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If a meme fell in the forest, would anyone laugh?

Family Guy's use of the Trololo song -- also known as the "Russian Rick Roll" -- sparks lively debate on the lifecycle of memes. When an Internet meme makes the leap to television, does it automatically jump the shark?


Fruzsina Eördögh


Posted on Sep 27, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 2:33 am CDT

During Family Guy’s season premiere this weekend, the character of a Russian waiter burst into song while serving beer. The song was none other than the Trololo song — a popular Internet meme known as the Russian Rick Roll — and it’s use on the popular television show has sparked a lively debate over the lifecycle of Internet memes.

Rather than laugh at Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane trolling an audience familiar with the meme, YouTubers and Redditors dove headlong into a heated debate over whether or not Internet memes still have meaning once they’re broadcast on mainstream television.

Meme hipsters came out of the woodwork, while others cried over what they perceived as the death of a sacrosanct Internet meme.  

Wrote TheLethalPyro on a YouTube copy of the scene that has since been removed for copyright infringement:

“This is how you know trolling is officially dead when Family Guy gets its hands on something. Seriously, Family Guy is like a cancer on Internet memes.”  

“Family Guy kills another meme.” commented Razpach0 on the same video.

“An unfunny meme is now dead. HALLELUJAH!” commented ThatDisembodiedVoice on a mirrored (and backwards– for copyright infringement purposes) clip.

“Shame one of my favourite parts of the Internet has been used up for cheap comedy” wrote Wiisal on one of four reddit threads about the video.

“every fucking show does that :simpson , futurama , southpark and alll the rest. stop being a bunch of hipsters “HUH! NO now this meme is going to be mainstream! BOO HOO!” commented mic7reaper on the removed YouTube video.

mic7reaper is correct to assert that all popular animated comedies regularly use Internet memes. For example, last year South Park incorporated a YouTube celebrity known for his rant about redhead hatred in a promo for an upcoming episode.  

While no one references that meme any more —  of “gingers do have souls” — the South Park piece was, and arguably still is, humorous.  

The 2008 Macy’s Day Parade even had Rick Astley sing “Never Gonna Give You Up,” the original, American Rick Roll. Three years later, Internet users still occasionally use the Rick Roll.

Others viewed this use of the Trololo Internet meme as a sign of Seth MacFarlane’s lack of originality.

“There’s no joke here, Family Guy’s just taken something from the internet/popular culture yet a-fucking-gain and referenced it, telling you ‘DO YOU RECOGNIZE THIS? WELL LAUGH THEN’. Oh Family Guy, Y U SO TERRIBLE?” wrote SamStar42 on the removed copy of the scene on YouTube.

“You’re on reddit crying about originality. Also, it’s funny.” commented seriouschris on a different reddit thread.

The idea of a meme being original is an oxymoron – memes become popular because they are a cultural nugget shared by thousands, if not millions of people all over the world.

Asserting that the meme is dead, because it was used on national television, is also an oxymoron, as memes die when they are no longer shared or spread.  A meme used on national television is the ultimate feat, as it has now been viewed by an even larger audience — thus, not in danger of dying any time soon.

Or, as ValterBlackDemon wrote on the original, removed YouTube clip: “being a meme hipster doesn’t make you cool… does quite the opposite.”

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*First Published: Sep 27, 2011, 8:39 pm CDT