Best of the Decade: Monica Hesse on the top Internet memes

Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; 1:00 PM

From Chuck Norris to LOL Cats, our Web Hostess Monica Hesse looks back at the top viral content of the decade.

Web Hostess chat archive.


Monica Hesse: Hey everyone. Thanks for stopping by to the Best of the Decade chat, Internet-style. Here, we will debate the best memes and viral videos from 2000-2009. There may be fisticuffs. Virtual fisticuffs.

This was the decade of YouTube, the decade of FunnyOrDie, CollegeHumor, and dozens of other sites that allowed average users to create and share art. Or pseudo art. There's a ton of stuff that deserves recognition. I've posted my list, but the choices were agonizing. Example of the conflict: One video that I included on the Best of the Decade list, I also included on the WORST of the year list. Madness! (Guesses to which one, and why?)

I can't wait to hear your opinions of what made the Internet in 2000-2009. Was it Frozen Grand Central? Was it Leave Brittney Alone? The suspense is killing me. Let's just get started.


Arlington, Va.: Okay, so why did you put the Star Wars kid first?

Monica Hesse: Honestly, I could have put any one of my picks in the first slot and found a way to defend it.

What I like about Star Wars kid is that he represents so much of what currently makes the YouTube side of the Internet great. He was an average kid, doing an average thing that somehow became hilarious and transcendent. He immediately became a cultural reference point, and he couldn't escape his own fame. We got a rise and fall, and something very mesmerizing and pure.


My Favs: Miss Teen South Carolina and Miss California USA giving non-winning answers in competitions I would never watch anyway.

Not that Carrie Prejean didn't win more than she lost. Quick -- name Miss USA.

Monica Hesse: Is it Miss...North Carolina? North Dakota?

You're right, though -- losing that pageant was probably the best thing to ever happen to Carrie Prejean.

By the way, I only included videos that originated on or made for the Internet. Things that originated on television but spread through the Internet, like the pageant answers, I did not include. You, of course, are free to make your own criteria.


For everyone's sanity: Could we establish now that "decade" means "a period of 10 years" (as defined by Merriam-Webster) and could be any 10 year period, thus curtailing any further discussion of the issue? Am tired of killjoys who want to argue that the decade doesn't end until next year. Am fairly certain these people would think it was nuts to say they were born in the 70's if they were actually born in 1980.

Monica Hesse: We can establish this.


Washington, D.C.: Any predictions on the kinds of viral content we'll see in the upcoming decade? And can we come up with a better word than "viral" already?

Monica Hesse: What don't you like about viral? I like viral!

I think we're already seeing memes become more self-referential. In the beginning, there was no format, so people were trying lots of different things. Now that Internet videos have become a little more codified, so people are making videos that slyly reference the format. For example, Guy Catching Sunglasses on Face led to Guys Jumping into Jeans led to Guy Catching Laptop With Butt.

I think that videos of the near future will continue to experiment with parody...and eventually come up with new formats to exploit. No idea what those formats will look like, though. Can't wait to see!


Arlington, Va.: Hey, that Star Wars kid was good, and I'm going to let him talk, but Kanye West made one of the most recycled moments of ALL TIME.

Monica Hesse: Hahahaha. Kanye has prominence on my best of 2009 list, which comes out next Sunday.


Silver Spring, Md.: For progressives, hands down, dailykos.

for advice columnists, Carolyn Hax.

for all things Internet, you of course!

Monica Hesse: No idea what this is in response to, but thanks!


Huh What?: What is Evolution of Dance?

Monica Hesse: Evolution of Dance, for a very long time and possibly still, held the position of top viewed viral video of all time. It's only moderately brilliant, but eminently watchable. Sort of the video equivalent of a Julia Roberts' romcom. No one is going to say its their favorite movie, but you could play it for everyone from your grandma to your 6-year-old niece and everyone would be appeased. I included it on the list for its broad appeal.


Arlington Gay: One of my favorites was the Les Mis parody during the Obama campaign, One Day More sung by campaign staffers.

Monica Hesse: Les Misbarack! I'd forgotten about that one. Definitely worth another viewing.


dc: How can ObamaGirl be on there but not Will.I.Am?

Monica Hesse: There were so many Obama videos made, it was hard to choose one. But ObamaGirl launched its own genre of googly-eyed candidate tribute videos, so she got the nod.


11th street: Can we have links to the videos? I haven't seen all of them, and I want to be able to do my diligent research before commenting. Star Wars Kid
I Can Has Cheezburger?
" Chocolate Rain " Original Song by Tay Zonday
Evolution of Dance
lonelygirl15 Season One
Crush On Obama
JK Wedding Entrance Dance

Monica Hesse: Paul = God-like.


Viral: It just has a pretty negative implication, don't you think?

Monica Hesse: Well, yah, but it's hard to think of another word that connotes the speedy person-to-person transmission of something. Bacterial Videos would be way grosser.


Monica Hesse: For those who missed it.


The Interwebs: Although I kept hearing about this, I had to go on Urban Dictionary to find out what it meant: getting Rick Rolled.

Monica Hesse: I personally have never been the lucky recipient of a RickRoll, which is a sad lack in my Internet education. I've heard its wondrous, when it happens to you. Le sigh.


My vote....: I moved the Chris Brown wedding entrance dance up the had it all: a private event that got picked up everywhere, media frenzy (including the admonishments for using a Chris Brown song) with intense and incredible focus on a young couple(and bloody reinactments on TV!)...and then six months later: nothing. Gone. That, and -anyone- who ever tries to do something like that again will be considered a copycat.

Monica Hesse: See, this is the one that I included on the Best of the Decade, but Worst of the Year list. You cannot dispute its cultural impact, for all the reaspons you suggest. However, as a pure video, I thought it was just...meh.


2 Girls 1 Cup: Like it or not, this was the most-buzzed-about viral video in the history of history.

Monica Hesse: Oddly, no one has actually seen this video. It's virtually impossible to find online anymore. And yet everyone knows it. And fears it.


Rhode Island: Where the Hell is Matt?

And do-re-mi in the Antwerp train station. Both cheer me up when I need a lift. Sound of Music | Central Station Antwerp (Belgium)

Monica Hesse: Sound of Music alllllmost made my year-end list. But I'd already given nods to Improv Everywhere in the past, and this one was ultimately just more of the same. Which doesn't mean it's not a joy to watch. That and Surprised Kitten should be in everyone's pick-me-up arsenal.


DC Gay: I had a big issue with the Chris Brown Wedding Dance entrance, only cause he beat Rhianna right around the time it went viral. I just had some issues with it.

Monica Hesse: True, but that was just unfortunate timing -- the abuse hadn't happened when the couple used it for their wedding, just when the video went bacterial.


However, as a pure video, I thought it was just...meh. : Am I a bad person for saying that when I'm feeling kind of blue and such, that I go look at it again? It perks me up, it was such a cool idea, the folks are having lots of fun and not caring what anyone thinks!

Monica Hesse: Not at all. (And see the Sound of Music lover above). That video spoke to lots and lots of people. I just...wasn't one of them.


McLean, VA: Monica,

I'm sure you don't have time for this, but I would have loved to see a Special List dedicated to the top 10 Viral Marketing campaigns of the decade. IMHO, the last decade has brought us the first real Renaissance in Advertising since the Television commercial. I think it would be cool to look back at the best uses of New Media to sell people products.

The one that really sticks out in my mind is that Burger King Chicken that you could command to do things, and you had to figure out what all the commands were. I spent so long trying to get that chicken to do stuff, It wasn't for hours that I realized I was being marketed to. Subservient Chicken

Monica Hesse: This is a great idea -- and in fact, I've seen some marketing Web sites already put out lists like this. Email me at, and I'll see if I can find such a list for you.

My personal favorite is one that I've already mentioned in this chat -- the Guys Jumping Into Jeans. I know it's a Levi's commercial, dangit, but I will watch it 12 times in a row.


Monica Hesse: Just in case anyone wasn't here last week when we all did a collective "Aww" over this one...


Washington, DC: I know that Rick Rolling has to be on your best and worst list. What a terrible meme. Stupid and annoying as hell. And completely dumb. At least choose an awesome song to cut to. Some Zeppelin or Beatles or something.

Monica Hesse: See, in my opinion the utter randomness of the song -- and it's annoyance, to a certain extent -- were what made Rick Rolling brilliant.

I mean, the guy was named Best Act Ever in Britain, thanks to write-ins based on the meme.

Cutting away to an awesome Beatles song would make more sense, which somehow would make the practice less good.


RickRoll'd: Great. I watched that whole stupid video thinking something was about to happen. I'm a dope.

Monica Hesse: Ahh, I should have provided a little more explanation with that one. The meme isn't the video itself. The meme is the practice. RickRolling when you click on a link that seems to lead to one thing, like "Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe" or "Rosario Dawson Naked," and then instead you get Rick Astley singing.

_______________________ AdweekMedia: Best of the 2000s: DIGITAL CAMPAIGNS AdweekMedia: Best of the 2000s: DIGITAL CAMPAIGNS

Monica Hesse: Here's the best marketing campaigns list that I mentioned.


wedding dance video: Was "meh"? Do you have a SOUL? Ok, ok. But really I love that video. Catchy song, adorable dancing, and I just love the commitment that this couple's friends made to make their wedding fun. I just watched it again for the first time since last summer and got all weepy again.

Monica Hesse: Honestly, my utter tepidness toward this video makes me worry that I do not, in fact, have a soul.


Monica Hesse: Here is Guys Backflip into Jeans. It's happy-making.


Rickrolling might be my favorite...: Risk Astley himself rickrolled America at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade last year. Macy's Thanksgiving parade RickRoll

Monica Hesse: You go, Rick Astley!


Denver, CO: Is this rated by popularity index, or sheer awesomesauce? Because I can think of some videos that have about 50 billion hits (-cough- Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," which is like the second most popular YouTube'd thing of all time) and some that only have a few thousand (-only- a few!) that are nevertheless WAY cooler, in terms of effort/pick-me-up... ( A Gentlemen's Duel for instance).

That said, I'm a sucker for visual craziness. Check out Extreme Sheep LED Art!

Monica Hesse: We are going for sheer awesomeness here.

Going by hit count alone is really deceptive. If you look at the top 10 viral videos of 2009 by numbers alone, it's actually mostly just mainstream music videos that people are watching on YouTube.

There is not a Gentlemen's Duel in the bunch.


Denver: Is there a special sub-section here for the elusive Web-Series? Because clearly "The Guild" and it's three seasons of madness need to be somewhere. Same for "Legend of Neil" and "Red vs. Blue"

Monica Hesse: I did not include Web series. But if you like The Guild and Red vs. Blue, can I surmise that you also like You Suck At Photoshop? Please say yes.


Gallery Place: Don't forget about the Numa Numa kid! That video always brings a smile to my face.

Monica Hesse: Ohhhh Numa Numa! I just watched a few seconds and squealed a little bit. (Surely this is evidence of a soul?)


Washington, DC: What about JibJab? The "This Land is Your Land" was everywhere before the 2000 election and the follow up campaign videos were pretty good too. I watched that so many times and sent it all over the place to friends, relatives, anyone I could think of! It should have been on the list. - This Land!

Monica Hesse: I'd almost managed to forget about This Land is Your Land. Now every time I close my eyes today, I'm going to see those creepy Bush/Kerry cutouts.


TwitterNation: Should there be a subset of TwitterMemes, like Follow Fridays, or turning your icon green in support of Iranian protesters?

Monica Hesse: I think that Neda actually is her own meme, and she makes an appearance on my best-of-year list. Her horrible death didn't just reverberate through Twitter, it really prompted an online (and offline) revolution.


State of dyspepsia: People who love wedding video = people who don't 'get' Rickrolling.

They're the same people. They shop at Land's End....

Monica Hesse: I'm posting this merely because it is controversial. Are there people here who can either reinforce this or dispute it by proclaiming their love for both?


Wedding video blahs: Put me into the "meh" category.

It's like an especially elaborate pun: Entertaining and funny the first time, and never again.

People who copy it in their own weddings are the ones lacking a soul, and lacking originalilty.

Monica Hesse: Was it really copied anywhere besides The Office wedding episode? Ick.


Backflipping into jeans: Had not seen that before. I just kept thinking "ouch, wedgie."

Monica Hesse: That's why you have to watch it multiple times. The first time, you're just waiting for it to go all wrong, like Something About Mary. But on later viewings, you can just enjoy.


Austin, Tex.: What about the nom-nom cat? mew NOM NOM NOM

Monica Hesse: I allowed myself only one cat-related meme. Otherwise, Nom Nom might have been up there. Oh, Nom Nom.


Arlington, Va.: What about Hitler's downfall? You didn't link to that one, but if it's the one I'm thinking of, that captioning has been re-scripted over and over and over again (ignoring that some people might actually understand German, but whatevs), and some of them are really hilarious, even up to the balloon boy. The 10 Funniest YouTube Hitler Videos

Monica Hesse: It's on the list! We must have left off the link, but it's definitely on the list.


DC: I can't find the link, but did you see the frat guys that did some amazing beer pong tricks. Involved stuff like moving skateboards, flights of steps, and multi-bounce shots. I watched it for days on a friends Facebook

Monica Hesse: It *sounds* like something I've seen. Or was it all a dream? Can anyone else verify the existence of this magical video?


Bethesda, Md.: Did "Stuff (blank) Like/Love" make either of your year-end list, or honorable mention on your decade list?

Monica Hesse: Nope. It would have made a worthy inclusion last year, when Stuff White People Like exploded with a book deal, but it didn't seem worthy for the decade. And actually, come to think of it, I didn't bother to include it last year either.


soul: Ha! I'm the commenter who questioned your soul. I think rickrolling is only mildly amusing and I do, in fact, own a lot of Lands' End. (Sigh. I'm turning into my mom.) But I'm also ok with being sneered at by people who are cooler than me, so go for it!

Monica Hesse: Intriguing.

And ain't nothing wrong with Lands End.


Washington, DC: I'm the OP that hates Rickrolling. The wedding video is cute, so that poster is wrong. I guess you can equate Rickrolling with those Exorcist scare videos where you are watching a movie or trying out a game and the face and sound pop up all of a sudden. When it happens to you it makes you angry and/or scared as hell. I'm sure there's some case somewhere of a guy that died from the fright. Just like Rickrolling, annoying as can be if it happens to you. I actually WANTED to see the video I clicked on. Not some lame dude in his basement's attempt to be "cool" for once.

Monica Hesse: I wonder if anyone ever died from fright over RickRolling...


Nerd version of Rickrolling: I always email a link to to co-workers who are surfing the internet during meetings.

Same theory, much higher cred on the geek scale.

And yeah, I thought the wedding dancing video was....meh.

Monica Hesse: And here I thought that Rickrolling was the nerd version of itself.


Monica Hesse: Looks like that's all we have time for today. Wishing you all Merry Rickrolls and Wedding Dance Videos -- wherever your taste preferences may lie.

And don't forget to email any bits of Internet intrigue to


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