It's 2014 and teens are coming up with new memes faster than we can clumsily appropriate them for Twitter jokes. We've weathered the storms of "it me," "my anaconda don't," "bitch you guessed it," people holding non-phone objects up to their heads and pretending they're phones, A$AP Rocky commanding children to burn all of their Been Trill and Hood By Air, pigeons dropping the hottest mixtape of 2014, Kermit sipping his tea, Bobby Shmurda's disappearing hat and Pharrell's gigantic hat just to name a few more than few. But only recently have adults without younger siblings started to become hip to the myriad wonders of "on fleek."
"On fleek" is a cooler way of saying "on point" and draws its origins from a Vine made by Internet hero Peaches Monroe in late June of this year. The original clip has over 17.5 million views and is still gathering steam. While spending five minutes desperately clicking through the 43,000 comments trying to get to the first one, I watched the clip gain a cool thousand views. If you search "on fleek" on Twitter, you'll see that kids are tweeting the phrase several times per minute. As far as I can tell, "on fleek" was popularized by Monroe herself, though Urban Dictionary user Dan Blue was out here on the saying that "fleek" meant "smooth, nice, sweet" all the way back in 2003. And, if you wanna get real historical with shit, searching "on fleek" via Google Books leads to the phrase being used all the way back in 1801 in a book called An Account of Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798 by some guy named John Barrow. You can find it, hilariously enough, in a chapter discussing popular misconceptions about elephant sex, specifically in a humorous poem written about (obviously) elephant sex:
As in Jove's War, by rebel giants pil'd
Enormous Pelion Tower'd on Ossa wild,
Behodur thus the Pelion of our wood
On fleek pauree, broad as Ossa stood.
(Some context: Pelion and Ossa are two mountains in Greece. There's a Greek legend that a couple of Poseidon's pissed off kids threw Pelion on top of Ossa one time, and a mountain on top of another mountain kiiiiiiiinda looks like two elephants fucking. "On fleek pauree," I can only assume, is some sort of 300 year old jizz joke. It should be noted that at the time An Account of Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798, the letters "S" and "F" looked the same a lot of the time, and it would make more sense that homeboy was saying "on sleek" instead of "on fleek." But, in writing this article, I chose to ignore that because it's way more funny to think that "on fleek" emerged many years ago as a way to describe elephant jizz.)
But I digress. Clearly, "on fleek" is a thing that the kids are saying (and have been saying since June and/or 2003 and/or 1801), and, as adults, it's our job to ruin it by finding out about it. Usually, adults ruining a joke for teens involves savvy adults incorporating it into their Internet jokes, which then get co-opted by progressively less savvy/cool adults until someone very famous and/or lame (i.e. Barack Obama or your dad) finds out and then kills the fun for everybody. What makes "on fleek" special is that the rate at which adults found out about it and ruined it was so fucking fast that it might have happened in reverse. Which is to say, Denny's tweeted about it.
Then, lots of people who weren't teens found out what it was and, because Denny's tweeted it, it was automatically over. It doesn’t matter if you're only now hearing about it right now. I don't write the rules, I just enforce them.
However, in becoming cool on the Internet, Denny's circumvented the chain of hipness in a way that's seriously damaging to the natural ebb and flow of micro-trends.
For those who pay close-ish attention to the Internet, Denny's has spent the past year or so letting its Twitter account develop a seeming sense of self-awareness, tweeting food-related spins on internet jokes, memes and, occasionally, creating their own. Last August, Denny's handed over the keys to their account to a Greenville, SC-based agency called Erwin Penland, who handed said keys to a hip 20-something and let them run wild. In a May article on Mashable, a Penland VP expressed that the Denny's Twitter voice was meant, in so many words, to mirror the type of conversation some stoners would have at Denny's. "You're sitting in a Denny's booth, just hanging out. You end up talking about all kinds of stuff. Sometimes it gets a little silly," he said.
From a branding perspective, this works great: Denny's becomes hip because it knows about internet jokes, effectively becoming the corporate equivalent of the neighborhood mom who lets you drink at her house as long as you promise not to drive home that night. However, in becoming cool on the Internet, Denny's circumvented the chain of hipness in a way that's seriously damaging to the natural ebb and flow of micro-trends. In olden times, when a trend broke and a brand wanted to co-opt it to sell some stuff to people, there were severe barriers of entry that had to be dealt with. Given the time it takes to conceptualize and then produce an ad campaign (I've never watched Mad Men so I can't be 100% certain, but I'm pretty sure this takes a long ass time), if you wanted to be a cool brand you probably were going to either have to either create your own trend (The Marlboro Man), or hire a super cool celebrity who was probably not about to become uncool (Burt Reynolds or Billy Dee Williams) to endorse your product. This happens in the physical realm as well. Just the other morning I saw a Seamless ad in a subway station offering a spin on the long dormant "doge" meme. The length of production ensured that Seamless was very late to the part. Now, however, a hip 20-something can see a vaguely funny meme, do their own spin on it, fire it off from their brand's corporate twitter account and, suddenly, they've increased the brand's coolness by demonstrating awareness of said meme, while in the process degrading the joke by forging an association between their product and the meme itself.
The issue of intellectual property in the age of memes—concerning who has the "right" to make a joke that is owned by no one, manual retweets vs. conventional retweets, embedding tweets into an article instead of reaching out to a Twitter user for comment, or even publications sourcing free content from Twitter instead of paying those content creators directly to contribute work—is a complicated one that often spans a lot of issues involving class, privilege and access. Often, young creatives take to free, democratic platforms like Twitter and Vine because they have no patrons to sponsor and fund their creativity. Certainly, a publication such as BuzzFeed creating an article centered around content sourced from an account like @BEYONCEFANFIC is, on one level, great—the creator of the account gets free publicity. On the other hand, they're being shorted—that same publication is taking their pre-existing content for free, rather than offering that person money to create new, exclusive content for them. So, with that being said, Peaches Monroe showed infinitely more creativity and charisma in popularizing "on fleek" than whoever runs Denny's Twitter account did by making a "hashbrowns on fleek" joke some time later. And yet, Monroe, the person who created the original piece of content, was paid nothing for her efforts. The person who runs @dennysdiner did.
There is, however, a silver lining to this dark, perhaps trivial cloud. Being active on Weird Twitter isn't actually helping anyone's bottom line other than Edwin Penland's. In that same Mashable article I cited above, the writer points out that IHOP is experiencing similar sales to Denny's despite having no memes on its Twitter account. Which means something we've known all along: Making jokes on the Internet rarely pays the bills.
Drew Millard shouted this entire article out to his haters while drowning in a vat of maple syrup. Robesman then recorded and transcribed it, and that's how you're reading it on the Internet today. You can read more of Drew's work on Noisey and follow him on Twitter here.