The idea of the "internet craze" has outlived its usefulness. The half-life from internet meme to morning talk show segment is zero. It's time for journalists to retire this dumb pop cultural crutch. Every goddamn thing that happens on the internet is not an internet craze.
Horsemaning, the latest fake internet craze shows just how meaningless the idea has become. Three days ago Buzzfeed, the tireless meme-aggregator, decided to take a stab at creating a meme of its own. The site posted a vintage picture of two girls posing so it looked like one was the dismembered head of the other. They dubbed this "horsemaning," after the headless horseman, posted some examples and solicited reader photos. A bunch of readers responded. (You'll find a few above.)
Today, preternaturally cheery Today show hosts Hoda and Kathy Lee did a bit on horsemaning. They giggled about how silly this "huge internet craze" was, and posed for their own horsemaning picture, after BuzzFeed urged them to over Twitter. Except, as of their segment, the horsemaning "craze" was composed of a handful of BuzzFeed posts, a Facebook page with a few hundred likes, and a few desultory blog posts from other sites.
If this is an internet craze, then anything that happens on the internet could be. In fact, according to the media, scrambling after likes and retweets like a second-rate tween pop idol, everything on the internet is an internet craze. Fast food drive-thru window pranks? This is an Internet craze ("cone-ing"), as if drive-thru windows haven't always been prime targets for bored kids. The choking game was a particularly potent one, even though it existed long before kids were online. A few dozen people taking pictures of themselves in a weird pose and creating a Facebook page about it? These, too are "internet crazes": Owling, pillaring.
The idea of the Internet craze is completely useless but continues to blight the world because it is very useful to journalists in two opposing ways:
First, the out-of-touch CNNs and Today Shows of the world can pick up an "internet craze" to make it seem like they're hip to what all the kids are doing on their Facebook machines. So it was with planking, which started as a little-known Facebook page before it was seized on and promoted by Australian radio stations looking for web cred. The Today Show was shameless about its social media whoring, posting a picture of Hoda and Kathy Lee's horsemaning to Tumblr with the caption, "BuzzFeed Bait."
Secondly, the "internet craze" frame lets journalists cover all the trashy stuff that's big on the internet without seeming to stoop to that level. They're just covering the "phenomenon" of kittens on a couch. What they really want to do is post pictures of kittens sitting on couches, cause they're cute as hell and will get tons of clicks.
There was a time when "Internet craze" made sense. Maybe the early 2000s? Back then "people on the internet" was a small subset of the entire population and could reasonably have been said to have their own culture, which needed interpretation by other media if it were to make sense to the masses. But today, over 70% of Americans have internet access—that's more than have cable television. Things popular on the internet are popular with everyone. Are we to start calling things that become popular due to television "television crazes?" No, that would be dumb.
Journalists who dub something the "latest internet craze" want to have it both ways. They want to piggyback on the gut-level interest in whatever the craze is, while trivializing it as just something on the internet. Everything on the internet is examined gingerly, like the droppings of an exotic viral monster, while actually interesting things are overlooked cause they're just on the internet. It's time to get over yourselves, because the hot new internet craze is fooling lazy journalists into thinking something is an internet craze.
[Photos via Buzzfeed]