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15 Minutes of Viral Fame

With President-elect Barack Obama’s recent use of the internet to organize and mobilize his campaign, it seems like everyone is discussing the power of having a strong viral presence. And while Obama’s internet popularity earned him a ticket straight to the White House, not every internet sensation has been so fortunate. With that in mind, kick back, raise your wireless mouse in a toast, and recall the faces of viral fame past.

-Chris Crocker: Who can forget the running makeup, the bleached hair, the cracking voice, and heartbroken tears? Sure, many people doubt whether the video was genuine, but Chris Crocker’s defense of Britney Spears shot him straight into the public consciousness. He may have wanted us to leave Britney alone, but I’ll bet anything that he doesn’t want us to leave him alone. To that end, take one more look at the androgynous, hysterical glory that is Chris Crocker.

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-Numa Numa Dance by Gary Brolsma: What’s funnier than somebody singing and dancing with no regard for who’s watching? Apparently not much, seeing as the amateur video of Gary Brolsma singing along to “Dragostea din tei” has amassed over 700 million page views. Apparently all the attention was a bit too much, however, as Brolsma was subsequently known as an “unwilling and embarrassed Web celebrity.” Oh well. Enjoy this anyway.

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-Matt Harding: As if Brolsma wasn’t enough proof, Matt Harding confirms that goofy dancing is just plain funny. But apparently, it can also lead to some pretty amazing opportunities. Before Harding hit the internet, he was known in his circle of friends for a silly dance that he would occasionally bust out. What he didn’t know is that this dance would eventually fund a worldwide tour sponsored by Stride gum. After taping himself dancing in Vietnam, the video was released to rave reviews and unexpected viral success. After corporate backing, he launched WhereTheHellIsMatt.com for fans to track his current travels (and dance moves). Here’s the video that made him a viral star.

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-Star Wars Kid: Poor, poor Star Wars kid. While other people carefully create and distribute videos for exposure, he just wanted to emulate Darth Maul in peace. But when the clip of him haphazardly swinging that golf ball retriever began getting passed from student to student, the video’s popularity quickly snowballed. The star (known now and perhaps forever as “Star Wars Kid”) became such a target for taunting, criticism, and parody that it even led to a lawsuit. The suit was settled out of court in 2006, and it’s estimated that the infamous video has been viewed almost 1 billion times. And here it is again. (As if you haven’t already seen it…)

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-Dramatic Chipmunk: Just because he’s an animal doesn’t mean he wasn’t an internet sensation. And in a strange way, the dramatic chipmunk gives hope to all aspiring internet celebrities. His video was only six seconds, but it spawned an entire product line, numerous remixes, and a staggering number of YouTube page views.

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In retrospect, if there’s anything that can be learned from these “stars,” it’s that viewing humiliation and public breakdowns will never get old. And although these may be the key to getting noticed, tread carefully. You might find yourself the next Brolsma—embarrassed and wishing you’d kept your dance moves to yourself.

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