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When Breaking Bad screened an already iconic scene of characters Hank and Marie watching a certain shocking video, the broadcast just happened to coincide with Miley Cyrus’ infamous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Both memorable for very different reasons, Sam Barnett quickly had the idea to put the two together.
The Breaking Bad / VMAs mash-up video has been watched around 3 million times in two weeks. It has spawned a whole series of other parody videos, with ‘Hank and Marie watch...’ morphing into the new ‘Hitler reacts...’ YouTube meme. Aside from simple good timing, how exactly did the video go from a fun idea to a stright-up Internet sensation?
“It was on the Luas home from work that I was thinking of how tired I was and how I didn't really want to do all that much when I got home,” explains Sam, a cinematography student at Ballyfermot College. “So when I got on the computer all saw was either the twerking fiasco or Breaking Bad fans losing it over the massive twist in the episode. It was at that point I figured ‘hey, I'll put the two together; it won't take all that long and it might be funny’".
The editing itself was a simple thirty minute job, the only minor issue being that good copies of the Miley Cyrus video were being taken down on copyright grounds as soon as they went up (surprisingly, the mash-up video itself hasn’t faced any copyright takedown notices). Still, it was put together quickly and Sam admits “I didn't really think all that much of it because I had to watch it over a dozen times during the editing process to make sure it was right. I put it on YouTube anyways because I told a few friends I was making it and they wanted to see it”.
So: how did it go from a few friends to international meme? Sam says “the only thing I did that sparked its spread was post it on Reddit's video's section. As soon as I put it up there I went to bed. When I woke up, the video was just after breaking 80,000 views. By midnight it had reached 1 million.”
Despite the hugely popular Reddit often acting as a testing ground for potential memes, it alone cannot account for a viral phenomenon on this scale. It did, however, help bring the video to the attention of other websites and media outlets.
Sam believes “The Huffington Post and Rolling Stone really helped it kick off once it started spreading around. As soon as it had made it on to their front pages readers started tweeting about it, then tweeting to the show's cast about it, then it started spreading on Facebook. The speed at which it went global just left me completely dumbfounded. The following day in work there were people who had already seen it without my sending it to them.”
Soon, Breaking Bad cast members themselves were sharing the video. Betsy Brandt, who plays Marie, tweeted it once, and then a few days later tweeted it again, saying it was still her favourite of all the ‘reaction’ videos that popped up after broadcast.
Sam was amazed by the support the video received from the cast and other celebrities. “Aaron Paul, the actor who plays Jesse Pinkman on the show, tweeted about it, that just felt great to see because he's my favourite character on the show,” he explains. “The last notable person I saw to mention it was Damon Lindelof. He's the man who wrote the likes of Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus, and one of the lead writers on LOST. I'm an aspiring film writer/director and that on its own would've made my week.”
Although, like most memes, ‘Hank and Marie watch...’ is destined to decrease in popularity after the initial flurry of activity, fans are still editing together derivative videos. What are Sam’s favourites? "A personal favourite would be ‘Walt gives Hank the wrong CD’, where Hank puts the disc in the player to find the segment of Malcolm In The Middle where Bryan Cranston is shown dancing in roller-blades. Another being ‘Hank and Marie watch The Price Is Right’. Aaron Paul, before he was an actor, was a contestant on The Price Is Right once. The footage of it replaces what's on their TV and I found it hilarious.”