It should come as no surprise that after Westworld’s showrunners threatened to spoil the entire second season of the series in a Reddit AMA session yesterday, nothing came of it.
Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy delivered upon their promise to give Westworld fans something, but the 22-minute video that hit YouTube last night only contained the grimace-inducing echoes of the internet’s favorite practical joke — the Rickroll.
Rick Astley’s classic 1987 tune has become a siren of annoyance. People are destined to fall into the misleading trap that lies just behind a YouTube link on Twitter, and the promise of an exciting or disturbing video. The premise of the joke was concocted by 4chan, and came into its own in 2007 on the site’s video game forum, where 4chan members created a mirror upload of a Grand Theft Auto 5 trailer that led people to Astley’s song instead. By May 2008, Rickrolling had become an entry-level internet gag, and everyone was participating in it. Astley called the phenomenon bizarre in March 2008, before a spokesperson for the singer told Fox News in April 2008 that Astley was “done talking about rickrolling.”
Astley may have been over it, but the internet wasn’t. People have found some way to try and keep the joke going since that fateful GTA 4 trailer, but here’s the thing: Brands have killed the meme.
The decision to turn a Westworld joke about spoilers and fan theory culture on Reddit into a Rickrolling prank is almost endearing. It’s like Jonathan Nolan recently discovered the decade-old goof and thought it would be hilarious to get in on the action, concocting an elaborate plot to trick even the most skeptical Westworld fans. This isn’t a genius plan thought up by HBO’s brightest batch of interns churning out ideas in the network’s chilled dungeons. It’s a classic dad joke. If the link came from Jonathan Nolan himself on Twitter and went to Astley’s actual video, it might have even been acceptable.
The video above isn’t that. It’s a well-produced take on a classic internet meme (two if you count the dog’s tribute at the end to Keyboard Cat, death and all) that has the budget of HBO and the backing of award-winning actors. It’s the commodification of a meme that started in the depths of a 4chan forum — and it’s about a decade late. Everything about this video makes me want to scream in annoyance, as brands figure out ways to capitalize on a fad that people may have seen on the internet in hopes of pushing their own product.
I know I sound salty, and it’s not just HBO. Adult Swim did something similar when fans were waiting for Rick and Morty’s third season to roll around. It was frustrating then, perhaps even more so because we were waiting more than a year and a half for the new season to debut. Rick and Morty’s Rickroll didn’t lead back to the original Astley video, either. It featured Rick and Morty scenes set to “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Maybe we were more forgiving then because Rick and Morty is practically a cornucopia of memes and fringe humor that makes up a large part of internet culture, but we also couldn’t stop the exaggerated eye-rolls heard across Twitter.
Brands are trying to keep a dead meme alive by subverting typical practices and finding new methods of freshening things up. Well, they’re trying to. None of it has worked. The day that Astley stood on a float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and belted out his iconic song, which now evokes unpleasant shudders akin to those from nails on a chalkboard, the meme came to a close.
Or so we thought, anyway. Brands didn’t care that we mocked Astley and his parade appearance, not so kindly asking him to bugger off already. They tried to build on an old gag, put on their best impression of Steve Buscemi on 30 Rock, and hang out with their fellow meme-loving audiences.
It’s not working, and it needs to stop. The only good thing that’s come out of this scenario is that our ribbing on the prank can be heard all over Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and just about anywhere else people can post their opinions.
Westworld and Jonathan Nolan seem to have finally killed the Rickroll, and for that I am truly grateful.