1 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

Idiocy and Contagion

In the Guardian last week there was an interesting piece on the documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson who was seemingly duped into appearing in a video viral by Patrice Wilson, the music producer behind the Rebecca Black music video Friday (see Jon Ronson’s viral video: Thank God it’s Tuesday). As Ronson soon realizes, the producer’s intention is to take revenge on him following an uncomfortable interview by making him look like a complete idiot. It suddenly dawns on him that “almost everything that goes viral, goes viral because someone looks like an idiot in it.” Like The Star Wars Kid, Leave Britney Alone and Gingers Do Have Souls, idiocy on the net is more popular than art, culture, and even disasters. 

This news story reminded me of a paper Olga Goriunova presented at the Thinking Network Politics conference in Cambridge a couple of years back. In a very amusing and perceptive presentation Goriunova provided some nice examples of truly idiotic and infectious internet virals, including the Russian singing sensation Mr. Trololo, in order to forward a novel conceptualization of what she called “digital media idiocy.”


This rich concept drew on a number of sources, but I mostly recall the references Goriunova made to Deleuze’s notion of idiocy in What is Philosophy? Whereas the “old idiot” looked for truth, Deleuze tells us, the “new idiot,” surfacing in the work of Dostoyevsky, “wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought – in other words, to create’ (p. 62). Likewise, Goriunova’s work pointed to the creative role of the idiot on the net.

I didn’t see Jon Ronson at the Thinking Network Politics conference, but perhaps he needed to be there to hear Goriunova’s paper. He looks very stupid indeed. But the question of the creative powers of the idiot, and moreover, how idiots are themselves made, is, I think, very interesting.

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