I Heard It Through the Vine


The video phenomenon that imitated its homonym in reach, if not in length.

This particular phone app/celebrity incubator/internet fad—much like the 6-second videos it hosted—was over shortly after it began. Launching in 2013, the app reached a near-ubiquitous status amongst smart phones in the hands of teens and young adults for the following two years. Then, having suddenly passed this peak, the app folded in 2016 (an announcement made through its parent company and fellow app, Twitter). However, within these three short years, the medium unfurled hitherto unexposed creativity, ingenuity, and stupidity (as the phrase “do it for the Vine”—a viral user testimonial turned corporate slogan—attests). To quote the current Vine website, “personalities grew, memes exploded, and new culture was created”.

The phrase “new culture” may seem obnoxiously self congratulatory, but these micro-videos—reflecting the character limitations of twitter and (especially early) text messaging—forced the creative stimulant of temporal limitation upon the well-established form of the viral video. In other words, bid your self-control farewell and prepare to have your attention coerced. In the age of smartphones, techno-visual stimuli, and ADHD, this form was ingenious.

From the first year, when only slightly over a billion “loops” were created through vine, there were limitless experimentations exhibited as users attempted to understand and best utilize the format (Cute moments? optical illusions? Celebrities doing things? Stop motion animation?). The traditionally “artful” uses of video abounded, from visual tricks to arresting art pieces and impactful social moments.

However, the most lasting flower that blossomed from Vine—the ambassador to the form, the legacy of the medium—is the humourous Vine. These funny vines are immortalized in innumerable Youtube compilations, frequently touting titles such “RIP Vine” “Vine 4 Ever In Our Hearts,” and “im pretty sure i just re birthed vine with these vines,” ironically mourning the passing of a three-year-old fad: one that is obviously not dead, but simply embedded in popular culture (as compilations such as “vines me and my friends quote all the time” attest). Vine isn’t dead – it’s just sleepwalking!

Given the death and immediate, eternal re-birth of the form (a la Jesus), I believe there is still a great deal to be savoured and learned from Vine. At the risk of being a complete fool—and acknowledging that I can’t binge Vine compilations anymore without applying quasi-academic analysis to alleviate my guilt—I’ve divided humourous Vines into several categories, examining the (shockingly predictable) ways in which these short videos reflect: the app’s audience (especially in terms of age), internet culture of the recent 21st century, and comedy tropes (especially the non-sequiter) that have dominated our modern cultural landscape.

1. "Quirky Adult Figure"

The user who isn’t the target market of the “hip” app. This adult is either misusing the technology itself, exposing themselves as a mockable character unintentionally, or misunderstanding internet culture. I was shocked at how common these Vines are - they appear to be the most common. Nothing like preaching to the choir with a little post-adolescent rebellion!

Whether these adults are mispronouncing "avocado" or misunderstanding internet references, there is no limit to these Vines. I could link to Vines that fit into this category and probably never stop. Okay, one more.

2. "Mockable Peer/Self-Deprecation"

Another form of preaching to the choir, but this time, the target is the un-hip, annoying young peer. There are many of these Vines as well, but they are more diverse in the way they mock, targeting all sorts of people. This form of inclusive bullying makes this category one which includes videos that you will laugh at and others you will severely disapprove of. The deprecating vines are subtler, but the mocking of others can be the most shocking, and it can be hard not to laugh along.

3. “Inappropriate Context”

A classic tenet of humour: the marriage of the "sacred" and "profane". In the case of Vine, this marriage often takes place between popular children's characters/shows and hard rock/hip-hop music, forcing the viewer to confront an amusing dichotomy.

However, this category also includes videos of other "random" combination that induce a disturbing and hilarious cognitive dissonance and often throw logic overboard. My favourite Vine is the quintessential example of this sub-category. I never thought I would ever write the words "Mariah Carey Flying Lawnmower," but alas, here we are.

4. “Play with Language”

Vines extending linguistic play beyond the classic pun (though don't get me wrong, there are plenty of those on Vine as well). This form allows for language games to interact with visual humourintertextual references, and the non-sequitur lunacy of your average internet video. Sometimes, these videos even combine all three of these elements for six seconds of exceptional amusement.

5. “Visuo-Sonic Play”

Vine's ability to make you laugh within its short time frame often involves innovative combinations of video and audio, as evidenced in the "inappropriate context" category (and present in every other category, to varying degrees). However, there is a particular subset of videos that take this interaction to an elaborate level, often combining video effects or props in order to present a joke or juxtaposition in a playful, imaginative way.

6. "Animals and Kids"

A staple of internet humour, a tradition that has persisted across time and space, newborn babies and fuzzy quadrupeds dominate the realm of humourous Vines.

Beloved and bemoaned, Vine has taken up a peculiar plot of internet real estate. This strange phenomenon speaks volumes about what it means to grow up in a technology-fueled culture, providing sex-second testimonials explaining what frustrates, intrigues, and amuses a young generation of internet users and media creators.

This young girl sums up this article better than I ever could: "look at all those chickens!".

Sam Boer