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Home > Media

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Memes Will Never Hurt Me

15 October 2006

It was a heckuva week for Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. The two twenty-something-year-old founders of YouTube woke up on Tuesday morning and found themselves multi-millionaires after their plucky video site was bought by Google for $1.65bn. That's one point six five billion dollars. Or about eight pounds fifty.

But while Hurley and Chen celebrated their good fortune, on this side of the Atlantic a quite different YouTube related storm was brewing. Attentive readers will remember last week we brought you a link to David 'Dave' Cameron's e-home video, posted on YouTube and carefully crafted to show that, like us, Dave was just an ordinary bloke, with an ordinary wife and kids and an ordinary house. He even eats and washes the dishes! Just. Like. Us! (Except that we have a maid).

So far so creepy. But, as is their wont, Labour was having none of it. A few days later and another video appeared on YouTube, this time featuring Labour MP Sion Simon. The video features a baseball cap-wearing Mr Simon, mocking Dave's man-of-the-people shtick and suggesting that - get this - the Conservative leader would allow voters to sleep with his wife if it meant they liked him more. Oof. Low blow Sion.

Everyone knows Tories don't love - or sleep with - their wives. It's his mistress that Dave would gladly surrender to Mondeo man in the name of popularity. But this lack of comedic accuracy didn't prevent Conservative MPs like Peter Luff and Andrew Mitchell blowing their top. 'How dare they?!' they cried. 'Joking about fucking a chap's wife! How irresponsible! Have they no shhhaaaammmme?'

No, of course they haven't - they're politicians. But that's not the point. The point - which Dave has learnt the hard way - is that if you live by the web, you'll die by the web. Last year Ford offered its fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - to create a video ad promoting the company's fine automotive products in return for the chance of exciting prizes. And did the web community take the challenge in the spirit it was intended? Did they buggery arse. Instead spoof video after spoof video popped up on YouTube, parodying Ford and their gas-guzzling SUVs. Pesky video activists. Ford closed the competition shortly afterwards.

And even the US government itself has suffered a similar fate. Not long after they began posting public service videos on the 'Tube, they had to ask the site to disable user comments having been flooded with negative responses to just about every aspect of US public policy.

D'oh.

Three attempts to engage with the yoot on their own terms. Three failures. Three outraged cowardly responses to a bit of harmless ribbing. And three examples of organisations who have played right into their critics hands by responding to criticism in precisely the wrong way.

What the Conservatives should have done - if they really wanted kudos - is to respond to the parody with one of their own. In hip-hop and rap there's a fine tradition of mocking rivals through song. One artist releases a record attacking a rival. Calling them a sell-out or somesuch. And what does the attacked rival do? Do they ask their press office to release a statement attacking the record, branding it irresponsible? Er... No. They don't.

What they do is produce a record of their own, mocking their mocker. And the original mocker mocks back in response. And so the feud escalates until one of the rappers is killed in a hail of drive-by-bullets, much as duels were used to settle arguments in days of old.

But no matter who lives and who dies, the important thing is that both sides retain credibility. No one looks like a coward or a cry baby who doesn't understand the rules of the game. The game they started playing in the first place.

But Dave, if you're reading (and we know you do), it's not too late for you to claw this one back and get yourself a bit of street cred again. Just grab your camcorder and get yourself over to chez Sion when his wife's home alone. A bit of the old Cameron charm, a bottle of wine or two and Bob's your uncle - upload a video of you fucking Simon's wife to YouTube.

'The Tory Party - we'll fuck your wife and upload the video to YouTube'. Let's see the baseball-cap-wearing smart alec respond to that one.

Failing that, just pop a cap in his ass.

Either way, don't be a whiny little dick. That's just not cool.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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