The Internet is many things to many people. It provides entertainment, information, news and kitten videos. It keeps us up to date on the latest fads, the worst and best of celebrities, the cutest baby animals and, sometimes, actual news. When the Internet gets hold of something it can raise it up or tear it down; going viral can be a mixed blessing. When something goes so viral that it gets the attention of the entire world, it’s said to “break the Internet,” after the conceit that Kim Kardashian’s prodigious bottom did so in late 2014.
The past year saw some mixed blessings of its own. Here, in no particular order, are an even dozen of the things that broke the Internet in 2015.
#TheDress aka DressGate
When Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of the dress she planned to wear to her daughter’s wedding, she certainly didn’t think it would become an Internet phenomenon. But when Grace Johnston saw her mother’s picture of the blue and black dress as white and gold, her friend posted the image to Facebook, asking what color others saw it as and it took off. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Taylor Swift and Mindy Kaling weighed in. The hashtag #The Dress sent Twitter wild and the dress became a meme. Arguments broke out; people were divided into white/gold and blue/black. Wired turned to its Photoshop experts to analyze the pixels finding that, though the dress is actually blue/black, it can be seen as white/gold due to the white balance of the light one views it in.
The Great Llama Escape
On February 26th, two llamas broke free from their handlers and led them on a chase through the suburb of Sun City, AZ. The llamas were on a therapy visit to a retirement home and were outside for a bathroom break when they made a break for it. They led handlers and others on a merry chase before finally being captured. A local Phoenix TV station covering the chase set up a live feed, the Internet jumped on it and it went viral quickly. Twitter was captivated and Tweeted in real time (#llamas) as the little drama played out. The llamas were captured safely, the live feed stopped and the Internet returned to normal. But it sure was fun while it lasted. On a personal note, having chased my own alpacas down the street, I can attest to it being a whole lot of no fun on that end.
Performing in the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show, Katy Perry did her songs “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls.” On stage with her were dancing palm trees and sharks. All seemed well until the shark on the left (our left) appeared to be a bit…well, confused. It just wasn’t as polished as its counterpart. The Internet picked up on this instantly and #leftshark became a sensation. It turns out that was planned, as the sharks were meant to be opposites in their demeanor. Left shark turned out to be dancer Scott Myrick, who went for it with the goofiness. The Internet loved him for it.
In September, Matt Little spotted a rat dragging a discarded piece of pizza down subway stairs in New York. He took a short video and posted it on You Tube. The Internet loved it and a meme was born. Twitter, being the real-time heart of Internet obsessions, went wild. Gilbert Gottfried Tweeted that he was sitting by the phone to see if he would get hired as pizza rat’s voice. One person suggested a Biden/Pizza Rat 2016 ticket. Pizza rat inspired Halloween costumes and became one of our favorite filthy vermin. As I write this, a raccoon is stealing donuts and could follow in pizza rat’s tiny feet.
Je Suis Charlie
In January, Muslim terrorists stormed the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed 11 people (they also killed a gendarme during their escape). The world was shocked and found a way to express solidarity with the magazine and the people who died. The phrase and logo “Je Suis Charlie,” created by French art director Joachim Roncin, became a way to do that. The hashtag appeared on Twitter and Facebook and signs were carried at memorials and marches. The phrase was translated into several languages, including Arabic. Many cartoonists used it in their work, in honor of the cartoonists who died in the attack.
Leonard Nimoy’s Last Tweet
On February 27th, the world lost Leonard Nimoy to pulmonary disease and we mourned the man who gave us Mr. Spock. When his final Tweet — on February 22nd — was discovered by the Internet, it was seen as a perfect coda to his life. “A life is like a garden,” he wrote, ” perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” He signed it with his usual “LLAP”: live long and prosper. Star Trek fans and Nimoy fans lit the Internet up with the man’s final, inspiring, words.
The film, Jurassic World, opened in June and set box office records (temporarily, anyway). In one scene, Chris Pratt is seen holding a pack of velociraptors at bay. Zookeepers and animal trainers grabbed that and ran with it, posing with their animals. Everything from penguins to chickens to walruses to rhinos looked on curiously as their trainers and handlers took up Pratt’s pose for the camera. Even “civilian” animal keepers got in on the act (including my husband with our alpacas). The makers of Jurassic World accepted the free publicity: you’re welcome, signed, the Internet.
Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover
On June 30th, Vanity Fair revealed Caitlyn Jenner (neé Bruce) to the world. Twitter went bananas, with “Caitlyn Jenner” reaching over 10,000 mentions by the nest afternoon. That, according to social media analysts, came the closest to breaking the Internet to date. When she announced that she was going on Twitter, she gained over 1 million followers in four hours. Take that, Kim Kardashian.
When Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson Missouri in the summer of 2014, a new movement was born. That movement raised its voice in 2015, as week after week, black lives were taken by police in larger numbers. The hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, became a tool for organizers more than ever this year though it was “born” two years earlier. Black Lives Matter has successfully used the Internet to further their cause.
Cecil the Lion
In July, it came to light that American dentist, Walter Palmer, had killed a lion in Zimbabwe. Not just any lion: the lion was a local “celebrity,” being part of a scientific project since 1999. Palmer had reportedly paid a guide $50,000 to hunt a lion and Cecil was the unlucky victim. Cecil was lured out of the borders of Hwange National Park, shot with an arrow, tracked for 40 hours and then killed. His body was skinned and beheaded. When rangers reported this, the news spread through conservation organizations and across the Internet. The Web was outraged. Eventually, Palmer was cleared of criminal activity but he can never return to Zimbabwe and hunt. Subsequent conservation measures have been put in place, and African lions were just added to the endangered species list, so Cecil did not die in vain.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Debuts Trailer on Monday Night Football
October 20th marked the premiere of a new trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which aired during “Monday Night Football.” The trailer gave MNF a 13% ratings boost and sent the Internet into a frenzy. It had 112 million views in its first 24 hours. Tickets went on pre-sale right after and eventually set a record of $100 million in pre-sales. In its first two weeks, it became the first movie to break the $1 billion mark in that time period. Is the movie worth all the hype? Most agree that it is.
Donald Trump not only broke the Internet, he seems to have broken the Republican party and the U.S. media, as well. Since he announced in mid-June that he is running for president, Trump has nearly monopolized media coverage on the Internet and on television. His appearances and rallies are breathlessly reported on by everyone both off and online. To be fair, the things he says are outrageous enough to draw ratings and clicks in yooooge numbers. Time will tell if he really has broken the Republican party, but he has surely “broken” the Internet many times this year.
There were many other moments that went viral this year, but these seem to be the ones upon which most of us agree. We’d love to hear from you. What were your “broke the Internet” moments of 2015?