Cultural Zero: Anatomy of a Meme (and another fun excuse to bag on Weezer)

When James Burns offered Weezer 10 million bucks to disband, the internet went bonkers. But why?
October 13th, 2010 |
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Fig.1: Jesus on a pole, EVERY goddamn blog used this photo, I swear to Cobain.

On Monday, Seattle resident (and, full disclosure, my buddy and Police Teeth/Cold Lake guitarist) James Burns closed his campaign to raise ten million dollars to convince Weezer to break up (after, hilariously enough, the campaign tipped thanks to a fraudulent pledge of $9,998,162—damn you, Dennis Svejgaard Holm of Sollebrunn, Sweden! You tease!), having decided that he had made his point and “bummed out the internet.” The whole thing was a silly, low-maintenance prank started by a night of drinking with some pals, but not 48 hours later James was being interviewed by the New York Times and BBC5.

Interviewed by the BBC. For an internet prank. That raised a little over one hundredth of one percent of its stated goal. Because, you know…it was a joke.

But this gets covered by the Guardian? I love James, but seriously, interwebs…what the fuck.

TIMELINE: Early AM Tuesday, James opens ThePoint.com campaign. By noon, James’ hometown alternaweekly, The Stranger, runs a blurb about it, thanks to a tip from a “Chris R,” who I’m guessing is the same “Chris R” who plays bass in Police Teeth:

Local dude James Burns has an idea. He wants to see Weezer quit for good and he’s willing to raise a large sum of money in order to make it happen. Here’s the pitch:

I have never been a fan of this band. I think that they are pretty much horrible, and always have been. Even in the early 90’s. But this isn’t about me. This is about the Weezer fans. They are our brothers and sisters, our friends, our lovers.

Every year, Rivers Cuomo swears that he’s changed, and that their new album is the best thing that he’s done since “Pinkerton,” and what happens? Another pile of crap like “Beverly Hills” or “I’m Your Daddy.”

This is an abusive relationship, and it needs to stop now.

I am tired of my friends being disappointed year after year.I am tired of endless whimsical cutesy album covers and music videos.

I’m sick of hearing about whatever this terrible (and yes, even if you like the early stuff, you should be able to admit that they are wretched now) excuse for a band is up to these days.

If all 852,000 of you (really?) who bought “Pinkerton” pitch in $12, we will meet our goal.

I beg you, Weezer. Take our money and disappear.

If you want to see this happen, click here to learn how to donate some cash to the cause. (You’ll only actually be charged if the campaign does indeed raise $10,000,000.)

Of course, even if $10 million is collected, there’s the whole other side of the equation where Weezer has to accept the payout and call it quits. Somehow, I don’t see Rivers taking the bait. But you never know! The dude is weird. Maybe he’d surprise us all.

Later in the day, both the Onion AV Club and Pitchfork follow The Stranger’s lead and report on this lark (Pitchfork credits one “Brian James,” who also happens to be a friend of Mr. Burns and often goes by the name “Pantene Deep V”). Of course, it is at that point where the internet loses its damn fool mind.

MTV:

Burns — who admits he’s never been a fan of Weezer — figures that if all 852,000 fans who bought the band’s Pinkerton album chip in $12, he’ll make his $10 million goal. At the time of this writing, he’s received exactly $182 in donations (though, it should be added that per The Point’s rules, no one will actually have to pay until he reaches the $10 million mark).

As of press time, a rep for Weezer had not responded to MTV News’ request for comment on the campaign. And while we’ll try our best to remain objective on the matter … well, c’mon guys, $10 million is a lot of scratch …

Entertainment Weekly:

One Pitchfork re-post later, and Burns actually garnered a response from the band—drummer Patrick Wilson posted on his Twitter, “if they can make it 20, we’ll do the “deluxe breakup”!”

Burns has promised that if he fails to reach the full $10 million goal, he will refund all contributions, minus thepoint.com’s 5 percent fee; as of this post, he had raised approximately $194, or less than 0.002 percent of his total.

Spin:

“This is an abusive relationship, and it needs to stop now,” Burns writes, referring to his disappointment with songs like “Beverly Hills” and “I’m Your Daddy.”

Despite Burns’ proactive rallying, don’t expect Weezer to call it quits. So far, Burns has only raised $172, although one philanthropist has pledged $100.

Weezer seem amused by the campaign. Drummer Patrick Wilson posted on his Twitter last night, “If they can make it 20 [million], we’ll do the ‘deluxe breakup!’”

NME:

“This is an abusive relationship, and it needs to stop now. I am tired of my friends being disappointed year after year. I am tired of endless whimsical cutesy album covers and music videos.”

Burns is therefore calling on disappointed fans to help raise the $10m fee.

“If all 852,000 of you (really?) who bought ‘Pinkerton’ pitch in $12, we will meet our goal,” he notes.

Fortunately for fans of the band, the petition has so far only raised $12, suggesting the band’s future is not in doubt.

The Guardian (seriously):

Burns has a long way to go. At the time of writing, he has raised a grand total of $273 (£172) toward his $10m (£6.3m) goal. But if Guardian readers suddenly flock to the campaign, remortgaging their homes to banish Weezer for good, it could conceivably work out. The band’s drummer, Patrick Wilson, commented on Twitter: “If they can make it 20[million dollars],” he wrote, “we’ll do the ‘deluxe breakup.’”

…you get the point. In a quest to see who could get the most clickthrough sloppy seconds, just about every entertainment site in cyberspace did their best to make sure they showed up in a Google search for “Weezer 10 million break up”…and not much else, judging from the lack of variance in many of these articles. Slap the meat of the original post up there, add a sentence or two of your own personal snark, and bam. Welcome to music journalism in the internet age.

A similar game of cyber-telephone was recently played when Bottomless Pitt’s Tim Midgett started another ThePoint campaign to pay off the not-in-any-way-past-due mortgage of Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio recording studio. As Midgett said in the original campaign:

So many great records, made at this studio, for so little money.

So many friendships and romances, forged on the pages of the Electrical Audio forums (which are FREE to use).

Let’s see how close we can get to paying off the remaining balance of the studio’s mortgage.

As Electrical’s Greg Norman pointed out on the same page, “We are doing fine financially. There is no threat of us missing payments, or any other money calamity.” Still, that didn’t stop a legion of lazy bloggers from announcing that Electrical’s sky was in danger of falling after the AV Club’s initial post about the campaign said nothing of the sort. The AV Club: where internet memes are born, apparently.

I suppose it’s to the shock of no one that internet blogs are lazy, or that their content is so often inconsequential—after all, do they serve a purpose other than distracting us from work? I guess this caught my attention because, upon witnessing the preceding phenomena from scratch, I was able to witness the organic growth of a pair of bonafide indie music internet memes and see how quickly the blogosphere is willing to make much ado about, really, nothing. Some guy wanted to do his buddy a solid; another wanted to bum out some douchey band (knock it off, Pinkerton apologists—Weezer have been douchey snake oil salesmen since their first album. Deal with it).

Fig.2: I will never get tired of giggling at this photo of Rivers Cuomo's old hair metal band.

And while one or two reporters in the media did some actual reporting by interviewing some of the story’s principals (The Chicago Reader chatted with Albini and Midgett about the payoff campaign), most of what was written about both projects was more reactive regurgitation than anything else.

What does this say about a media that’s considered by many to be the “future of grassroots journalism,” to the point that some publications have abandoned print in general to embrace the deliriously delicious digital future (hey, whatever happened to Vital Source, anyway)? Well, hey—invent Garageband and MySpace, and the webz are gonna be filled with a lot of shitty music; invent WordPress and you’ll have just as many crap-ass DIY “grassroots” “journalists.” (And hey, am I really that different? There’s a reason I’ve adopted “Part of the Problem” as my personal tagline.)

Meanwhile, I have learned that if I want to become a master meme-generator like James Burns, I must follow these simple steps:

1) Involve someone or something people already like to talk about on the internet (like, say, Insane Clown Posse or Bros Icing Bros)

2) Attach some hair-brained scheme to both

3) Live in a city with a nationally-renowned media outlet (like, apparently, the AV Club)

Therefore, I hereby announce my intent to “ice” Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope when they play The Rave on October 28th. Hey Steve Hyden, you paying attention? LET”S MAKE INTERMAGIC.

Fig.3: Take a knee, fukkalos.

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8 Responses to “Cultural Zero: Anatomy of a Meme (and another fun excuse to bag on Weezer)”

  1. Erin Petersen says:

    That picture of Rivers Cuomo’s hair metal band is the best thing I’ve seen all day. Also, remind me to pinch you for the dig at VS. :)

    [Reply]

    DJ Hostettler Reply:

    The “dig” was a gentle self-deprecating poke at ourselves and should be taken for the loving self-referential humor it was intended as. :)

    [Reply]

    Erin Petersen Reply:

    But of course, but of course.

    [Reply]

    Jon Anne Willow Reply:

    Whew. Thought I was going to have to remind you. If only we had thought to start a campaign to save Vital Source. $1 million would have done it. But wouldn’t have gotten the meme press, prolly.

  2. Ryan Findley says:

    I will donate $1 towards the purchase of a ticket to the Insane Clown Posse show so that said icing can occur.

    [Reply]

  3. Arson Smith says:

    I just want to say that I especially enjoy the potential for mis-parsing of “Mr. Burns who often goes by the name of ‘Pantene Deep V’”. I also suspect that this was no accident.

    [Reply]

    DJ Hostettler Reply:

    Hmm…now that i look at it, i *knew* that phrase didn’t read as cleanly as i thought. I just changed the “who” to “and.” Sorry to disappoint, Arson, but that was totally an accident. :)

    [Reply]

  4. You forgot the Huffington Post, just sayin’ technically I was first… although not in internet time.

    Otherwise: H-E-L-L YES!
    It’s almost like an object lesson in lazy journalism combined with a modern day Emperor’s New Clothes.

    Pretty amazing overall.

    [Reply]

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