Eight years ago today, in his debate with John Kerry at Washington University, then-president George W. Bush uttered one of his most famous quotes, his “Ask not what your country can do for you,” or more likely his “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
Pledging to maintain an all-volunteer army, he noted that he'd heard of “rumors on the, uh, Internets that we're going to have a draft,” before disavowing the notion. (The video is below.) It was funny at the time — then a reporter in St. Louis, I was in attendance — but who knew that two full presidential terms later folks would still use “Internets” daily? Which is why we at The Informer hereby officially designate October 8 to be “Internets Day” from here forward.
“That's a great idea,” says Don Caldwell, a senior reporter for KnowYourMeme.com who has been writing about viral internet phenomena for years. His site's post on the subject notes that the 2004 debate wasn't actually the first time Bush used the term.
He'd said it in a 2000 debate with Al Gore actually — the man who invented the damn Internets — but then corrected himself in the next sentence. Similarly, Obama said “Internets” at a 2011 event, but also backtracked. “So I'm thinking if you correct yourself people will give you a pass, maybe,” Caldwell says.
Maybe the 2004 quip took off because it was delivered so damn emphatically; whatever the reason, “Internets” quickly became one of the biggest political memes of all time. The media picked up on it — Will Forte riffed on Saturday Night Live about “getting rid of the bad Internets and keeping the good Internets” — as did the Internets itself. These were pre-YouTube days, however, notes Caldwell, so the task to bringing the lols fell to a site called ytmnd, or “You're the Man Now, Dog!” — the famous Sean Connery line from Finding Forrester. They immediately put up a goofy page with embedded audio file.
“It was one of the bigger 'Bushisms,' — grammatical errors from whenever Bush would misspeak,” notes Caldwell, “and if you look at the Google trends graph the phrase 'Internets' and 'Bushisms' both went up around the same time, after the debate.”
What's perhaps most startling is that, in an age when a new meme is born every minute — within hours of the first Romney-Obama debate you could already find stuff about Romney and Big Bird — and dies off just as quickly, “Internets” has become a seemingly-permanent part of the culture. Continues Caldwell: “It's a kind of cute, folksy way of referring to the Internet. Most people get the joke, I think. No one thinks you're incorrectly pluralizing the word.”
Lots of people — like my wife, for example — use the term without necessarily knowing or remembering where it comes from, however. Much like “the interwebs” (personally I prefer “the information superhighway”) it's a non-stodgy way of referring to this ubiquitous technology that has pretty much taken over all of our lives.
Well, except, presumably, the former president's. Two years after the St. Louis debate he coined another tech-related Bushism — “The Google.”
But that doesn't have quite the same ring. Which is why we ask you on this October 8, 2012 — and all October 8ths henceforth — to raise a glass for Internets Day, in which we proudly salute W and our commitment to mocking him, subtly and perhaps even often unwittingly. from now until eternity.
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