April 3, 2008

The Subtle Art of the Party-Quote

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Since freshman year, I’ve found that college culture has become extremely attentive to internet video. It has become increasingly acceptable to just start quoting your favorite lines from internet videos when hanging out (read: drinking irresponsibly) with friends. I like this trend. It’s much better than singing your favorite songs, because most pop music these days is hip-hop, and sometimes when you get really drunk and into singing a hip-hop song you accidentally sing along with some lines in the song that are racist. And then you get kicked out of Barnes and Noble —which sucks, even if you should have known better than to throw a rager in the Self Help aisle with a bottle of Malibu and the latest Jay-Z album. At any rate, I call the type of thing you yell to your friends when you are drinking the “party-quote.”
A few weeks ago I rambled incoherently about the importance of quotable catchphrases to ensure mass appeal and “buzz.” What I failed to mention was the real-life importance of these quotable phrases as a sort of social currency.
Let me explain: To get the most out of a particular YouTube or internet video, I not only have to enjoy watching it. I also have to be able to share it with friends who enjoy watching it. Then (and this is important) I have to be able to talk about it with said friends. Unlike film, the watching of which gives me a certain amount of personal satisfaction regardless of what other people think or say, the fun of internet video is being able to share funny parts with other people who have seen and enjoyed them. This is especially the case when you use videos you’ve seen online to party-quote.
Sometimes I wish that I could party-uote other types of things online. If it’s not a video that everyone has seen — but, rather, a Wikipedia entry or article in the New Yorker — you can come off like a jerk if you just start yelling your favorite parts.
For example, I was reading the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online, and came across a hilarious entry for Horace De Vere Cole — an infamous practical joker from late-19th-Century Britain. One of Cole’s favorite gags was to go to the butcher shop, hang a single cow udder from out of his pants, and then — exposing it to pedestrians on streets of London — cut it off.
When I read this, I immediately wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I figured it would be a great thing to tell my roommates, girls at bars, classmates, family and synagogue. I could just imagine the smiles of joy on my listeners’ faces as I related this gem from the annals of comedy history. How lucky my friends would feel to know a guy who could regale them with stories of this dead British dude who terrorized Jolly Olde England with a fake dick!
If Cole’s entry in the online encyclopedia wasn’t an entry in an online encyclopedia, but was instead a YouTube video, it would be hysterical. I could send it around and then party-quote the best parts of it with my friends. Sadly, this is not the case. It’s much harder to get people to read something and remember it than to send them a link to a video.
Case in point: If a group of people at a party are talking about someone who did something funny, and I step into the circle and shout: “The udder guy from England in that encyclopedia … who, you know, did that penis thing!” no one’s going to know what I’m talking about. In fact, there’s a good chance that certain people are going to hold this type of party-quote against me.
Quite frankly, I think this is a tragedy. The whole point of teaching kids how to appreciate the written word is so, when they grow up, they can discover all the Horace De Vere Coles out there who make reading fun. Imagine how much less painful Dickens would be if he wrote about how, once upon a time, in a magical place called London, a man named Cole once gave bald men tickets to strategically chosen theater seats so that the people in the upper balconies would see the word “SHIT” spelled out in bald heads.
And imagine how wonderful it would be to successfully party quote that.