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Verbally Described: Memes

Season 1, Episode 3

Do It For The Vine - Episode Notes

Link to Episode:

This episode we zoom out and take a look at internet challenges, their history, and the new platforms created with this in mind.


10 Historic Events and Fads That Would Break the Internet Today

1939: The year of goldfish gulping

So Help Me God, I’m Going To Eat One Of Those Multicolored Detergent Pods

Tide CEO: You Gotta Stop Eating Tide Pods | CH Shorts

Peyton Manning Eating Crackers

Ten (10) Saltine Challenge in One Minute

The Cinnamon Challenge ... by GloZell and her Big Behind Earrings

Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge Compilation Fail - Shot Glass #KylieJennerChallenge! REBLOP.COM

A Christmas Story- The Triple Dog Dare Clip (HD)

Ice Bucket Challenge Still Going Strong: $31.5 Million in Donations to The ALS Association

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is back!


Host:  Wesley Lethem

Mixing, Engineering: Sound Service


Hey! Welcome to another episode of Verbally Described Memes, today we’re zooming out and taking a look at a larger concept. Rather than focusing on a specific meme we’re talking about doing it for the Vine.

*Do it for the vine*

More broadly we could think of this concept as “Internet Challenges”,  viral sensations where people record themselves attempting a dare or specific activity and challenge others to try it for themselves.

Online challenge culture has permeated our society and has fundamentally changed how we interact online. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone unfamiliar with the Ice Bucket Challenge, the Tide Pod Challenge, or the Harlem Shake. And due to that pervasive nature, this phenomena deserves a closer look.

There’s something fascinating encapsulated within the instantaneous repetition, iteration, and one upmanship that occurs whenever there’s a new big new internet craze.

These challenges are driven by user submitted content, the internet fame hopefuls take advantage of the zeitgeist and ride the wave of attention and popularity each challenge could potentially bring. It’s this open prompt of a new internet challenge that I believe lights up our brains.  encourages people to get creative with an idea and add their own flair. While the majority of people make something that a few friends and family might end up seeing, there’s always the chance of going viral. And while the odds aren’t in your favor, it’s easy to see the appeal of trying to attain that level of popularity and renown. For many, especially kids, teens, and young adults who have entirely grown up online, being immortalized in internet fame is all that you could ever really want.

So, how did we get here? How did internet challenges come about?

Going backwards, even before the internet, fads and viral challenges were just as common at the turn of the century as they are today. This may seem odd but the bizarre and silly challenges we see online today are hardly different than what was being done back then. And more often than not the motivations are largely the same.

While people were obsessed with planking in unusual locations in 2011, in the mid to late 1920s people were clambering up to the top of flagpoles just to sit for as long as they could. This was a fad known as Pole Sitting.

It largely died out by the time the Great Depression rolled around but not before a man in Iowa sat on a flagpole for 51 days and 20 hours.

Another good point of comparison on how we’ve always been weird, susceptible to cultural trends, and frankly gullible would be the trend of swallowing goldfish back in the 1930s.

The exact origin of the trend is unknown but there’s speculation that it originated from Chicago Bar culture where bartenders would trick drunk university students into thinking that they had swallowed a live fish. In this case it wasn’t really a goldfish but rather a carved piece of carrot mimicking a goldfish’s tail that was plucked from an aquarium behind the bar and summarily tossed back by the barkeep. Goldfish gulping was rampant in fraternity culture across the United States as college students each tried to top each other’s feat of actually swallowing a live fish. There was massive media coverage, many towns made the practice illegal, there were animal rights activists staging protests, and the US Public Health service put out a bulletin warning that ingesting live goldfish could result in the swallower contracting anemia via tapeworm tagalongs.

This seems to be an excellent point of comparison for another contemporaneous trend, the consumption of Tide Pods.

Teen intentionally ingesting highly toxic Tide laundry pods, and posting the videos to YouTube challenging others to do the same.

3… 2… 1… There’s no way I’m actually going to eat a flippin Tide Pod. This stuff can kill you, never flippin eat a Tide Pod this actually will kill you if you eat this.

The teeneagers that are doing this need to understand that this is reckless, this is a poisonous substance you’re putting in your body.

Why did you do this? What made you do this? I just really wanted the views, and I guess I wanted to try it. He’s now posted it to Twitter in a quest for more clicks. As social media cracks down on this dangerous new trend.

And to be honest, even before the meme there’s definitely been this intrusive thought or call of the void where you just wanna pop one of those in your mouth. Even the Onion picked up on their tantalizing nature when they published a guest opt ed in 2015 by local infant Dylan DelMonico titled:

So help me god I’m going to eat one of those multi-colored detergent pods

I can’t explain it really. It could be that it’s just conditioning after having seen so many memes joking about eating a clearly and explicitly toxic substance.

The type of humor and memes surrounding Tide Pods was always tongue in cheek chuckling about their appearance and laughing at people being dumb enough to actually do it, but then in the back of your mind thinking about what it would be like to have that satisfyingly burst in your mouth. And then circling back and laughing at how funny it would be to be entirely consumed by them.

Hi America, my name is David Taylor I’m the CEO of the company who makes Tide, the and correlarry product Tide Pods. Which is what I want to talk to you about today, you gotta stop eating the Tide Pods! Okay? Look I get it, you’re young and hip and you don’t want an old guy telling you what to do. But Tide Pods are soap, and that’s not food. So please, stop eating the Tide Pods. And make sure to keep an eye out for Cascade dishpops, the lollypop that cleans your dishes! Can we stop? Are we calling them a lollypop?

Detergent pods already under fire for resembling candy. Last year poison control centers reported more than 10000 kids under the age of 5 coming into contact with the pods. It’s too early for numbers for older kids intentionally ingesting them.

After Tide Pods were in the news for nearly half a decade, then people started to joke about it and make memes about how tasty they looked. They were referred to as the forbidden fruit.

It was out of these memes that the challenge was actually born, the first videos to pop up on YouTube like the video uploaded on January 7th, 2018 by user TheAaronSwan669, were satirical and would always stop short before actual consumption. Or through funny editing they wouldn’t actually eat the Tide Pod on camera. Through the fever pitch of the Tide Pod memes and challenge videos, people started to actually eat them and there were hundreds of cases of intentional ingestions by teenagers in the early months of 2018.

Ann Marie Buerkle from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did the rounds of the morning talk shows and said "teens trying to be funny are now putting themselves in danger by ingesting this poisonous substance." "This is what started out as a joke on the internet and now it's just gone too far."

In response to the rampant cases of children actually thinking they’re candy, Procter & Gamble changed the packaging from a clear container to opaque tubs and bags so children wouldn’t see them. They did nothing to change the tantalizing appearance, as that was intentional. Maybe not for consumption sake but I think it’s pretty evident that they were all in on attractive packaging and portioning to sell more detergent. And really what created the memes was the overwhelming but nonsubstantial response Proctor & Gamble had to children inadvertently eating them. If they would have recognized that their product looked and smelled like a big gummy ravioli back in 2013 when there were thousands of reports of children under five getting poisoned by them none of this would have happened.

And Tide Pods are far from being the only dangerous internet challenge, or the first. I think we can say with a good degree of certainty that the first internet challenge was the Saltine challenge. This one isn’t really that dangerous besides from some light choking hazard but you’re likely not going to be doing this one by yourself.

It says in 60 seconds try to eat 6 saltine crackers without drinking anything.  I think I could do that.

This challenge was widespread in the 90s via word of mouth and had decent media coverage. So much so that a younger Peyton Manning attempted the challenge in 1996, and failed his first attempt. According to his teammate at the time, he immediately started again with a different strategy and won. It then later spread to YouTube right around the start of the platform where people uploaded videos of themselves trying it in their kitchens. And as far as challenges go, this is one I actually tried. The real challenge is that the more you chew the crackers up the drier your mouth gets. So, eventually your mouth is entirely gummed up, now the trick for this one is just don’t chew them up so much, that’s how I did it when I was a kid. 

It’s the seemingly simple nature of challenges like this one that reels people in. The hubris of being sure that you can choke down a couple crackers in a minute.

The Saltine challenge gave birth to several other seemingly simple, but unfortunately dangerous challenges over the course of the next decade. We saw the cinnamon challenge in which one is to try and swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in under a minute with no water. Possibly most famously done by the YouTuber Glowzelle, who always ups the ante for challenges like this and tried to eat an entire ladle full of cinnamon only to end up sputtering and spraying cinnamon dust everywhere, gagging and choking for minutes on end.

And again, this is a seemingly simple challenge that led to hundreds of people being hospitalized after the cinnamon clumped in their throat or was inhaled and caused infection in the lungs.

Another would be the salt and ice challenge, in which people tried to hold an ice cube on some salt that was sprinkled on their skin for as long as they could endure the pain. The salt would super cool the water causing burns.

We had the Kylie Jenner challenge too of course where people would put a vacuum around their lips using suction to temporarily enlarge their lips. While seemingly silly, when done excessively this led to disfigurement and permanent scarring for some.

One final one I want to mention is the really ill advised fire challenge. In which people would douse part of their body in flammable liquid and light themselves on fire while filming the outcome. I think you can imagine what the outcome of that one looks like.

All of these challenges and more were posted to video sharing sites like YouTube. And for what? For chasing some temporary internet clout? And I think this speaks to what has many clutching their pearls, how the internet can influence behavior in real life. Peer pressure and being urged to lick a frosty metal pole has always been around, but there’s a compounding factor with the advent of the internet. By seeing so many examples of people trying the latest challenge and the lofty rewards of internet fame it has to be alright if you did it as well, right? What’s the worst that could happen?

Now of course it’s not all bad with internet challenges, millions of people in the mid 2010s participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where people would film themselves dumping buckets of ice water on themselves, and nominate three people to do it as well in the next 24 hours. The original challenge was that you had to complete the challenge within 24 hours or you had to donate to support ALS research, as it spread the final part of the challenge was missed by many and they simply uploaded videos of themselves dousing themselves in water.

Now even despite some people misguidedly attempting the challenge, there was a substantial increase in funding for ALS research. On August 20th, 2014, the ALS Association announced in a press release that they received more than $31.5 million during the summer of 2014, in comparison to the $1.9 million raised during the same time period the previous year. Massively influential figures like Bill Gates got involved and donated themselves.

So taking this history and context we have a more informed approach to what I want to talk about next. Where challenge culture exists today and what platforms disseminate this content? Getting back to the title of the episode, For those of you who don't know, Vine is, or well was, a short-form video sharing app where users could upload little bites of content, only about 6 or 7 seconds. “Do it for the Vine” specifically is an expression that was popularized on the now defunct app, and usually preceded someone reluctantly breaking into dance. I’m showing my age by calling this episode doing it for the vine. More aptly today would be *doing it for the Tik Tok plays* doing it for the TikTok.

While the platform Vine is no longer in operation, TikTok is a household name. Both platforms intrinsically are founded on this culture of remixing content. Vine had people uploading their own versions of challenges or trends that ripped through the platform at blinding speed. Day by day there could be a new phrase or dance that was taking the platform by storm. And now for TikTok it’s largely the same but that remixing feature is built into the tools that the app gives to the content creators. 

This audio here, can be taken from the original video and plugged in on top of the user’s own recorded video allowing for an dubbed lipsynched rendition of whatever new hot dance or challenge is currently in vogue.

TikTok is much more than just a lip synching app, many use it for short skits, doing duets with other creators, and more than I could ever hope to explain in a podcast. Moral of the story is that if you know a teen, there’s a good chance they spend a LOT of time on the app and are well immersed in an entire ecosystem of social media that’s completely foreign to outsiders.

The app is arguably one of the most popular in the entire world and yet most people over 30 have no clue what it is. Just recently it was facing a ban in the United States due to a potential national security threat because of its relationship with the Chinese government. Which feels a bit ridiculous considering how much other media platforms like Facebook and Twitter  invasively gather personal information to be used to curate hyper tailored advertisements. The executive order that Trump signed attempting to ban the app cited the information quote “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information”. As if that information wasn’t already being sold to the highest bidder through all of the apps on our smartphones.

But I digress, the influence of challenge culture has shaped this app and how users go about creating content for the app. Remixed content and fads are more prevalent than ever due to the more powerful tools and near instantaneous methods of dissemination that are available to users. There are songs like this one

that have hundreds of millions of views on YouTube exclusively because they were a viral phenomenon to remix on TikTok. I have no clue what the next big internet challenge is going to be, and what impact it’s going to have on society. But I can be sure that most likely it’s already being spread from user to user on TikTok. The power that fads have to shape the world we live in is enormous, I mean the debate around the TikTok ban ate up an entire news cycle a month before the most important election of our lives. Beyond that there are entire blogs dedicated to aggregating all of the popular fads and hashtags for corporations to try and cash in on the hype or for people to try their own hand at escapism through content creation, engaging with a cultural moment, and if you’re lucky sweet sweet virtual adoration.

This episode was written and recorded by me, Wesley Lethem. Editing and production was done by Sound Service, which is also me. Story editing support by Savannah Jubic. Music and those robot voices I love so much are made available by Kevin MacLeod and Full notes on this episode are available via a link in the show notes including links to everything I mentioned today, a transcript, and all sources for content I included. Thank you all again for taking a listen, I’ve been just overwhelmed with the support that I’ve received so far. Please take a moment to leave a rating or a review if you have the time, and tell a friend who you think might like this content. It’d mean the world to me. Given the election is next week I’m not sure when the next episode is going to get posted. I’m going to aim to keep to my schedule of every two weeks but you will be able to find out if you follow me on my social media.

Music Attribution:

Luminous Rain by Kevin MacLeod



Blippy Trance by Kevin MacLeod



Dark Hallway (clean) by Kevin MacLeod



Nuh Na Nuh by Kevin MacLeod



Rollin At 5 by Kevin MacLeod



Do it for the Vine

Kaye Trill & STEFisDOPE

Do It For The Tik Tok · DJ Flex

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Verbally Described: Memes

Recording Engineering
Education & Training Voiceover & Narration
Field Recording