It isn't every day that someone makes mad bank thanks to an Internet meme -- but that day may be here for at least one lucky individual, former Jefferies Group LLC trader Grant Williams. Yes, the rich keep on getting richer. Bloomberg's Bei Hu has the story:
Jefferies Group LLC was ordered by a Hong Kong judge to pay its former Asia equity trading head Grant Williams about $1.86 million for firing him over a newsletter which referred to a Hitler parody video.
[Deputy High Court Judge Conrad] Seagroatt ruled last month that Williams shouldn’t have been blamed for the Dec. 7, 2010 newsletter that included a link to a YouTube Inc. video clip depicting Adolf Hitler, with subtitles that mocked JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon. His firing the next day for unacceptable conduct was “hypersensitive” and “irrational,” Seagroatt said last month.
Those of you who've lived on the Internet for any significant portion of time may recognize precisely the sort of "Hitler parody video" at the center of this contretemps: the "Downfall" parody, in which enterprising memesters swap in topical subtitles over a scene from Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Der Untergang." The scene in question features actor Bruno Ganz melodramatically melting down as Adolph Hitler in the last days of his reign of terror.
Virginia Heffernan, who wrote the definitive piece on the "Downfall meme" for The New York Times, describes the meme's potency thusly:
In the original scene, Hitler is told that his reign of power is over; he then deafens himself to reality, eloquently savages everyone who cost him his dreams, vows revenge and finally resigns himself to private grief. The homemade spoofs plug into this transformation just about any hubristic entity that might come undone: the subtitles speak to the plight of governments, soccer teams, football teams, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Adam Sandler.
The meme of the parodies -- the cultural kernel of them, the part that’s contagious and transmissible -- has proved surprisingly hardy, almost unnervingly so. It seems that late-life Hitler can be made to speak for almost anyone in the midst of a crisis.
Back in 2010, Constantin Films, which holds the copyright to "Der Untergang," attempted to put the kibosh on all the japery, asking YouTube to pull these meme-videos over the objections of those who claimed that they were permissable "transformative" works of satire. How successful was this effort? I'll answer that with this YouTube clip, in which the effort to pull all the Downfall memes off YouTube is parodied by a Downfall meme on YouTube.
Of course, the widespread proliferation of these videos has, over time, reduced their cultural potency in accordance with the laws of diminishing returns. This is what makes Grant Williams' court-rendered windfall so exciting. I doubt you'd find anyone who made seven figures pursuing some sort of Downfall meme-related activity. In fact, I would not be surprised if whoever made the Jamie Dimon version didn't come looking for a cut of the lucre.
Wealth through internet meme dissemination: it could happen to you! (But it probably wont.)
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