“Dramatic Look” Prairie Dog: Evolution of a Web Meme

Jul 5, 2007

One thing I love about the combination of the remix/mashup culture and the Internet is the amazingly fast way in which cultural icons and ideas and spread. You have to admire the ingenuity and creativity of the collective network of users out there that can evolve a simple concept or idea with simple editing and video tools.

Case in point: let’s look at the case of the “Dramatic Look” Prairie Dog. How did a small mammal from a Japanese TV show become a global Internet icon?

It started with this, a video someone posted to YouTube that showed a funny-looking prairie dog that freaked out a bunch of teenage Japanese girls:

Nothing too remarkable. Just a silly-looking animal. Pretty standard fare for YouTube or Cute Overload. But someone happened to notice this video and the prairie dog’s odd little facial expression when it suddenly turns around.

As best I can tell, the first appearance of the remix of the original video was posted by magnets99 on YouTube in the beginning of June. This version edits out the host and the girls, trims it down to the six seconds where the animal turns around and stares at the camera. Perhaps the stoke of genius is the addition of a cheesy, old school sample of dramatic music that gives the prairie dog’s sudden turn a special extra cinematic touch. Check it out:

Now this video was a smash hit, with more than a million viewers. There’s just something brilliant, entertaining, and enjoyable about it. I can watch it a dozen times and I still love it. I mean, come on, look at his face… Ok, but I digress.

So now the dramatic prairie dog has gone from an obscure, overlooked YouTube clip to a video remix that spreads like wildfire on the Internet.

Dramatic-Looking Prairie DogWithin days, you start seeing avatars in web forums and communities that use an animated GIF version of the dramatic dog, like this one here. As a result of the growing awareness and popularity of the new Internet meme, you get re-mixes of the remix: short, silly, third-generation bootlegs.

One example is the “curses” version of the dramatic prairie dog, which adds a sinister mustache, monacle, and top hat to protagonist, and, in a very nice touch, the monocle pops out when he turns to the camera. The caption “CURSES!” gives him a nice, old-timey bad guy feel as well. Quite good, old-school stuff:

And there’s the Kill Bill version, which loops the beginning of the short clip, adds that Kill Bill music, and adds the Tarantino touch once the prairie dog makes his turn:

Now, the meme is just all over the place. A dramatic prairie dog site pops up, collecting everything related to the phenomenon, including all the weak, half-assed, me-too remixes of the clip.

At this point, if you haven’t already seen the dramatic prairie dog clip, you’re hopelessly out-of-touch and lame. If a bunch of people start talking about it and you ask what they’re referring to, you’re bound to get a bunch of smirking, eye-rolling looks from your hipper friends.

Finally, you get truly inspired stuff like this, a prairie dog mashup that takes the meme to an entirely new level of quality. I’d consider this a fourth-generation remix of the prairie dog, since it takes the remix out of its original frame entirely and puts it in a longer context from another media source, such as the TV show, Lost

It’s just a matter of time, of course, until the dramatic-look prairie dog meme fades out or jumps the shark. The only question, perhaps, is if my T-Shirt will arrive before that happens.

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