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.
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.