While the rest of the United States sent summer off with a grill full of hot dogs, a few of Ohio's brightest high schoolers used the power of cyberculture to express themselves, igniting a battle of common sense. On Friday evening, as Kirtland High students celebrated a victory against their rivals at Painesville Harvey, a few of them hung a handmade banner from the bleachers in euphoria. Scribbled on the blue tarp, 'You Mad Bro," an obvious nod to Internet meme, "You mad?" Now those web savvy teens are in hot water, accused of "racial intimidation" by a group of their peers, including Roderick Coffee, president of the Lake County chapter of the NAACP, and a football fan who was in attendance that night.
"I think the reference to 'bro' in the sign definitely has a racial connection to it," Michael Hanlon, superintendent for Painesville City Schools said to local channel Fox 8. And while the accusers also note that regardless of racial intent, the stunt was just bad sportsmanship, they seem to miss the connection to the popular meme, a Lolspeak phrase used to taunt folks while they're down, which would have changed the context of this particular prank.
For anyone who's watched the cyberculture world closely for the past few years, this is nothing new. Jokes from the subculture on Reddit are almost commonplace, 4chan is a household word and Antoine Dodson, with the Gregory Brothers, brought autotune to the masses. But when the third wall of the Internet breaks down and memes climb out of the laptop screen and into real life, do they work?
Take Ryan Gosling, for example. On the web he charms ladies of all ages in the 'Hey Girl' meme found most notable on Tumblr blog 'Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling." When MTV confronted the star to read a few of the most popular 'Hey Girl' phrases though, it fell short of expectations.
Another meme that lost it's fizzle in the cold, harsh real world was our old friend Antoine Dodson. The man ruled the Internet throughout 2010 with videos, remixes and apps. However, once Dodson took to real life, meeting fans on the street and singing his trademark Bed Intruder song at the BET Awards, the whole idea of the meme fell flat. Did the mystique melt away into reality?
With the exception of Rick Astley, who lovingly rickrolled his way into Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends in the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, most memes don't translate to the outside world the way they do on Reddit, or Buzzfeed, or Twitter. It could be that they're just so of-the-moment that they only work in the instant gratification online provides us with, or that the same people who gravitate to the Internet also share that specific funny bone, or it could even be that some things just look better under the guidance of a cute Tumblr theme. Memes and real life don't always mix. In this case, a group of high schoolers found that to be embarrassingly true.