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We've come a long way since 1996
September 3, 2013 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Ever wondered what patient zero was when it comes to internet memes? Look no further than Mr. T Ate My Balls. (archived GeoCities) Come for the low resolution, poorly MS-Painted images. Stay for the inevitable knockoffs.
posted by mediocre (76 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is, we've come a long way in terms of increased resolution on scanned images and MS-Painting skills. The humor itself, hasn't changed much.
posted by mediocre at 12:12 PM on September 3, 2013


AskMe: Should I Eat My Balls?
posted by bondcliff at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I always considered Mahir's "I KISS YOU!" site to be the world's first meme (or among the first). Others agree.
posted by chowflap at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah crud, I forgot to link this Salon.com story from 1997 talking about the Ate My Balls craze.
posted by mediocre at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can assure you that Ate My Balls predates Mahir. Ate my balls sprang up in 1996, Mahir in 1999.
posted by mediocre at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The GeoCities archives links to the Most Groovin' Index of Ate My Balls pages on the Internet!!! You know, in case you want more than Mr. T to talk about eating balls (and the Yahoo link in the OP isn't enough).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2013


I never won an award from The Enlightenment Zone. I don't think I'll ever live that down.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2013


God, I miss WebRings. Thanks for this/
posted by ouke at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


This comment is Under Construction
posted by thelonius at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


As if the Ate May Balls craze doesn't capture 1996 enough for you, this:

We've been featured in:
Wired News - The Real Web Audio Interview
Dave Barry's Book "Dave Barry in Cyberspace"
Internet Underground Magazine
The Web Magazine

posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


You have to see this, it's hysterical!

Check out Anna Kournikova Ate My Balls!

http://www.winnerpage.com/annakournikova


I don't miss 1996 all that much, actually.
posted by Curious Artificer at 12:29 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somewhere in my own files but no longer on the Internet is my own contribution to the meme: The Cleveland Orchestra Ate My Balls. Seriously.
posted by NedKoppel at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've come a long way since 1996

Have we? Have we?
posted by brundlefly at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


My first encounter was with Bertrand Russell Ate my Balls roughly a decade ago. I had no idea it was part of a larger ecosystem of balls eating until today.

Thanks!
posted by GrumpyDan at 12:32 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


chowflap: "I always considered Mahir's "I KISS YOU!" site to be the world's first meme (or among the first). Others agree."

Another early contender: Bert Is Evil (wiki)
posted by namewithoutwords at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


When did "John Tesh is an alien" start?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2013


NedKoppel, I totally thought of The Cleveland Orchestra Ate My Balls as soon as I saw this on the front page. No lie. I remember reading that right after I met you, my first introduction to the meme, and thinking "What the hell is he talking about? This makes no sense. Cool."
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2013


I can't believe I actually shared that with someone I * knew *.
posted by NedKoppel at 12:35 PM on September 3, 2013


People seem to have differing thoughts on what may have been the first memetic slash viral bit of internet humor. But I defy anyone to find one that predates Ate My Balls.

It may not look like that long ago just looking at the numbers, one nine nine six. So let's take a look at other things that happened in 1996. The OJ Simpson trial.
posted by mediocre at 12:37 PM on September 3, 2013


There were .sig viruses on Usenet in the early 90's. (Not actual viruses, but something that one person would put in a signature and other people would copy.)
posted by Daily Alice at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mr. T dining on your testes isn't as pleasant as it sounds.
posted by planetesimal at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2013


I can assure you that Ate My Balls predates Mahir.

Well, I know that there was USENET riffing and in-joking going on way before that. The thing is, most of them simply didn't break out of their original communities, and even Ate My Balls was pretty much limited to a certain crowd (now more recognizable, but then a bit odd and obscure -- basically, 4chan/SomethingAwful before either existed). Mahir, though, Mahir made it everywhere and even provided a sort of introduction to internet culture for a lot of mundanes.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


BIFF, L33T-speak and KIBO all predated 1996
posted by pyramid termite at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't count USENET or other text-based humor trends as viral or memetic in the fashion that it is known today. Otherwise we'd be going back to the DARPA and some engineer making a joke about John in accounting striking out when he tried to sleep with Brenda in human resources.
posted by mediocre at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


People seem to have differing thoughts on what may have been the first memetic slash viral bit of internet humor. But I defy anyone to find one that predates Ate My Balls.
Subject: "Very dangerous" computer virus

Goodtimes will re-write your hard drive. Not only that, but
it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It
will recalibrate your refrigerator's coolness setting so all your ice
cream goes melty. It will demagnetize the strips on all your credit
cards, screw up the tracking on your television and use subspace field
harmonics to scratch any CD's you try to play.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Needs more all-caps Impact titling.
posted by GuyZero at 12:46 PM on September 3, 2013


mundanes

Please do not use this word unironically.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:50 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


mediocre: "I can assure you that Ate My Balls predates Mahir. Ate my balls sprang up in 1996, Mahir in 1999."

Geek codes were around in 1992 or 1993.
posted by boo_radley at 12:50 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


not to mention that back in those days, trolling was a high art form
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I could have sworn it was "mr. belvedere ate my balls" curated by a co-worker of mine at IBM; he pointed to this as a copycat
posted by NiteMayr at 12:51 PM on September 3, 2013


Friends, I am home.

And look! I bought some Bert is Evil on the way!
posted by byanyothername at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


mundanes

Please do not use this word unironically.


...i use "muggles"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2013


Again, not counting USENET trends. That's a wholly different paradigm of humor. USENET humor was practically exclusionary, often so incredibly specific to a thread or user that you would never find it humorous if you weren't there. Viral memes, at least in the way that I choosing to define it here, are much more populist.
posted by mediocre at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2013


Aww, man. I miss the frontier feel of those early days when the World Wide Web had more random, hand-coded pages like this scattered all over various university servers than "official" corporate/news/media sites*. I worked at a movie theater at the time, and I remember feeling a little sad the first time Disney released a trailer that prominently displayed http://www.disney.com below the Disney logo.

Did anyone else have a passport to Scottland?

* (Personal web pages still probably far outnumber institutional ones, but CMS and blogging platforms have given things a more bland, homogenized feel than the early DIY aesthetic.)
posted by usonian at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


mediocre: "Again, not counting USENET trends. That's a wholly different paradigm of humor. USENET humor was practically exclusionary, often so incredibly specific to a thread or user that you would never find it humorous if you weren't there. Viral memes, at least in the way that I choosing to define it here, are much more populist."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siPxyOxeQBc
posted by boo_radley at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2013


Ma!!! Hang up the phone, I'm online!!!!!
posted by dr_dank at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2013


I nominate The Jihad to Destroy Barney as the earliest web meme. Here's a New York Times reference from early 1996, and as usual, they're about two years late to the party. The site went up in 1994, not long after NCSA Mosaic first came out. Archive link.

But nothing beats the Bert is Evil / Osama bin Laden link.
posted by cgs06 at 1:02 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


MCMikeNamara: "Dave Barry's Book "Dave Barry in Cyberspace""

Isn't that the one with the creepy, thinly fictionalized account of how Barry started cheating on his second wife?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:14 PM on September 3, 2013


But nothing beats the Bert is Evil / Osama bin Laden link.

Which was noted here on MetaFilter at the time.
posted by Curious Artificer at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2013


Oh god, geek codes.
posted by kmz at 1:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


BBS dwellers will remember the Anti-Barney League.
posted by dr_dank at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2013


Yeah, maybe that's Patient Zero if you're talking weird mashup memes ("All Your Base..."), but the Dancing Baby was much, much bigger and spread to the culture at large (it was even a thematic/characterization element on mainstream TV's Ally McBeal (still too skinny)), and the Baby's widespread sharing via email is much closer to the viral sharing over social media stuff that we ... enjoy ... today.
posted by notyou at 1:27 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


GrumpyDan:I had no idea it was part of a larger ecosystem of balls eating until today.

I laughed at that so hard that I spit Coke Zero on my monitor at the office. Totally worth it.
posted by BrianJ at 1:39 PM on September 3, 2013


I assure you that I am fairly nerdy and am of the correct age (41) to have been online since the early/mid-90s, but I had not known about "...ate my balls" until reading this post, which makes me think it was part of a more insular community of which I wasn't a part. All of the other memes mentioned here in the comments are familiar (oh so familiar) to me. Maybe I'm not a big enough nerd or computer geek, I dunno. (I never got into Usenet, for example.)
posted by chowflap at 1:46 PM on September 3, 2013


I was just thinking that I've seen very few references to someone set up us the bomb lately. I was slightly disappointed.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:49 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The packaging on a porter I was drinking this weekend had a bit how it was "...a dark zig to their usual zag..." or something like that.

And all I could think was, a dark zig? Did they not actually move every zig?
posted by cortex at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sadly in the end all our base were lost in the '08 US financial meltdown and most went into foreclosure.
posted by GuyZero at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Again, not counting USENET trends.

This is sort of an odd dividing line - around '96 the bulk of "internet culture", such as it was, was on USENET. One could not kill hours surfing the web as there just wasn't much there.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's ridiculous how many terms we commonly use now originated or were popularized on Usenet: spam, FAQ, Godwin's Law, trolling, sockpuppet...

kibo lives!
posted by entropicamericana at 2:04 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well yeah, it's not really ridiculous when you consider that USENET was "the message board of the entire internet."

I remember getting a talking to from a college counselor about my flamewars on alt.satanism...I pissed somebody off so much that he contacted my university and trolled them about me "hacking their account" aka making them feel bad online.

USENET was "the internet" as we think of it today (social networking, sharing memes, etc) before "the web" became "the internet" in a way that ARCHIE and GOPHER never were.
posted by lordaych at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I assure you that I am fairly nerdy and am of the correct age (41) to have been online since the early/mid-90s, but I had not known about "...ate my balls" until reading this post, which makes me think it was part of a more insular community of which I wasn't a part.

Nah, I was aware of it at the time and I had no cool* friends and lived in a small community far from any coast.

* = by which I mean "early '90s tech-nerd cool"
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2013


An animated tribute to all the early Internet memes.
posted by The Whelk at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


the Dancing Baby was much, much bigger and spread to the culture at large ... and the Baby's widespread sharing via email is much closer to the viral sharing over social media stuff that we ... enjoy ... today.

I remember joking in the 90's about how someday forwarded "humor" would get so bad we'd be getting multi-megabyte video clips of last night's David Letterman Top Ten List in our e-mail.

And then came the fateful day that a co-worker e-mailed the dancing baby clip to her 75 best friends.
posted by straight at 2:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


kibo lives!

I should think so.

posted by cortex at 2:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I worked dialup tech support for an ISP when the goddamn dancing baby clip made the rounds. People on 14.4 connections would call in and ask "Are your servers down? I can't get my email." (The first question always was "Are your servers down?") Lo and behold, once you checked their inbox server-side you'd see that their poor email client was trying to transfer 8 copies of the same 650K dancing baby file.

We learned to loathe that dancing baby.

At the same time, the South Park precursor "Spirit of Christmas" animation made the rounds but only through the T1 in the office; we couldn't have shared a 15Mb Quicktime file over dialup. We had no idea who had made the clip, but watching little cartoon kids cuss like sailors around Santa and Jesus was pretty damn hilarious.
posted by Spatch at 3:05 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


So when we're not playing "oldest one on the net", we're playing "what is a meme anyway" are we?

Well.

To me, a meme definitely has some vagaries and subjectivity to it, but like Justice Potter, "I know it when I see it". A meme conveys an idea, but does so with just enough fuzziness that the recipient fills in the gaps, subconsciously or otherwise. Brevity is essential. Photos, images, slogans, phrases, gifs, jingles, even words are vectors for memes. Articles, .txt files, videos, songs, novels, movies... these things tend to be too complete to spread like a meme does. The incubation period before becoming communicable is just too long.

Memes are subjective, because they don't resonate with everyone the same way. Its content need not be humorous, though those seem to be the most communicable. I'm a little less sure on this point though, so I'm open to opinions. I think the point is that they resonate with some aspect of the recipients personality, history, or culture in a way that is ... emotive? I dunno, but I always am reminded of the Stand Alone Complex when thinking of memes.

Truly fascinating stuff. This social phenomena has never gotten old for me, and lets just say I'm Internet Old.
posted by butterstick at 4:22 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me the first big one was Oolong the rabbit that always had something balanced on its head. When Oolong croaked it got a metafilter obit thread.
posted by bukvich at 4:49 PM on September 3, 2013


Brenda in Human Resources ate my balls.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:52 PM on September 3, 2013


Also when I googled for limecat I pulled this which ain't too bad.
posted by bukvich at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2013


Has everyone forgotten who is watching you poop?
posted by ODiV at 5:03 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


the b3ta site has a link to a super mario brothers parkour video from 26 August which is almost perfect for comparing 1996 to 2013.
posted by bukvich at 5:06 PM on September 3, 2013


Has everyone forgotten who is watching you poop?

All your base are watching us poop.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:14 PM on September 3, 2013


People seem to have differing thoughts on what may have been the first memetic slash viral bit of internet humor

UN-altered REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of this IMPORTANT Information is ENCOURAGED, ESPECIALLY to COMPUTER BULLETIN BOARDS.
posted by kenko at 5:43 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think what makes MTAMB such a good contender for the viral crown is that unlike things like the Dancing Baby, it could be - and was - widely remixed. I remember seeing it on dialup in High School in 1996 (god knows how we found it) and I'm pretty sure I probably produced an unfunny knockoff of my own.

The phrase "Gimme yo' balls, fool!" occasionally floats unbidden into my mind (along with the "suspace field harmonics" phrase from the Goodtimes Virus, supra). This hasn't caused me professional problems - yet.

When I finally got to university (and a full time internet connection), I remember early audience participation sites being a big thing (WWWGrudge Match, the Internet Oracle's web presence and CMU's Forum2000 - which really deserved to blow up and become huge because it was great), and I think they kind of straddled the gap between the old notions of static content and the remixing that was to come.
posted by curious.jp at 5:45 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is an excellent criteria: mutation.
posted by butterstick at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2013


I always liked Andrew Zimmern Ate my Balls as a latter-day example of this, because I'm sure he has probably eaten him some balls (likely not human, though).

Cortex, I was drinking that same porter. Good beer, dumb slogan.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time, I had a friend who made his romantic intentions to another known by:
"Y'know, you're my main screen turn on. I'd like to set you up the bomb, y'know, for great justice."
Ah, the olden days.
posted by eclectist at 6:57 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


A link to a Yahoo! Directory page? That really is a blast from the past!
posted by slogger at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2013


Back in the late 90s I stumbled upon a "Mitchell Ate My Balls" page while searching for Joe Don Baker's birthday (why I was looking for that, I don't remember. For the record, it's Feb. 12th) and that was my launchpad into the wide world of ___ Ate My Balls.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2013


I thought one of the more obviously memetic and evolving internet entities was a 2-3 lines of "high-grade" keywords that people would sprinkle into their .sigs to grab the attention of the "NSA Line Eater". Some of them were quite poetic and time-specific haikus of terror keyword culture that slowly mutated as the years passed. Back in the 1980s we joked that the NSA was snarfing Usenet and grepping for keywords. Glad to know that turned out to be a myth.
posted by meehawl at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wasn't there also a trend/proto-meme of people putting gigantic swords in the USENET signatures? alt.fan.warlord I guess. Then there were those ASCII art 3D fonts some people used. They got copied around and morphed each time, so they were a meme-like phenomenon.
posted by GuyZero at 8:53 PM on September 3, 2013


While we found out that the autistic kid who was the original source didn't understand the attention, I'll always have a soft spot for Hopkin Green Frog, and I hope the kid is doing well.
posted by JHarris at 10:25 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I nominate The Jihad to Destroy Barney as the earliest web meme.

Thank you! I was racking my brain trying to think of one that predated Ate My Balls and coming up blank. Barney Jihad was mainly a text meme, however (and as such, I imagine it originated from USENET) -- Ate My Balls was almost certainly the first (popular) image meme.

You also have to consider (for the younguns in the audience): Back in 1996, getting an image into digital form so you could play around with it in your pirated copy of Photoshop 3 or Paint Shop Pro or what-have-you was hard and/or expensive. Scanners and video capture devices were rare, specialized equipment, and hardly user-friendly. Digital cameras only existed as high-end professional gear. If you wanted to make Mr. T eat someone's balls, you typically had to scrape your source material off the Web, and it wasn't easy to find stuff on the Web. With luck, you might find some Mr. T fan page on the Yahoo! index where somebody with more dedication than you has already done the legwork. Those four crappy, low-res scans on the Mr. T Ate My Balls page were probably all the creator had to work with...
posted by neckro23 at 10:46 PM on September 3, 2013


I am not going to lie. I read all of this with the bing-bing--bleeeeeech-ding-ding TCP/IP/PPP connection noise in my head.

Back in 1996, getting an image into digital form so you could play around with it in your pirated copy of Photoshop 3 or Paint Shop Pro or what-have-you was hard and/or expensive. Scanners and video capture devices were rare, specialized equipment, and hardly user-friendly.

Nu-uh. I had access to a scanner..... like the one here, on this Cyberpunk's belt, in 1988ish (honestly, my head says 1988 and I know it needed 5.25" floppies) . And I had access to paint and BBSes. I mean it was a crappy scanner, and the authenticity of the scan was as good as the speed of your slow, steady hand... but those at least were around.
posted by Mezentian at 2:04 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know that Kibology-as-religion was actually incorporated as a plotpoint into at least one 1992-1993 era tabletop RPG sourcebook.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:42 AM on September 4, 2013


"Spirit of Christmas"

No joke, I spent almost a full week on my 14.4 connection trying to download that 15mb Quicktime file. Would always get interrupted by call waiting, or my mom picking up the phone. When I finally got it, I went to the school video production lab with my PowerBook 165c and pointed a camera at the passive matrix screen so I could share the video with my friends.

Cuz that's how long ago this was, VHS was a more practical means of sharing video then the internet.
posted by mediocre at 3:37 PM on September 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


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