As a great many companies have realized by now, the marketing potential of internet memes is tremendous. Incorporate your brand or product into a successful meme, and internet users will happily spread it across the world of their own volition, every one of them organically developing a positive association with it.
And as video artistrecently discovered, the effectiveness of marketing through memes is hardly limited to mainstream brands.
You’ve likely come across Condit’s 1983 short film “Possibly in Michigan” (possibly on this site). The abstract narrative follows a pair of young women as they are pursued by a masked cannibal; the anarchic editing; Casio-backed musical numbers; and the strange, lilting tone with which the actresses deliver their lines give it a distinctively surreal tone. It feels like a bizarre combination of a B-movie, an acid trip, a lighthearted musical, and a feminist statement on the nature of toxic relationships all mixed together.
It’s a wonderfully witty and dreamlike piece of work, but it could hardly be called widely accessible; and it is, moreover, infused with a heavily 80s tone and aesthetic. In brief, it’s hardly the sort of thing that one would expect to resonate with the internet generation. So needless to say, it surprised a great many people when songs from the short began showing up on videos posted to the social media website TikTok.
“Possibly in Michigan” had received some internet attention in the past, beginning in mid-2015, when a clip of the film was posted to the popular subreddit /r/creepy, subsequently appearing on the front page of Reddit. But it was through its use in TikTok videos that it attained what could be called widespread notice. A sixteen-year-old TikTok user named Vris Dillard started the trend by posting a video of herself lip-synching a portion of the film’s melodic dialogue. The absurd nature of the source material clearly resonated with the app’s young users, many of whom started making their own videos using “Possibly“’s audio. The result was a burst of mainstream interest in Condit’s work that, given its abstract nature, would be unusual at any point in time. In the weeks following the TikTok trend, Condit’s official YouTube channel received around 4,000 new subscribers, and her weekly view count temporarily shot up more than tenfold.
TikTok, a social media app primarily featuring videos of users lip-synching to popular songs, has a user base consisting primarily of teenagers and twenty-somethings. For better or for worse, it’s a brand with inextricable ties to Generation Z . To see a piece of weird cinema crafted in the early 80s—especially one so deeply steeped in then-contemporary aesthetics and social concerns— gain popularity on such a platform makes it clear that cinematic weirdness, done properly, has an inter-generational appeal that we’ve yet to properly tap into.
“Possibly in Michigan” is hardly the only example of this phenomenon. Weirdness and absurdism are recurring features in meme culture and viral phenomena, and surrealism is probably one of the most prominent features of internet-based humor (right behind self-awareness and self-deprecation). As a result, many millennials and Gen Z’ers raised on the internet have come across some of the 20th century’s finest examples of weird cinema in piecemeal form: stills and clips that caught other users’ fancy.
My personal first encounter with Begotten was in the late 2000s, through a still frame of the opening scene. It had been posted, without context (along with a litany of other, far more underwhelming “scary” images), to a webpage of “creepypasta”, the digital age’s own iteration of horror literature.
At around the same time, a video appeared on YouTube, claiming to be an authentic version of “The Grifter”, an urban legend begun on 4chan about a supposedly “cursed” video that could drive viewers insane. In actuality, the video consisted mostly of heavily edited clips from Jan Svankmajer’s Little Otik.
Virality has proved a boon for weird movie trailers, as well—many of which, in the past, would likely have only been seen at specialized screenings and art film festivals. Such was the case with the infamous After Last Season. Prior to the internet, it’s unlikely that this painfully amateur-looking trailer would have been screened anywhere. When enthusiasts uploaded to freely accessible video sites like Apple’s trailer page, however, it quickly found its audience: morbidly fascinated internet users befuddled by the surreal ineptitude of what they were seeing. It was pretty much everything that internet users of the time adored: completely absurd, and laughably amateurish (“cringey,” in the argot). The result, of course, was a surge of interest in a disastrous film that could never have come from any community of “serious” cinephiles. Reviled though the movie was, and still is, After Last Season would likely never have found an audience of any kind were it not for internet culture’s fascination with bile.
The implications are clear: if weird cinema is to survive in our tumultuous modern age, it might do best to market itself through memes, viral phenomena, and other mediums that catch the attention of the internet’s youngsters. They may not be familiar with names likeor , but they share an appreciation for the absurd and the irreverent that, properly tapped in to, could help raise a whole new generation of weird-cinema auteurs.