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Diagnosis: The Spread of Viral Culture

Contemplating Bill Wasik’s tome on the Internet age, And Then There’s This.

  • And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in a Viral Culture
  • By Bill Wasik, June 11, 2009
  1. 1.Sam Anderson:The dubious hypnotizing power of exploding whales, ‘Chocolate Rain,’ and ‘Lazy Sunday.’
  2. 2.Sam Anderson:Let me start with a knowing, discourse-exploding meta-statement.
  3. 3.Virginia Heffernan:Is the virus metaphor misleading, and ripe for retirement?
  4. 4.Charlie Todd:I was horrified when I got forwarded the first mob project e-mail.
  5. 5.Anil Dash:Memes are like pop music, not indie rock: It's good if lots of people like them.
  6. 6.David Rees:A PowerPoint Analysis by an Internet Has-Been
  7. 7.Charlie Todd:A big misconception with the term 'viral video' is that you can go 'make one.'
  8. 8.Sam Anderson:The Viral-Video Graph (Beta)
  9. 9.Virginia Heffernan:The movement of ideas is actually a supremely odd subject for this writer, who evidently chose it because he’s a cynic.
  10. 10.Anil Dash:Ideas and memes that go viral do so because they make us happy.
  11. 11.David Rees:If Twitter had saturated Iraq by March 2003, would anything have changed?
  12. 12.Sam Anderson:Farewell to the And Then There’s This Reading Room.
Sam Anderson
"The dubious hypnotizing power of exploding whales, ‘Chocolate Rain,’ and ‘Lazy Sunday.’"
06/14/09 at 17:34

Back in April, the first Vulture Reading Room spent a week debating the outrageously disgusting gross-out novel Wetlands. In an effort to recover some minor scrap of our dignity, we’re going to spend this week mulling something slightly more high-minded: America’s growing addiction to viral culture—the dubious hypnotizing power of exploding whales, "Chocolate Rain,” “Lazy Sunday,” and "Yes We Can.”

The book is Bill Wasik’s And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. Wasik, an editor at Harper’s, is a firsthand authority on the epidemiology of cultural virulence: In 2003 he invented, apparently out of boredom, a phenomenon that would come to be known as “Flash Mobs” — pointless sudden gatherings, at venues ranging from St. Patrick's Cathedral to the Times Square Toys "R" Us, of hundreds of people summoned by e-mails and texts who would disperse in less than ten minutes. The idea spread quickly across the country and around the world, and before long it was even paid the ultimate homage of being co-opted by corporate advertisers.

Wasik’s book recounts his time with the mob, as well as some of his other experiments in viral culture — his victorious entry in the Huffington Post’s “Contagious Festival,” his attempt to publicly anti-buzz a buzzy indie band, and the time he agreed to proselytize to his friends about Ziploc’s new Zip ‘n Steam plastic bags at a Fourth of July barbecue. He also pulls together much of the science surrounding viral culture, including the sociology of crowd behavior and the neuroscience of political prejudice.

The members of Reading Room No. 2 are:

Anil Dash, visionary protoblogger, professional blognosticator, vice-president of Six Apart.

Virginia Heffernan, New York Times media critic, pioneering lonelygirl15 exegete.

David Rees, creator of the political clip-art comic Get Your War On and self-declared “hottest blogger on the scene.”

Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, perpetrator of large-scale public stunts.

Sam Anderson, New York Magazine book critic.

Throughout the week, we’re going to debate Wasik’s take on viral culture, share our own experiences as viral agents, and expose our most embarrassing viral addictions. We hope you’ll join us in the comments.