Memes Are People Too: Meet the Viral-Video Stars of ROFLCon

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

A conference about Internet culture at MIT brings together the biggest stars of the Web, including "Double Rainbow guy," Antoine Dodson, "David After Dentist," and more. 

The "ROFL" in "ROFLCon" is an outdated web acronym -- Rolling on the Floor Laughing -- basically an old-timey way of saying "LOL." ROFLCon uses it ironically. The vintage webspeak is characteristic of the event -- a conference that is equally concerned with the past, present, and future of Internet culture. The two-day event, held at MIT last weekend, combined the best elements of a fan convention with a truly academic conference. Don't let the goofy names of panels, like "Adventures in Aca-meme-ia," fool you; the featured panelists and giddy audience members were all too eager to dive into serious discussion. 

Christina Xu and Tim Hwang, who co-founded the conference in 2008 as Harvard undergrads, curated a lively mix of panels, bringing together speakers from around the world. Topics ranged from how people in China use visual humor to evade censorship ("Global Lulzes"), to what to do when a YouTube video of your kid suddenly goes viral ("Honey I Memed the Kids!"). Amid the chaos, a central issue took shape; web video is radically reshaping pop culture. A panel called "From Micro-Fame to Nano-Fame" featured "Double Rainbow guy" and "Huh? guy," among others, assessing the shrinking timeframe for web celebrity. Huh? guy, an actor and graduate student at Columbia University named Nate Dern, posited that the proverbial 15 minutes of fame has dwindled to 1.5 seconds. Another panel, "Channels Killed the (Internet) Video Star," looked at the changing landscape of YouTube and how Google's funding of original series has sidelined classic viral videos. Seismic changes aside, web videos are simply flooding our cultural ecosystem; Kevin Allocca, YouTube's trends manager, noted that one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second

The Atlantic Video channel decided to dive in and meet the viral-video stars behind the most famous hits -- Double Rainbow, David After Dentist, Nyan Cat, and more. In this eight-minute documentary, produced and edited by yours truly, we discovered that even though their lives have been turned upside down, and in some cases totally transformed, by Internet fame, they're people too. They're pretty awesome people, actually. 

Becca Rosen distills further insights from ROFLCon in "Are LOLCats Makings Us Smart?" Even LOLCats, it turns out, can teach us a great deal about human relationships, cultural values, and ourselves. 

We want to thank Alan Wilkis for the music in the video, Chris Torres (Nyan Cat), Rich Juzwiak (I'm Not Here to Make Friends), the Devore family (David After Dentist), Paul Vasquez (Double Rainbow), Nate Dern, Antoine Dodson (Bed Intruder Song), and Christina Xu, Tim Hwang, and the staff of ROFLCon

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/memes-are-people-too-meet-the-viral-video-stars-of-roflcon/256889/