SNL’s ‘Milkshake’ miss and the limits of viral video fads

Saturday Night Live’s first post-strike episode was surprisingly solid, thanks to Tina Fey and her love of slightly sexist humor and poop jokes. Only one sketch bombed (a TMI drunken wedding toast) and an otherwise brilliant Rock of Love parody was ruined by Amy Poehler’s annoying one-legged farter (topic for future consideration: why SNL still bothers to come up with “characters” and why SNL characters and catch phrases were ever big deals in the first place).

The most interesting sketch came near the end, when a scene opened on Bill Hader doing a spot-on Daniel Plainview impression inside what turned out to be an old-fashioned soda shop. Sure enough, it was an “I Drink Your Milkshake” sketch. And it got an interesting audience response — not crickets or forced laughter, but what seemed to me to be chuckles of sheer bafflement. Most of the audience simply didn’t know what was going on. (The biggest laugh line was Kenan Thompson joking that Hader would get a cold from his shake — hardly a reference to the original gag or the movie.) It was a great lesson in the limited reach of Internet fads and viral video.

The sketch is based on a scene from There Will Be Blood in which Daniel Day-Lewis’ crazed oilman shouts “I drink your milkshake!” I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I gather it’s roughly equivalent to Borat saying “I crush her” only more violent. Various geniuses made viral videos parodying the line, or mashing it up with the Kelis song “Milkshake,” or otherwise creating Internet hilarity. New York Magazine’s Vulture blog called it (only semi-sarcastically, as far as I can tell) “2008’s fastest-growing catchphrase” and provided a guide to its proper usage. Various non-NYC-insidery-blog media outlets picked up on what the cool kids were blogging about, and soon you had the Associated Press noting in its Oscar roundup:

Despite the art-house nature of “There Will Be Blood,” Day-Lewis’ performance has seeped its way into popular culture. A line he bellows during the film’s stunningly violent climax — “I drink your milkshake!” — has become a bit of a catch phrase.

Note the hedge “a bit.” Judging by the response to SNL’s milkshake sketch, the catch phrase hasn’t seeped very far beyond the in-the-know audience from which it came. It’s saying a lot if Saturday Night Live’s audience — not a hip bunch like the Daily Show crowd, but probably a good barometer of general pop culture awareness — missed the joke.

The sketch is a good reminder of how even the Internet’s top pop culture blogs are still pretty self-contained and inter-referential and off the general population’s radar. The same thing happened last year when Best Week Ever discovered “Chocolate Rain.” They tried to turn their discovery into a pop culture phenomenon; viral vid parodies ensued; and “Chocolate Rain” singer Tay Zonday appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s show — again, to the audience’s utter bafflement.

I Drink Your Milkshake and Chocolate Rain are both fascinating examples of pop culture’s real-time, Internet-era metamorphosis. Their narrow reach, and the hipster blogs’ attempts to recreate old-school fads like catch phrases and characters in viral video form, show that maybe things aren’t changing as quickly as we thought.

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One response to “SNL’s ‘Milkshake’ miss and the limits of viral video fads

  1. i nominate Chocolate rain as the #1 most likely song to get stuck in a person’s head