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Mike Polk Jr. on the enduring allure of viral Zoom fails

One year into the pandemic, why are we still so tickled by remote meeting mishaps?

CLEVELAND — By now, we’ve all seen the video of the online court hearing featuring a lawyer trapped in a cat filter so many times that it’s not even funny any more.

Never mind, it’s still funny, and it will always be funny. It’s just a little overexposed right now.

But fortunately, just as that was getting stale, the internet passed the torch to Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer who accidentally appeared upside down during a house committee hearing, much to the bemusement of his colleagues. That one’s pretty good, too, though frankly, it could have used some more cat.

When the pandemic forced much of the world's activities to move online last year, there were bound to be some growing pains as we all adjusted to unfamiliar technology, and it has paid off IN SPADES for those of us who enjoy reveling in a good old fashioned zoom fails. 

It’s what brought us such early pandemic hits as the woman who turned herself into a potato during a meeting, and couldn’t fix it. Then of course there was the poor lady who forgot to turn off her camera when she took a bathroom pit stop during a work meeting... Not great. 

And of course, the Italian priest who inadvertently held mass with some pretty aggressive face filters on. 

You would think that we'd all have a better grasp on this whole video conferencing thing by now, what with being a year into this. But I for one hope that people never manage to master it, so that our days can continue to be brightened by the awkward online predicaments of others. Frankly, I think it’s good for society.

I’ll explain: Other types of humor don’t go "viral" like this. We don’t pass around stand up comedy clips or funny movie scenes with nearly the same intensity that we pass around clips of guys unknowingly scratching themselves in front of work meetings that they believed had concluded.  

I think one reason for that is that these aren’t actors; these are real people like us. In fact, they could BE us. Many of us have come perilously close to becoming a viral meme ourselves, so it's relatable.

Secondly, they're not mean spirited. It's easier to enjoy an embarrassing mishap when we know the subject of the embarrassment is no worse for the wear. For example, when asked about her viral moment the Potato Boss lady released this actual statement:

"I yam glad this is making folks laugh at this time. Please stay planted at home and safe!"

As for his unintended moment in the spotlight, Texas cat attorney Ron Ponton remarked:

"I’m happy to give the world a laugh, because I think we needed it after the last few months."

And boy, ain’t that the truth. During a pretty dire year with so much darkness and negativity, I feel like these brief, collectively shared moments of innocent, abject silliness are not only a relief, but possibly even vital to maintaining connection with one another.

We seem to be having an increasingly difficult time finding things that we all agree on right now, and it’s certainly safe to say it’s not politics or how to handle a pandemic. Yet this clip was shared on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, all very different outlets with very different perspectives. One thing upon which they were all in agreement is that THIS is amusing and worth sharing.

So when anything unifying comes along about which we can form a consensus, we need to embrace it and ride that tiger, no matter how silly the source. The first person to send me the cat clip was my Uncle Pat, with whom I have starkly different political views that have put a legitimate strain on our relationship, but we had a good laugh about this, and it was a nice reminder of my Uncle Pat’s humanity and why I liked him to begin with. I sent him the upside down congressman in return.

So now we’re communicating again, and it’s nice. This doesn’t fix everything, of course, and we won’t stop arguing, but I really think the important thing is that we’re not ONLY arguing, and that we make an effort to remember that there's more than one aspect to the people with whom we disagree.

And if that takes a mutual appreciation of Cat-based-Zoom-Fail-Memes, so be it. Ya gotta start somewhere!