Friday, November 13, 2009

Culture Lesson: Rickroll(ing)

A Rickroll is an Internet-born prank wherein one person promises or entices another with something interesting or desirable but instead sends Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up."

At its most simple, and primitive, I might send my mother an e-mail with a link that promises vacation photographs, but instead loads the YouTube video for the song. Alternatively, I might receive an instant message regarding Mad Men spoilers and instead find myself at a Web site playing the video.

Millions have taken advantage of the hilarious, seemingly inoffensive prank, turning the joke into an international phenomenon.

Thankfully, the Rickroll is so beloved as an Internet meme that it has been taken offline! Flash mobs have taken to the streets with protesters wearing khaki trench coats and carrying boom boxes, while similar tactics have been brought to the doors of Scientology centers by protesters representing Internet pranksters Anonymous. Four Eastern Washington University games were "interrupted" in March 2008 with an Astley impersonator who was supported by lip syncing fans and Anonymous impersonators.

Naturally, the meme has spawned other memes. The Barackroll features the president reciting the words to the song and another merges Obama's "Never Gonna Give You Up" speech with a John McCain rally. Other versions include Kanye West and political pundits, and the term itself is used for a generic Internet-based bait and switch of any kind. (I promise not to Rickroll you with "Raining Blood" Mom and Dad.)

Here is a BarackRoll:

43-year-old Astley is a good sport: Not only did he call the Scientology protesters "hilarious," he told The L.A. Times in the same interview that he thinks  the phenomenon is "bizarre and funny." Astley also thanked 4chan founder "moot" in the 2009 Time 100. (Astley penned the piece, and also called the movement "bonkers.")

In the ultimate display of good humor and sportsmanship, Astley joined Cartoon Network to Rickroll the entire American public:

Rick Astley performed on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float! The puppets on the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends float sang "With A Little Help from My Friends" and "You're My Best Friend" in 2006 and 2007 respectively, but the nationwide Rickroll far surpasses any past or future plans. My general impression at the time was a head scratch across the U.S. instead of the Greatest Rickroll of All Time, but I suppose what this blog is for. Now it's my hope that Old People across the land will have a grip on the cultural significance and joy related to the Rickroll.

18 million Americans and more than one year later, Wired has declared the prank dead. I disagree, but only because my love for the song runs so deep that I'm not yet tired of it...Old People, I won't stop you from Rickrolling your colleagues, peers, friends and family.

Additional Resources:
Rick Roll Wikipedia article

Pop Up Video "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Rickroll Database (Enter a URL to see if it's a Rickroll.)
Web Scout exclusive! Rick Astley, king of the 'Rickroll,' talks about his song's second coming, L.A. Times
moot, The 2009 Time 100
Wired's Guide to Hoaxes, Wired

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