog might say if it could speak.” But Wilfred isn’t just shots of Jason Gann humping or chatting up his life partner, Bear, who is a large stuffed bear. The reason I love the show is because it so deftly shifts from bleakness to laugh-out-loud comedy. I often read about how shows like Louie and Girls are changing the rules of the sitcom by offering up tragic moments (like when Louie’s love interest dies in front of him on Christmas Day) in between low-brow body humor and Seinnfeld-ian levels of navel-gazing. But Wilfred takes those devices to another level. In Wilfred, despair and laughter are produced by the same cue — what is light quickly becomes dark, and vice versa.This is because the series is structured around the tension between two realities: either Ryan is a lonely, depressed, schizophrenic who uses an imaginary friend to work through his life’s problems or he is a lonely, depressed but otherwise sane man who happens to see his neighbor’s dog in human form because that is something that happens in this world. Therefore almost every scene on the series can be read in two ways.
Each episode is named after a particular lesson or virtue that Ryan needs to learn, such as “Letting Go,” “Avoidance,” and “Honesty.” Wilfred teaches these lessons to an unwilling Ryan , usually embroiling him in interpersonal conflicts that force the passive man to say or do things he normally wouldn’t. Although Ryan’s suicide attempt from the pilot is barely acknowledged, the series is clearly about teaching Ryan how to “live” (and live) in the world again. Of course, every “lesson” Wilfred teaches Ryan serves Wilfred’s interests in some way. We feel good when Ryan learns to stand up for himself or to reconnect with his institutionalized mother (played by an excellently loopy Mary Steenburgen), but we are always left wondering: is Wilfred helping Ryan to live or is he destroying Ryan’s life, piece by piece? And if Ryan is simply imagining Wilfred, then is Ryan using this dog-shaped delusion as an excuse to destroy his own life? Is he committing suicide, just at an incredibly slow rate?
Wilfred dances in between these many possibilities. Its genius lies in convincing the viewer to believe one scenario and then upending that belief with a single line or image. For example, after Ryan finally gives up on the possibility of romance with Jenna, he begins dating a co-worker named Amanda (Allison Mack). Amanda seems perfect — she’s funny, quirky, and clearly besotted with Ryan. It seems that perhaps Ryan will finally be able to have a loving intimate relationship after past traumas had made this kind of human connection difficult for him. But in “Truth,” Wilfred tries to convince Ryan that he should not move in with Amanda because he is still too mentally unstable. Ryan believes that Wilfred, as usual, is just looking out for his own self interests — if Amanda moves in, Wilfred will lose his best friend. Who will take him for walks or smoke pot with him? As they have this argument, an earthquake traps Ryan and Wilfred in the basement (of course). Bruce (Dwight Yoakam), the only other human who can see Wilfred (and thus the only plot point in the series that lends credence to the theory that Ryan might not crazy), appears to rescue the duo, promising to reveal the “truth” about Amanda that is concealed in a suitcase. This truth will prove why Wilfred is right.
But first, Ryan and Bruce must engage in a game of “Calvinball,” which involves pillow fights and “truth or dare.” The game is deliriously surreal, like so much in the series. When Ryan finally “wins ” the game and is granted access to the magical suitcase, he doesn’t discover anything about Amanda. Instead he finds a timer that tells him that he has spent 12 hours in his basement playing a bizarre game orchestrated by his neighbor’s dog. In other words, Wilfred was right — Ryan should not move in with Amanda.
Ryan is such a likable character (he is kind, empathetic and selfless to a fault) and we want him to be happy. But when we see the timer, the audience realizes — at the same moment that Ryan does — that he is crazy … but wait, is he? Or is this just what Wilfred wants Ryan to think in order to maintain the status quo? Isn’t it suspicious that everything that ends up “being for the best” also happens to serve Wilfred’s interests? These uncertainties are what drive the series and which make this show more than a collection of pooping on the lawn jokes (though I am 100% for a show that is nothing more than pooping on the lawn jokes).
And if that doesn’t interest you, Wilfred is worth watching for its “couch scenes” alone. Incidentally, as I was writing this post I found out that these short scenes, appearing at the end of show (after the main story has been resolved), are called “tags,” or “codas” (thank you Twitter):
Learning is fun!
The tags in Wilfred almost always take place on the couch in Ryan’s basement and feature Ryan and Wilfred engaged in a banal task, like playing a board game or having an inane conversation. They’re always fabulous:
And if that doesn’t interest you? Well, there are loads of other shows to watch. I hear The Good Wife is awesome, so maybe you should watch that instead?
I will be posting my “Best Meme,” “Best Film,” “Best Single,” and “Best of Social Media” picks over the course of the next few weeks. Stay tuned! If you dare!