Virality, Pastiche and Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen | Feed for Thought

This is a blog post from my Systems Design project on Digital Prosumerism at the National Institute of Design.

Check out the blog at and the project outcomes at

PPAP or “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen” is a music video by Piko-Taro, a Japanese comedian. The first time I saw PPAP, it had already been shared on Facebook by several of my friends. I only clicked on the video because so many people I knew had seen it. It got stuck in my head instantly, and it was so ridiculous that I simply had to share it.

PPAP demonstrates some of the key characteristics of viral content: It’s surprising, interesting (insanely catchy), intense, and hilarious. All of these together make you feel awe — a broadening of the mind, learning or seeing something new. When something is awesome (literally), you want others to feel the same way. You share it.

Soon, there were parodies and covers of PPAP all over the internet. This demonstrates the transition of simply viral content into a meme. The defining trait of a meme is its almost “incomplete” feel, something that makes others want to mimic and emulate it. Examples include planking, rage comics, Doge, Real MVP. A meme requires participation and production to proliferate. Some online trends are more participatory than others: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge spread throughout common users of the internet as well as professional content creators and celebrities. A lot of these trends (like the Harlem Shake) are viewed by millions, but only a small percentage of those people make their own response.

This brings us to the prosumption perspective of memes. The difference between a meme and something that is simply viral is the ratio of production to consumption. A meme inspires production, creativity and new content. While majority choose to only consume and laugh at the variety of interpretations of a meme, some participants put time and effort into making something unique. For example:

This extremely creative version in the style of various musicians

These covers in other genres

And a fantastic meme crossover: Drake from Hotline Bling and PPAP.

Perhaps the most prosumer example I have is this reaction to PPAP from the kids on The Fine Brothers channel. Reaction videos are a huge trend on Youtube. There are reaction channels with over 10 million subscribers. They’re a key example of prosumerism and what is called pastiche culture.

Pastiche refers to creating a new work of art that takes existing elements or styles from other artists or creators. Pastiche has been around for centuries in art, music, theatre and literature. However, it has a newfound acceptance in the internet age. Parody videos, covers, reactions, music sampling, fashion blogging/styling, DIY, makeup videos, gameplays are all examples of pastiche. It’s easier than ever to call yourself a “creator” on the internet by following memes, trends and doing challenges. As the saying goes, “nothing is really original”.

This raises some tricky questions: What is creativity? How much inspiration is too much? Why do people love Harambe memes so much? I don’t know if there are answers.

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