What in this paper will be considered a meme, it was not originally considered a meme in the media and social context from where it was developed, in Catalonia (Spain). However, the Catalan phonetic poem Tu, tu, tothom and its landing into mass media and popular culture through television, Internet and social media, meets the characteristics Richard Dawkins described for memes in 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”.
This meme belongs to a different media and social context, which the reader may not be familiar with, so, before start describing it, I should briefly introduce its main actors:
Joana Brabo is the ‘heroine’ of this meme. She is an artist and performer, particularly dedicated to phonetic poetry and micropoetry.
Besides live performances and poems she creates, she runs a company of visual poetry called En3Palabras (In3words) where she sells badges, books or stickers, among other products featuring her creations.
L’hora del lector (The reader’s hour) was a TV show fully dedicated to literature and book publishing. Directed and presented by Emili Manzano, it was on air from April 2007 till June 2011 on the TV channel Canal 33, part of Catalan public broadcast corporation, Televisió de Catalunya.
The schedule when it was broadcast, Sunday 8:45pm (repeated at 12:05am or Tuesdays 11:55pm), gives a close idea of the interest this show arose in the general public. Was, indeed, a TV show focused in a minority, the kind of TV show only non-commercial broadcast stations maintain.
Alguna Pregunta Mès? (Any more questions?) started as a section in a Catalan radio news magazine, in early 2000s, but occasionally tried it on TV in July 2004. The great results – average of 595,000 viewers and an audience share of 23.2% – maintained it till present, where it has two editions in TV3, the main TV channel of Televisió de Catalunya, at the access to prime time: Tuesdays 9:50pm and Sundays 3:40pm.
It is a compilation TV-show that puts together the greatest moments of the week in local, regional and national television, also international and Internet. The most innovative and interesting part of Alguna Pregunta Mès? (APM?), the reason why its is referred for this paper, is that viewers made it become some sort of a ‘meme generator’, cutting up short videos with phrases from different TV shows, from the same TV channel and others – from celebrities or anonymous people appearing on TV – and putting them out of context, interspersed in other videos, with an humouristic purpose.
Through YouTube videos and social media, viewers adopted these phrases as part of their vocabulary in a daily basis, which ended up creating the figure of Homo APM?, a section of the show starring on of his writers, Manel Piñero, in the role of a character that speaks only using phrases previously appeared in APM?
The same section encourages the audience to send videos using phrases appeared on it – Voleu ser un Homo APM? – and, regularly, one winner is invited to the filming with Piñero in short hidden camera clips.
The support APM? built among viewers and how them use their content in many different ways can be proofed by taking a look to the YouTube channel VideosCortosAPM, its Facebook page, GIF’s collections or smartphones apps for iPhone and Android.
Usually, the TV-shows parodied in APM? are already known by the viewers, but the meme developed from L’hora del Lector and Tu, tu, tothom! is a good example on how an alternative content, with no pretensions to be mainstream, was brought into a mainstream audience:
In 2011, Joana Brabo and Jaume C. Pons Alorda hosted a section, Sofà dels poetes (Poets’ sofa) in L’hora del lector and, if no one but the usual audience of it watched the show on February 27th, 2011, nothing of what is going to be described would ever happen. Tu, tu, tothom was a three-words phonetic poem showed as an example that plays with the sonority of “t” on words tú (you), tothom (everybody), tot (all). This is shown in a theatrical performance by Brabo, but nothing she did not previous weeks at this poetry and spoken words section.
However, someone from the crew of APM? watched or heard of it and the clip made it to the humoristic show a few days after, in March 2011, featured along with other different short videos, as it is usually featured in the show, which increases the humoristic sense of the video piece.
It was a success, one of the most commented parts of the show that evening and the days after, online and offline. Hashtags #tututothom or #tutottothom were well used those days in March 2011 and are still eventually used nowadays and Facebook hosts many related Fan pages. The video was uploaded, removed (due to copyright infringements) and re-uploaded on YouTube several times; APM? did new video pieces featuring it and Boada herself uploaded its original TV appearance on her YouTube channel. Anonymous users uploaded remixes from it combined with Rammstein’s “Du hast” or using electronic base made from audio edition software. There are, as well, videos recreating the poem or a video by vaudeville artist Terremoto de Alcorcón.
How Joana Brabo reacted to this unexpected phenomenon is kind of exemplary: in her further appearances in L’hora del lector she appeared with a fake beard, to hide her identity, ironically, but the clip also made it toAPM?, the week after. Then, Brabo seized the moment and increased her presence on social media:
- On Facebook, using a personal Fan page, she attracted users who where interested on her after watching her appearance, sometimes to laugh on her but mainly with positive intentions. Boada is still using this page, andEn3Palabras, to promote the activities and projects she does and share her political views about the economic situation in Spain with an audience that, on March 5th, 2013 reaches 773 users and over 3,8000 at En3palabras.
- On Twitter she is using a feed for En3palabras where, as the name indicates, she mainly tweets messages three-words-long.
Tu, tu tothom gave her a wider audience, media interviews and a chance to perform in La Popular (Roses) or host an event the store FNAC for Sant Jordi, a popular day in Catalonia dedicated to roses, books and literature (April 23rd, 2011).
For those who never watched APM? and don’t understand the point in phenomenon it results or those that just don’t understand Catalan (the language used in the poem) may be hard to understand and see it as a meme.
Nonetheless, what Tu, tu, tothom! shows is how a product of art, that pretended to be kept within a minor audience (L’hora del lector), could be borrowed by a product intended for a wider audience (Alguna Pregunta Més?) and from there audience borrow it and, as users (producers) on Internet and social media.
Then on, they can spread it in different forms – remixed videos, GIF images, Twitter hashtags or Facebook Fan Pages – and spread it, mostly like a virus, that ends up having an unique entity, its own identity, independent from its origins and mutable to other forms of media.
This was originally published on April 15th, 2013. The essay was an assignment for the course Social Networks, Online Identities and Internet Memes, when I studied in Canada. Check out #fromkamloops for more about this experience abroad.