Boots and Rallies

by Aaron Pellowski | 4/30/15 7:10pm

At some point this weekend, I overheard Mikayla Delores-Burt — one of my associates — stumble over the last word of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s most famous line with hilarious results: “I like big butts, and I cannot die.” One can only dream up the sort of Sophoclean figure who would have cause to utter this tragic complaint, struck with the affliction of an all-consuming predilection for engorged booty, protracted through the ages by immortality — a fate to rival that of Tithonus no doubt. Alternatively, one can imagine Zeus slamming Heinekens with Ares after he’d just finished canoodling Io or Europa or any other of his many mortal maiden conquests, high-fiving and slurring, “Bro! You already know about me, bro. I like big butts, and I cannot die. Let’s go father some improbable monsters with lots of different animal parts and drop them into Thebes. How about it ya jamoke?”

This is more or less where my mind went as soon as I heard Ms. Delores-Burt flub the line as she did. I was searching for a way to turn it into a joke or a story or a cartoon or something. In elementary school, I would devote two hours every weekend to workshopping jokes in the bathtub. I’d start with one pun or burn and try to envision all the situations in which I could un-can it with maximal finesse, forcing my peers into laughter against their better natures and engendering the impression that it was all off-the-cuff.

These days, my process for simulating such a personality studded with pre-wrought gags and boner stories is much the same, except that I include an extra step of Googling the joke to make sure I was the first to think of it. For me, one of the worst things in the world is putting a lot of effort into an idea and then finding out it’s already been done. It can be disheartening at times, such as when you’re convinced that memory is an interesting topic in the ethics of Seneca the Younger, and then in a later paragraph of Aldo Setaioli’s introductory essay on the Moral Epistles in “Brill’s Companion to Seneca,” he writes that memory is an interesting topic in Seneca the Younger. Suddenly a whole section of your thesis is validated! But then over spring break, you’re sent an article by Silvia Montiglio, “Seneca On Controlling Memory,” written only seven years ago in which he points out almost everything you’d thought you’d thought for the first time ever.

To avoid that unnecessary heartache, I went ahead and did a search for “like big butts and I cannot die,” and sure enough, the joke’s been made several times. My hopes to put something new under the sun were instantly foiled, but at least I didn’t waste my time. My preoccupation with originality explains why I am irked to the core when other people blatantly steal jokes. Yik Yak in particular is home to many such foul culprits. Fifty percent of the successful jokes on there are stolen from Reddit or other schools’ Yik Yak feeds. A popular Yak from today that induced a mild chuckle in me ran something like, “If there were not joggers, who’d find all the dead bodies?” Yet later this evening, I found just about the exact same joke on r/showerthoughts. A year ago, another wise, decent associate of mine posted to Facebook “I Never Said She Stole My Money can have seven different meanings depending on which word you stressed” — a joke he’d pulled straight off of Reddit without citing his source. He was rewarded with over a hundred “likes” — a good number in proportion to his friend-count — and many mooning comments along the lines of “That’s so clever!” I left my own commentary, something really fiery along the lines of internet plagiarism being truly the most vulgar of all the evils of the earth.

What motivates people to steal jokes like this? It can’t be that they simply want to selflessly convey a precious nugget of humor to a wider audience. For if that were the case they’d cite the joke’s origin. I can understand Buzzfeed compiling albums of images mined from Twitter and Reddit. They’re still criminals in my books, but they’re criminals making money. Why should so many students waste their fleeting time appropriating the sub-par puns of others to get nothing more than fake internet points in return?

The darkest explanation I can come up with is this — few people actually desire an authentic connection with their creative produce. Why should they? After all, nearly everything we write is read by an audience of one, and it’s done for a grade. You spend four years coming up with lots of last-minute theses and hunting down evidence for an argument you arbitrarily selected in order to start your paper. Why would you sincerely believe what you say? All that ever mattered was getting it done and getting the grade. The long-term effect is that nobody gives a peapod about whether their works are in any way a reflection of their true self, so long as it gets you money or points or whatever arbitrary form of empty validation you’re in the market for. The longer-term effect is that we cease to care whether we even have a true self to reflect in the first place. The longest-term effect? Annihilation. No matter much you like big butts, you are not Zeus and you will die. And the rain of history will wipe from your headstone each letter of your name.

See ya next week!