A Reptile Dysfunction

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, August 26, 2007

As I write this, America is swept up in the amazing phenomenon of Turtle Boy, the fourth-grader with a painted zombie face who, when asked by a TV reporter how he was enjoying a local fair in Oregon, observed that he liked turtles. Instantly, this became the latest "Internet sensation," forwarded by tens of thousands of people to hundreds of thousands more. The nightly news took note. Entrepreneurs began marketing "I like turtles" shirts, bags and hats. All of this was fascinating because, if one applies any reasonable measure of critical thought to this 17-second video, one cannot escape the fact that it is entirely without humor.

You probably barely remember it, however, because now, three weeks later, you are transfixed by some other Internet sensation, such as -- oh, I don't know -- a hamster that likes applesauce.

I love the Web, except for this sort of thing. It has exposed us, as a nation, to the tyranny of the humor impaired.

These people used to keep mostly to themselves; thus, though large in numbers, they were safely contained. We'd get wind of them only occasionally -- it was a fetid wind -- when certain insipid things became inexplicably popular, such as those bumper stickers reading "[Occupation or avocation of driver]s do it in their [heavy-handed double entendre]." We also caught their scent with those ubiquitous posters of a cat dangling from a branch ("Hang in there, it's almost Friday!"). If you are old enough to remember the people who hung a tiger tail from their car's gas cap, you know this crowd. They're the same ones who repeated various Saturday Night Live tag lines incessantly ("Well, excuuuuse me . . .") until they became tedious conversational goo.

What the Internet has done is to make it possible for all of these people to find one another, and to procreate, virtually. That's what happened with the Turtle Boy video. The armies of the dull began e-mailing this thing to one another until the viral load became toxic, and their sheer numbers seemed to validate the existence of humor where none existed. Even respectable newspapers were forced to acknowledge the turtle phenomenon. And because newspaper editors are loath to alienate readers by calling them, in the aggregate, idiots, none of these stories ever quite stated the obvious, which was that this video was inexpressibly lame.

Why was it lame? Because there was nothing ironic, sub-versive or authentic in it. Turtle Boy did not innocently blurt out something embarrassing, such as, "I like beavers." (That would have been funny.) He didn't announce on camera something genuine but inappropriate, such as that he had to go to the bathroom. He was just being a 10-year-old, delivering a pale nonsequitur with a hint of a smile, in what he took to be a zombie voice. As it happens, it wasn't even much of a non sequitur. He had just seen turtles at the fair.

Now I realize that some people reading this today might have found the Turtle Boy video amusing. These people might think I am patronizing them, or, worse, suggesting that they have no senses of humor.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We know these people have senses of humor because they tell us they do, by putting LOLs and ROFLs in their e-mails.

Now, a careful analysis of the very column you are reading reveals that

it is hostile, sarcastic, pompous, petulant, cynical, promiscuously judgmental and, most to the point, not particularly funny. You might ask yourself how something like this even finds its way into print.

I've just told you: the pernicious influence of the Web. Our standards in humor have sunk so low that anything passes for funny these days. We have become deadheaded, a nation of . . . zombies.

I contend we have a solemn obligation to rebel against this. The next time someone sends you a video of, say, some girl in a Tinker Bell costume eating a fig, consign it to the recycle bin. We need to regain our senses of humor, so that no column this bad will ever be written again.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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