Rolling on the Floor Laughing

The New York Times‘ Rob Walker warily reports on the ROFL phenomenon, which you may already know too much about. ROFL is texting shorthand for “rolling on the floor laughing” and encompasses “the most ephemeral, silly and frankly unimportant-seeming manifestations of pop entertainment in the early 21st century: absurdly captioned pictures of cats, goof-off remixes of YouTube videos, unlikely Web celebrities, quick-hit visual jokes with unprintable punch lines and sporadic references to Rick Astley.”

At this point it’s not clear if ROFL is a genuine mode of cultural expression or just another marketing opportunity bubbling to the surface. In any case, it seems to me that there are two kinds of Internet memes. The first reflects, however fleetingly, actual lived experience. A friend of mine–another suburban dad–recently posted a link from his Facebook page to a YouTube entitled “Dad Life” which depicts, with the gentlest of ironies, the narrowness and complacency of middle class suburban fatherhood. The second form of Internet meme is all the other baffling crap.

But even all that junk must serve some purpose for somebody. Perhaps Internet memes are a profane echo of more mainstream online content as a way of injecting a jolt of meaning to a stream of online information. Perhaps they’re a sign that Web 2.0 will never live up to its promise, that it will stall in a ditch of “juvenilia and schlock,” as Walker puts it. Perhaps ROFL is the Internet equivalent of Donkey Kong, a fad that captures the imagination of a lot of people for a short period of time before everyone moves on to something richer and more meaningful. Perhaps Internet memes are a currency of social networking–the stuff you send out simply for a response, to reassure yourself that you’re not alone in the social network.

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