OHAI memes!

Tommy Wiseau: memetic genius?

The Room is considered one of the worst films ever made (here’s the trailer so you can check it out yourself).  Its writer, director, producer, and star, Tommy Wiseau, is probably the main reason for this harsh distinction.  The film tells the story of Johnny (Wiseau), who seemingly has it all–a beautiful fiance, Lisa; a good job; and a great best friend, Mark.  But Lisa is ‘bored’ by Johnny and begins to cheat on him with Mark.  Not much is known about Wiseau himself, but it is clear he is foreign and eager to assimilate into American culture.  If only he understood how.  His thick accent (sounding vaguely Eastern European) combined with a complete lack of understanding of English emphasis, results in a hilariously poor delivery of every single line he has in the film.  Beyond that, the plot has enormous holes, the other actors themselves read their lines bizarrely, and overall the ending, which was intended to be tragic, is comical.  The interesting thing is, when Wiseau was told audiences were rolling on the floor laughing at his film, he changed his tune lightning fast.  He billed it instead as a ‘black comedy’ (clearly not what he had intended, I might add) and boom–it spread the nation.  Today, showings of The Room can be found in any major U.S. city, and the actors themselves often tour with the film.


The behavioral component comes mostly with quotes from the movies.  The most famous include “You are TEARING ME APART LISA!” “OHAI Mark!” “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!” “I like you very. Much. Lover. Boy.”  “I did not hit her.  I did naaaaaaht.”  Quoting this movie to someone who knows it is a way for people to communicate using the movie as a backdrop.  At showings of the movie, people throw plastic cutlery at the screen (throughout the film there are framed pictures of cutlery bizarrely placed throughout the room).  People dress up as Tommy Wiseau (long, greasy black hair) or other characters.  This meme is still very young since the movie only came out in 2003, but its fanbase has expanded and with it the meme has evolved somewhat.  Because The Room‘s fanbase is so huge, fans are able to put quotes from the movie in the context of other “memes” (what most teenagers refer to as memes), like 60s Spider-Man or the Ermahgerd Girl.  It is a wider meme that can be incorporated into sub-memes.

I think this meme is so successful because Americans love Tommy’s blunders at understanding America.  He does not understand the way we expect romances or tragedies to go, he does not understand the way we see relationships, he does not understand the way in which we speak.  Overall, the film is a hopeless attempt at representing a culture the writer knows little about.  Beyond Tommy himself, the other actors’ wooden performances and the hilariously inept dialogue they find themselves repeating is just incredibly entertaining because of his comical value.  Americans really do enjoy watching great films, but they also enjoy seeing people fail miserably.

The larger memeplex of which this is a part is the Bad Movie memeplex.  There is a subculture in America that enjoys watching bad movies for their comedic value.  Famous bad movies include Troll 2, a movie similarly bad in that it was created by Italians.  The documentary, Best Worst Movie (available on Netflix Instant!) excellently documents the people who love the film.  It is a huge phenomenon such that Tommy Wiseau is writing a book along with his costar. In the article we read about “Good, Clean Memetic Sex,” they discuss having lots of ‘meme children’–and I believe this meme does that.  Though there perhaps aren’t a lot of memes that grow directly out of this film, I believe that once someone has seen this film, they are eager to immerse themselves in the world of bad movies and so go searching for the next classic baddie.  Thanks to the Golden Razzies, we have been celebrating poor film-making for years.  Films like The Room only help to keep this memeplex as a whole going.

Meme theory does seem incredibly plausible and likely to me.  The idea that there is a science behind every little thing that is passed down and across generations is absolutely exciting.  The Room is obviously not a very subtle meme, but exploring simple things like the way one wipes one’s nose or ties one’s shoe is fascinating.  I think a shortfall of memes, however, is that many people likely think they are bogus.  Just because something is passed down does not mean there is anything worth studying about it.  Fashion trends come and go, and surely there are perfectly logical reasons why.  Regardless of these possible areas for doubt, I believe it is a fascinating thing to study.

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