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Myths of the Internet: The Legend of the LOLcats

Posted by lifestyle On June - 27 - 2008

By Sam Linton

LOLcats. Laugh out loud funny, yes? LOLcats are pictures of ordinary housecats with ridiculous captions written in pidgin English, to great humourous effect. To most, they are a simple diversion from the banality of everyday living. But those few of us who know have another name for these sorrowful creatures: “the fallen.” For you see, these “laugh-out-loud cats” were not always figures of ridicule and amusement. In ages past, cats were believed to be amongst the most sagacious of beasts. What brought about their current decline in stature? The answer is to be found here, in yet another installment of…

Myths of the Internet!

Cats. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as a goddesses. Other cultures also held a special place for felines: in Europe, they were known as witches’ familiars, companions in knowledge that humankind simply was not meant to know. And cats are significant in some Asian cultures as well.

Cats have long fascinated people with their apparent mythic insights into the unknowable. Now they talk in baby voices and ask for “cheezburgers.” How did this happen? And, more importantly, how will future generations recognize this, the moment when cats were robbed of their mythic qualities? That’s where we come in. Those of us belonging to the present must preserve the past for the inhabitants of the future.

Once the Internet inevitably ceases to be, be this through nuclear holocaust, rapture of God, or Avian flu (my money’s on the bird flu), we will have to rely on the tradition of oral storytelling. Thus, as you read this story, try to imagine yourself somewhere other than in front of a radiating computer screen. Imagine the tale as it would be related by a tribal elder or village storyteller, recounting legends of long ago by the light of a dying fire in the twilight of civilization. And now we can begin…

As the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat. At the dawning of the Age of the Internet, this saying proved to be disastrously prophetic. For ages, the cat was known for its mysteriousness, lending to the fabled animal an air of superiority, wisdom, and aristocracy. However, it was the characteristic of curiosity that inevitably led to the downfall of the cat.

Cats were intrigued by the Internet. It seemed to promise global access to information, and the cats’ curiosity was piqued. However, by nature cats are also secretive, and therefore they mistrusted the Internet’s vast gaze. If the cats were able to use the net to sate their curiosity about the world, would not the reverse be true?

But Internet was a crafty foe, and he knew the cats’ one true weakness: vanity. To the cats he proposed that they give themselves over to the Internet’s domain and learn all that they ever needed to know to satisfy their curiosity. In turn they would be presented on the Internet such that the entire globe might bask in their elegant magnificence. To this, the cats readily agreed. After all, cats had been revered in Egyptian and (sort of) revered in European circles since time immemorial. What could be better than an entire globe of worshippers? However, crafty Internet neglected to mention one important detail: total access. By consigning themselves to Internet’s domain, the cats had agreed to abide by Internet’s rules. In so doing, the cats had sealed their own doom, for in the domain of the Internet, everything one does, however embarrassing, foolish, or demeaning, is not only preserved, but popularized (see also: The Legends of the Lightsabre Kid, Leave Britney Alone Guy and Obama Girl). Suddenly, everything that the cats did to sate their curiosity, from sleeping on computer monitors (will this feel comfortable?) to becoming trapped in couch cushions (what’s under here?), was preserved and broadcast for all to see. How can one maintain an aura of mystery under such conditions? Simply put, one cannot. And thus the ancient and noble race of cats were denigrated to the level of the LOLcat, robbed of their intrigue and made into objects of fun by the clever machinations of Internet, king of all tricksters.

The lesson of the LOLcats bears much to think upon and is certainly worth preserving for the future. The twin dangers of curiosity and vanity will no doubt plague our descendants in the robot-ravaged battlegrounds of the future. Will our children’s children succumb to the silver-tongued entreaties of cyborgs? Will they trust every aspect of their lives to increasingly intelligent machines and feel secure in their inherent “mastery” until the day that Skynet kicks in and decides humanity is obsolete? Will the children of the feral bands of future-survivalists allow their own curiosity to overcome them and wander from the safety of their units, only to be consumed by waves of irradiated bird-flu zombies? Not if they heed the lessons of the LOLcats and temper their vanity and curiosity with the instincts of self-preservation. With any luck, the mythologizing of LOLcats could spare the denizens of the future a great deal of harm and heartache.

So remember, please, for the sake of the future, to print these articles off. Hand them down to your children, your children’s children, and your children’s children’s children, that the lessons of our times will not be lost.

Myths of the Internet: The Complacency of the O RLY Owl

Posted by lifestyle On April - 15 - 2008

Myths of the Internet: The Complacency of the O RLY Owl

By Sam Linton, illustrated by Dara Gold

Lord, have mercy. Do you have any idea how hard it is to mythologize the internet? It seems that for every meme I manage to nail down, five more spring up to take its place. Like a hydra, or a mutant skink. Nonetheless, I will persist, for the sake of future generations. If I don’t, how will our children’s children’s children, in the post-avian flu holocaust wastelands of tomorrow, know about LOLcats? Or n00b pwnage? Or this week’s myth, The Complacency of the O RLY Owl?

In the days that were, in the Time Before Net, Owl was known as the wisest of animals. Resting above all in his secluded oak tree, Owl spent his days silently contemplating the meaning of meaning. And he was respected for it; over all the world, Owl was sought for his learning to provide answers to the most important of life’s questions. From lowliest Hen to mightiest King Lion, all animals regarded Owl’s learning as the final arbiter of truth. His knowledge made him judge, jury, and executioner. Owl took great pride in these responsibilities, for he was certain that he, above all other beasts, bore the burden of knowledge theThe O RLY Owl, pre-internet strongest. Only Owl had the patience and the wisdom to weigh the evidence, analyze the data, and come to the conclusions that could truly be considered just. And thus did Owl stand proudly by his personal credo, “It is so”, knowing full well that His was the truest judgment in all the animal kingdom.

This all changed, however, come the dawn of the Internet. For Owl had long held his “wisdom monopoly” based on the fact that it was only he who took the time to look things over, only He who would weigh all the evidence in order to come to just conclusions. But Owl’s time in that respect was drawing to a close. For along with the dawning of the Internet, disparate animal groups formed to debate matters within their own isolated communities; they no longer needed the authority of Owl to tell them what was so. Now, the dogs, cats, bears, and mongeese would come to their own conclusions without the intervention of a wise authority like Owl. Instead of presenting Owl with a matter for arbitration, the animals would now merely present Him with the results of their independent decisions as a fait accompli.

According to Owl, this was a complete reversal of the natural order of things. Instead of pronouncing the most just verdict, He was now merely expected to nod his head in agreement. For Owl had had his power usurped; in the open-sourced environs of the Internet, there was no longer any need for arbiters of authority. Thus, there was no need anymore for Owl to pronounce His endorsement of authority. Instead of his forceful “It is so”, Owl had been reduced to merely pronouncing “O RLY?” at the sign of any new news, for He was wise enough to know that His authority had been usurped. Owl had had his day in the sun, but with the dawning of the Internet, He was simply no longer needed. And thus did wise Owl pass from being an arbiter of wisdom to a punchline for messageboard humour, leaving the other animals to merely scorn and pity.

Post net. Owl’s tale is a timeless one, rich with meaning for the post-apocalyptic generations of the future. Who, among those scavenging for survival in the future hellscape, will not be familiar with the sensation of suddenly finding that one’s accumulated knowledge has been rendered useless — say, when confronted with a new breed of nuclear-fallout zombie, who not only scavenges, but adapts to his future hell-wasteland environs? Those future zombie-gurus may well find that, although they were once the font of information for survival, there is nothing left for them to do but adapt to the current climate, perhaps with a hearty “O RLY?” to inform them of how much their world has changed. In this respect, the O RLY Owl’s tale is a timeless one, serving to inform us all of the dangers of complacency. And in a post-apocalyptic nightmare-verse, that lesson can literally mean all the difference.

Myths of the Internet: The Dance of the Obama Badger

Posted by lifestyle On March - 4 - 2008

By Sam Linton

Before reading this article, one should really understand the context behind it. For those who have not seen it yet (if you spend any time at all on the internet, you will see it, sooner or later), there is a short clip summarizing the U.S. political process, culminating in a badger dancing for Obama that’s been making the rounds lately. It’s difficult to explain, so you really have to watch it to understand where the Hell this article is going. If you spend any time at all on political blogs, you’ve probably seen it already, but you want to refresh yourself. The video has… depth and, oddly enough, despite the transient nature of the political video, is strangely timeless.

Artist’s rendition:

mushroom-mushroom.jpg

So, did you click the link?Did you notice the bait and switch there? The high expectations thwarted by bad ‘80s music? Congratulations, you’ve just been Rick Roll’d! (Unless, of course, you weren’t taken in by my phony intro, in which case, “Congratulations! You’ve just avoided being Rick Roll’d!“) Yes, it’s Rick Rolling, the annoying hyperlink prank sweeping the internet! How does it work? Taking advantage of the utter gibberish URLs which make Youtube links indistinguishable from one another until one actually clicks on them, the Rick Roll capitalizes on the humour of high expectations dashed to make the most awesome sounding of links (I thought an Obama badger sounded cool…) lead to a video of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”, regardless of how they are advertised. More than that though, the Rick Roll speaks to us all of an experience we can recognize; why, who among us hasn’t had the “high hopes lost” experience of the Rick Roll happen in his or her own life? Who hasn’t had something for which they held the highest expectations turn to shit in front of their very eyes? (I’m talking to you, X-Men 3: The Last Stand!) Hell, for some of us, this summarizes our entire lives’ narratives (I, for example, never wanted to write web columns. I wanted to hunt dinosaurs!) In any case, regardless of individual circumstances, the Rick Roll speaks to all of us on a deep, personal level. As internet memes go, it is among our most culturally relevant (LOLcats being the absolute pinnacle).

But what about the children? As I’ve stated numerous (numerous!) times before in this column, our internet memes won’t last forever. Inevitably, through fire, cold, the sword, or just plain digital degredation, this precious trove of folk culture that is our ‘net memes will one day be lost in its original form, so it is up to us today, while we still can, to preserve these memes in the time honoured tradition of oral storytelling. That way, when our children5’s children ask their parents (or ask their respective child-rearing collective and/or robots, depending upon what direction society takes) “Elders, what was the internet like?” just as in the case of the Greek (or Norse, if that’s your thing) gods of old, they will have a ready cache of myths at their disposal to explain just what it was that made the internet such a wondrous place through the retelling of memes in story and song. Thus, in the vein of this mythopoeic project, I present “The Curse of Rick Roll”.

The Curse of Rick Roll

In the time before the internet on the Earth That Was, Rick Astley was a legend unto himself. In a decade already full of heroes, Astley stood head and shoulders above the rest. A latter-day Orpheus, the young singer possessèd of the features of a child-god and the rich, baritone voice of an especially sexy angel wanted for nothing during his heyday. No stranger to love, the young Astley was venerated for both his voice and his seemingly ageless features. But in this respect, appearance and reality would prove quite different, for like all mortals, even a demi-god must age, and so it did come to pass that, in the Age of Internet, Astley found himself an older man, no longer so desirable in his features or his popularity, and it was not to his liking.

Aging, however, was a relative thing. For, while time was a factor in the real world, the Internet was a new, young medium where nothing ever died, and one could remain essentially the same… forever. Thus, the aging Astley did forsake the material world, creating for himself a perfect internet duplicate to dwell for him forevermore in the time-lost limbo of cyberspace, never to grow old and never to grow up. This duplicate would become known to the races of Man as “Rick Roll”.

For some time, this ageless existence on the internet was enough. Suspended eternally in his youthful vigour, Rick appeared to have beaten aging at its own game. However, all was not well for the man who would be Rick Roll, for although his youth was forever preserved, his legend was not. Although the internet was time-lost, it was not timeless, for events still came to pass in the new medium, and while Rick’s youth was preserved, his relevance was not, lost in a sea of newer, more current trends. Thus did it come to pass that Rick’s ageless status became less a means of preservation than those of an embalming, for ever sealing him on the ‘net in a time-lost tomb.

Life eternal condemned to obscurity did not suit Rick, and he resolved to regain his fame, even if the passage of time had left him behind. His eternal preservation in the state of his youth prevented him from moving with modern trends, but that did not matter. If he could not bring himself back into relevance through persuasion, he would do it through trickery, instead. As stated before, Rick was no stranger to love; he knew the rules of attraction well. Laying a series of traps throughout the netscape, Rick sold internauts on promises of the newest and most current experiences, only to lead them back to his place of time-lost reverie, a party stuck eternally in the age-before-net, stealing their precious time to replenish his lost relevance. Thus did Rick Astley become Rick Roll, the vague, vampiric presence on the peripheries of the internet, eternally condemned to steal the time of others to sustain his own presence. And once he had you, he was never gonna give you up. You could leave his party, to be sure, but the party would never leave you, popping back into your head when you least expected it, sustaining Rick’s relevance long past the time of its natural passing.

The ubiquity of this story to future generations is obvious. The tragic tale of a pop demi-god transformed into the internet equivilant of a vampire is a sad one indeed, but it also contains valuable lessons for the children of tomorrow to take to heart. “Don’t listen to strangers” is an obvious one; the story of Rick Roll will reinforce the fact to the children of tomorrow that not every person they meet foraging for substanance on the post-apocalyptic plains of tomorrow is their friend, and may in fact be a deadly T-100 robot cloaked in human skin, or even worse, a quisling, a human being who has come to identify with the hordes of zombies ravaging the earth to the extent of acquiring an insatiable hunger for human brrrraaaaainssssss… One can never be too careful, and as “The Curse of Rick Roll” illustrates, there are some things that depend on human naïveté to sustain themselves. This is a lesson that future generation simply cannot do without.

As always is the case with these columns, be sure to print out and/or hand transcribe this text onto some kind of concretely-existing media to ensure that it survives its eventual digital degredation or deletion, otherwise the entire point of this project is lost. And for the sake of future generations’ access to ‘net culture, we simply cannot let that happen.

Sam Linton’s Myths of the Internet: AYBABTU

Posted by lifestyle On January - 29 - 2008

By Sam Linton

You know, I honestly thought that I had penned my last of these columns some time ago. Yes, in a fit of unbridled optimism, I had thought that society was actually improving. Suddenly, my quest to mythologize the memes of the internet didn’t seem to matter as much, me being secure and all in the knowledge that they would be preserved forever online in a medium which was certainly not doomed to extinction by the uncaring machinations of a society on the verge of collapse. Nope, nothing to worry about there! Thus I rested, secure in the knowledge that LOLcats, Star Wars Lightsabre Kid, and Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana were safe for future generations to experience, enjoy, and maybe even learn from. This was, of course, before my earth-shattering, perspective-altering, and, most relevant to this column, web-shaking visit to the York university archives, where I learned one horrifying, terror-inducing, fear-inspiring fact: digital information degrades over time. That’s right, even if society does miraculously escape nuclear annihilation, religious fanaticism or a lethal bout of the sniffles known as AVIAN FLU, we could STILL lose all our valuable internet memes – through simple lack of caring! OMG WTF BBQ!!!!!!11111

Thus, it is with a heavy heart but a renewed sense of purpose that I reintroduce this column, “Myths of the Internet,” to record the stories, forms, and, yes, teachings of our valuable internet memes in a form that future generations can understand and appreciate. Because culture is worth preserving. This week:

AYBABTU!!!!!The Hubris of Cats

The internet of old was a wild place, full of gods, monsters, and warlords. Of all of these legendary figures, the most audacious, ambitious, and avaricious was a wild space pirate known as Cats. Cats had existed since the days before the internet was even formed, sailing on the high seas of the Sega Genesis, maintaining bases in both Japanese and (poorly translated) English ports. However, it was only once he made the move to the new media of internet that Cats found his true power. Cats quickly realized that now, instead of being confined to individual gaming systems, he could sail his pirate fleet literally anywhere he wanted. He could spend the morning in London only to have lunch in Hong Kong. He could launch a raid against his enemies’ ZIG fighters in Japan from the comfort and safety of his base in Madagascar. However, this freedom of action soon went to the vainglorious pirate’s head. Soon, he began to feel a sense of omnipotence, of complete control, over all the lands of the internet. “I can go anywhere, anytime I want.” Thought the brash Cats, “I have the unbridled power of a god!” It thus came to pass that Cats began to think that his one base of operations was not enough. If he could be everywhere at any time, did that not give him unlimited power? And, if so, could not he make his bases wherever he damn well pleased?!

Thus did Cats deliver his infamous manifesto, “all your base are belong to us,” styling himself with the royal we and demanding for himself all the bases on all of the internet. Thinking that all internauts would bow down before this awesome display of might, Cats never even thought that literally everyone else on the internet possessed this same power to travel anywhere, and that his demand would therefore not only appear arrogant, but woefully misguided as well. Pity poor Cats; he sought to inspire universal fear with his ultimatum, but became a universal punchline instead. Even now, “all your base” can be seen as a humourous catchall catchphrase, ironically commenting on the foolish overconfidence of Cats the pirate in his foolish bid to rule the entire internet.

The lesson of Cats the pirate is one that the people of the future would do well to learn, be that future a nightmarish hellscape or a Star-Trekkian utopia. Remember, just because your mighty Galaxy-class starship comes equipped with phaser banks and photon torpedoes, it doesn’t necessarily make you the masters of the final frontier. Other ships and other societies have equally impressive armaments, and often contain fearsome Romulan warriors, to boot! Likewise, having a sharpened stick and a revolver with two bullets left does not necessarily make you “king of the wasteland” when foraging for supplies in a post-nuclear holocaust Earth; other survivalists could be just as well equipped, and many fallout-zombies can simply shrug aside such meager resistance in their all-consuming rampage. In either case, it remains important for the generations of the future to consider the lessons of the past, so it is our duty to preserve those legends.

Also, be sure to print this article off and store it in a safe place, so that it will outlive its inevitable data-declining years.

Sam Linton’s Myths of the Internet: The Dancing Baby

Posted by art On February - 4 - 2007

The Psalm of the Dancing Baby

By Sam Linton

It has occurred to me, a month after my first entry in this project of mythologizing the storied past of our internet, that I may have begun too soon, jumping in the middle without respect for the past. Like all things in this world, the internet (and, by extension, the memes and memories therein) had its infancy, just as worthy of the mythic treatment as the rest of its storied history.

In this spirit, I present this, the second installment of my “Myths of the Internet,” one of the earliest stories of that fabled realm, “The Myth of the Dancing Baby”. From this, I hope, the children of our post-apocalyptic near future can learn not only what the internet was like, but how it grew.

Episode 2: The Psalm of the Dancing Baby

In the early days of the Internet, she still struggled to express herself from under the shadows of her parents, Television and Phone. Internet’s first efforts in this attempt at expression were mostly unnoticed, or if they were, they still in some way reflected her parental influence. For example, Internet’s attempt at person-to-person expression, email, was seen as a pale reflection of her parent Phone and more of a throwback to the days of her grandparent, Regular Mail. Similarly, Internet was notorious in her early days for her fixation on the achievements of her other parent, Television. Star Trek, X-Files, Happy Days: Internet wouldn’t shut up about them.

But Internet persisted in her endeavors at creativity until finally she created something truly, uniquely her own: an animated GIF of a grotesque dancing baby.

And it was good, apparently. But Television grew jealous of its offspring’s creation and one night, as Internet slept, stole the squirming infant to present to the public as its own. Television chose one of its greatest champions, a wee slip of a girl named Ally, to showcase the child as a testament to the power of television on the consciousness of the public. And the public was amused.

When Internet awoke, she was furious at her father’s treachery, but realized that she was still too small to challenge him on his claim, and was forced to remain silent. But Internet’s jealously at her father’s pretensions was to be a short-lived one, for almost as soon as the baby was presented to the public did their joy turn to revulsion. Though the initial gyrations of the infant were seen to be pleasing, the people soon noticed how bizarrely featureless was his body, how obnoxiously repetitive were his movements and how generally disturbing he was on a whole.

This, combined with the child’s massive overexposure by Television’s selfish machinations, was cause for a massive public backlash. The backlash was great, and as the imp had been presented by Television’s champion, Ally, it was she who would have to face it. Ally was cast into the ash heap of history, neither spoken of nor remembered from that day forward. The child itself would forever after be remembered as Television’s folly, for although after the backlash Television tried to reposition the grotesquerie as a creation of the Internet, it was Television who popularized it, and Television who bore its shame. Thus was Internet saved from her own folly by the piggish greed of her father medium.

The moral of this tale is simply one of leaving credit where credit is due, and not being a glory hog. Just as Television saw his fame turn sour on him, so too could a man of the future, having brought down a stray horse to feed his bunker for a week, find his comrades’ cheers turn to jeers as the horse is found to host “the phage,” a degenerative radioactive nanobacteria which reanimates the dead into a form of life-hating cyber-zombie.

What is wheat today could turn to chaff tomorrow, so it’s always best not to brag and leave the accomplishments of others to themselves. After all, we’re all in this hellish, day-to-day struggle for survival together.,/p>

As before, be sure to print this article off so future generations may share in its wisdom after the collapse of society.

Sam Linton’s Myths of the Internet: Leroy Jenkins

Posted by lifestyle On January - 7 - 2007

The Myth of Leroy Jenkins

By Sam Linton

By now, I’m sure everyone is pretty fed up with hearing how great the internet is. We’re all experienced internauts by now: we know how great it is. Quit hitting us over the head with it!

But how long can it last, really? Like every great age, will this not come crashing down upon us too?

Experts warn us that the collapse of civilization as we know it draws ever closer and all of the things we take for granted such as driving, not having to cultivate our own food, and yes, even the internet, will soon become things of the past — mere wisps of memory to fade and be forgotten.

How will you explain to your grandchildren the glories of the internet as you huddle around the fire on your collectivist farm or bask in the warmth of your heated bomb shelter/panic room?

Will they be able to understand the hilarity that was “All your base are belong to us”? Will they grasp the intellectual challenges of separating fact from fiction on Wikipedia? The depths of human depravity found on the forums of Fark.com?

It is important for the future that we preserve not only the knowledge of what the Internet was, but a detailed history of the things that it contained and the lessons that they have to teach us. Of course, the society of the future will have no internet or word processing software of its own, so this knowledge will have to be passed down orally. To this end, I will devote this space, my little corner of the web, to mythologizing the many memes of the internet for future generations to develop an idea of what was once this wonderful, non-existent network of ideas and beliefs.

Also, remember to print off these myths, otherwise the whole point of this project will be lost.

Episode 1: The Myth of Leroy Jenkins

The Internet of old was fraught with perilous places, but none were as deadly as the area known by some as the World of Warcraft. In the World of Warcraft, danger lurked around every corner and young internauts had to band together just to survive.

In such a land, it was of vital importance to coordinate your actions and to make sure you were all functioning together as a team. Of all the internauts in the World of Warcraft, Leroy Jenkins was the bravest.

But he was also the most brash and headstrong. He had triumphed in many a battle on the digital planes of yore, but his prowess lent itself to hubris. And one grim day he ignored the lessons of teamwork and he led not only himself, but all those who depended on him, to ruin and an early grave.

Leroy and his comrades had journeyed far and wide in the World of Warcraft. Through combined strength of arms they had triumphed over many deadly adversaries, until they found themselves in the dragon-infested spire of Black-Rock. Dragons were deadly beasts, and his comrades had decided to confer on how to best deal with the superior numbers.

But Leroy was quick to action, and grew bored with talking. As his comrades were still calculating their best stratagem for victory with Abdul the Number-Cruncher, Leroy’s patience snapped beneath the weight of his anticipation and he rushed in boldly, if not foolishly, bellowing his trademark battle-cry of “Leeeerooooooy Jennnnnkinnnnsssssss!!!” as he rashly charged headfirst into the dragons’ den.

In an awkward moment of shock and hesitation, his comrades stood blinking and muttering to each other as Leroy disappeared into the cave’s dark mouth. Then, fearing for Leroy’s safety, they clamoured after him.

But without a coherent plan of attack, they, along with Leroy himself, were slaughtered to a man. As a punishment for his hubris, the Gods of the Internet thereafter decreed that Leroy Jenkins’ name would forever be given to those who went crashing heedlessly in towards peril, those who risked all and lost, wagering the lives of cherished friends in hopes of winning foolish glory.

The moral of the story: Always think before you act. It is a lesson you can think well on as you and your siblings forage for food in the nuclear-blasted wasteland of tomorrow (today).

The original (non-mythologized) version of this classic internet moment can be found on youtube.

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