Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.If you’ve recently been in contact with a teenager, you’ve probably heard one of them say “Daaaaaaaaaaaamn, Daniel!” in the last few weeks. As much as I’d like to blame that on Sunday school teachers who are less than scrupulous with their language (such as would have made my childhood much more interesting), it actually stems from an Internet meme that will almost definitely be completely uninteresting to anyone over the age of 20. If you don’t see why this sort of thing appeals to teenagers, consider that they’re perched on the precipice of everything terrible about adulthood.The video in question, uploaded to Twitter by one Josh Holz, is a montage in which he repeatedly accosts his friend Daniel with a phone camera shouting “Daaaaaaaaaaaamn, Daniel!”—occasionally adding, “Back at it again with the white Vans!” (because, you see, Daniel is wearing white Vans). It’s one of those random things the Internet decides to make famous, instead of the thousands of other videos that are arguably at least as interesting. But regardless of what propelled the virality—the subject’s swarthy good looks? his charming awkwardness? the endless repeatability of the catchphrase?—it got shared and reshared until even brands like Clorox, Axe, Denny’s, and (yes) Vans were pushing it on their unsuspecting followers. By now, it’s probably old news (sorry).
The popularity of a video like this is difficult to understand if you haven’t been around teenagers in the last decade or so, but speaking as a former high school teacher (and someone who can vaguely remember being a teen), I see the sense in this. The video has all the things teenagers tend to like: a social aspect, a vague sense of edginess without any real danger (is it even accurate to call the word “damn” edgy anymore?), an ironic appreciation of name-brand stuff. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a quick watch, making it an easy share.It would be easy to call this proof that America’s teens are a lost cause—a conclusion that I wholeheartedly support, because seriously, forget those horrible, sociopathic mini-adults. On the other hand, the tendencies that make simple, silly things into global phenomenons are tendencies I see in myself as well. I tend to scroll right past the horrific news stories about Donald Trump that clog my various feeds while skipping straight to the funny GIFs. What, after all, am I supposed to do? I’m only one man, struggling (or not) against the insurmountable forces of the world’s insanity. The world is a dark, scary place, and disposable pap is comforting.
A friend and I were once talking about LOLcats (this was nearly a decade ago, back when the Interwebz were still young), and he said to me, “I just don’t understand how something like this becomes such a big deal.” I told him that, essentially, it was a big deal because it wasn’t a big deal—people were appreciating it “ironically,” as it were. Even putting aside the irony, though, it was clear why people were drawn to such unimportant stuff: it was easy. It was fun. You didn’t have to think hard, know anything, or be willing to take a stand to get anything out of it.If you don’t see why this sort of thing appeals to teenagers, consider that they’re perched on the precipice of everything terrible about adulthood. Everything the world has is about to get thrown at them, and things are about to get very, very real. In a few short years, they will be expected to keep on top of taxes, employment, housing, bills, finances, and everything else—not to mention at least pretend to care about all the horrible things that happen in the world. Why wouldn’t they take refuge in something so utterly trivial that it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to anyone old enough to drink?
And honestly? This is the exact same impulse that keeps me scrolling past the Trump headlines. I’m standing here on the precipice of watching my country surrender to European-style white nationalism and feeling powerless to do anything against it. Maybe I should try to do something. Maybe I would if I knew how. But at the moment I’m stuck in the political adolescence of America.
And suddenly, another meme like “Daaaaaaaaaaaamn, Daniel!” is sounding like a really good way to spend the next few hours.