Haasch: We have no choice but to embrace surreal internet humor

Every time we play a “Johny Johny” video, we stray further from redemption.

Palmer Haasch

Last week, my Twitter feed was a hellscape of animations of the horrifying, banal nursery rhyme, “Johny Johny Yes Papa.” The song — and its seemingly endless set of iterations — follows Johny, a sneaky kid who eats sugar, lies to his parents and gets away with it every time.

It’s not immediately clear what the moral of the story is, in the same way that it’s difficult to explain why a terrifying animated video of a child with a disproportionately large head and sweets problem went viral.

As far as internet meme content goes, “Johny Johny” isn’t all that remarkable. In fact, it fits into a growing trend of bizarre, surrealist memes and internet humor. This trend is part of what brought “Johny Johny” out of the depths of YouTube notoriety. The song has appeared on YouTube on a variety of channels, including a video on the by-and-large irrelevant LooLoo Kids’ channel with a title that hails it as “the BEST song for Children” — bold claim, LooLoo Kids.

The clip that went viral was from the Billion Surprise Toys YouTube channel, which depicts Johny as the gremlin-like, Boss Baby knockoff kid whose image is now plastered across everyone’s social media feeds.  

The serious questions — namely why this meme surfaced now and why Johny can’t stop eating sugar and telling lies — don’t seem to have clear answers other than the fact that netizens love surreal content. Ask anyone why “Johny Johny” went viral or why it’s funny in the first place, and their first answer will likely be a befuddled, “it just is.”

Even for those embedded within Twitter and meme culture, there isn’t a particularly salient reason for the video’s virality. It’s surreal nature is what propelled it to Twitter stardom, following memes like “Nick India Dab,” in which a character from an Indian Nickelodeon TV show teaches a classroom of other characters how to dab with vigor and spirit. It’s funny for the same nonsensical reason an unmoving bust saying, “succ” with an echoing, bass-boosted voice is funny. It’s funny for the same reason a grainy image of the Joker with overlaid with text lamenting, “We live in a society” with absolutely no context is funny. It’s funny because it makes you ask, “What the hell?”

Ultimately, the popularity of “Johny Johny” is on all sides of Twitter — not just communities that are typically tuned into memes — is testament to the fact that shitposting (publishing nonsensical content without proper context) is now mainstream internet humor. While Minion memes may still dominate local Facebook feeds, other social media humor has pivoted toward the bizarre. 

At this point, if you aren’t already immersed in internet culture to the point that these kinds of memes are automatically funny, you have no choice but to embrace it. Twitter makes virality easy to achieve given how simple it is to disseminate content. If there are enough larger accounts that pick up a meme, it’s almost guaranteed to gain traction. Now, even the eldritch horrors of YouTube like “Johny Johny” are widely circulated. These bizarre memes aren’t going anywhere soon, and they will continue integrating into popular culture whether we like it or not. 

And now, more and more, memes that make absolutely no sense are becoming the norm, even if they, like “Johny Johny,” are pulled from the eldritch corners of the children’s entertainment side of YouTube.