Everyone dreams of “going viral.” Even our parents have some sense of what virality is, and my mom uses the Snapchat draw tool to write about what’s already in the picture. Derived from the idea of an actual virus, a piece of content goes viral when it becomes contagious or is shared from one person with a screen to other people with screens within patient 0s digital vicinity. However, it’s difficult to determine at what point something becomes officially viral. Is the cut off a million views? A thousand shares? 952 retweets? It’s hard to say.
The means of achieving virality have changed rapidly over the last two decades. Originally, pieces of viral content were brought into our lives via email chain newsletters. We all had family members that would send notes to dozens of contacts (try Bcc next time, Uncle Steve) containing uncomfortable and polarizing political humor or the video of that creepy 3D dancing baby which has thankfully been downgraded to a .gif since its inception. In these closed loops, content was widely shared, but the forum for discussion was limited to a reply all to the acquaintances of the original sender or even worse: talking about online content in real life.
It soon became apparent that creating hubs to organize all the hilarious and important videos of children proclaiming their adoration of turtles was necessary. For this reason, the eBaum’s Worlds of the world were born. Sites aggregated all of the funniest videos for us, which were ready and waiting to be downloaded and watched with friends via Windows Media Player and a CRT monitor. Comments sections on the sites unlocked a new medium to discuss just how hilarious it was that someone had the audacity to replace the dialogue from GI Joe PSAs with blabbering and mentions of pork chop sandwiches.
In the next step of virality’s evolution, the lines between the organic dispersal of a virus via email chains and the “hotbeds” of eBaum’s World and the like began to blur. Cell phone cameras and YouTube meant anyone could create and post their own digital content, and the rise of MySpace and then Facebook gave us new means to spread the diseases/videos more effectively than ever before. Truly in 2015, we’ve reached a viral golden age.
We reach the question once again, however: what does it all mean? Is there any benefit to having the eyes of the world on our digital video? In the past, the results were often intangible. If they were discernible, there was a great chance that going viral would have a negative impact on your life as it did for the Star Wars Kid. After his meant-to-be-private video of solo-simulating a double bladed lightsaber battle took off online, he was laughed out of his high school and his family was forced to move. However, in today’s world, going viral can not only be life changing, but life making.
Take the real life Peter Griffin for example. Robert Franzese’s video (above) of himself gallivanting around New York ComicCon in green slacks, a white button down, and round wire-frame glasses has earned 8.8 million views since being posted less than a month ago and blowing up (originally on Reddit). In a more personal moment of the video, Franzese describes how he feels unhappy at his dead end job, and is at his best when portraying Peter. The video brought enough traffic to earn his comedy group, BOOM! Big Pants, over 8,000 YouTube subscribers, and Franzese can even be paid by YouTube for the sizable traffic his content brings to the site.
It’s not just performances like Franzese’s that bring success by becoming a one-off viral sensation. The Humans of New York Facebook page, by posting a single portrait of a subject and linking to a page associated with them, can fund kickstarters, raise money to bring homeless people off the streets, or create a following in just about any context. This photo of a disheveled veteran on the street linked to the page of it’s subject, Nick Jermyn, an aspiring actor who now has 12,000 Facebook fans thanks to HONY’s post.
The death of cable and cord cutting in general are running rampant. The time is ripe to start creating your own viral content and throw your proverbial business card (viral video) into the fishbowl at the restaurant (onto YouTube) and win a free lunch (become famous for the rest of your life). So if you find yourself being reposted on Facebook by the likes of The Lad Bible and see the masses tagging friends and “Ayyyyy lmao”ing in the comments, there’s only one thing to say to yourself: I FEEEEEL GREAAAATTTT.