GeekOut

MEMEopedia: Supercuts

Editor's note: Know Your Meme is a research lab from the Cheezburger Network that documents the history of Internet memes and culture. Once a week they invite CNN's Geek Out! to go on a very deep dive with them, into the stories behind the memes they profile. Together we'll learn how memes become the cultural expression of nerds.

Supercut is a fast-paced video montage centered around a specific element commonly found in films or TV shows. An emerging subgenre within the digital remix culture, the hypnotic repetition of a single-focused imagery or a cliché expression has become a popular aesthetic among mashup artists on YouTube. For a brief introduction, please read our entry or watch our episode starring Internet scientist Forest.

The early history of Supercuts

Although the term was coined in 2008 by blogger Andy Baio (who thoroughly documented the "Star Wars" Kid meme in 2004), Supercut aesthetics isn’t entirely a brand new concept, as film critic Tom McCormack points out in his documentation of proto-Supercuts in the world of art cinema. Some of the earliest works have been attributed to experimental video artist Bruce Conner’s found-footage film "A Movie" (1958) and Dara Birnbaum’s "Wonder Woman" (1978), while Hollywood employed similar techniques for various training sequences in martial arts films and sports dramas like "Rocky" (1976). But the quintessential formula of stitching repetitive, fast cuts didn’t arrive until the turn of the century with experimental shorts like Christian Marclay’s "Telephones" (1995), Jennifer & Kevin McCoy’s "Every Anvil" (2001) and Chuck Jones’ "Buffies" (2002).

From art cinema to pop culture fandom

This all changed in the late 2000s with the advents of YouTube, BitTorrent and affordable editing software, providing the viewers with resources to map out a tried-and-true cliché throughout the history of modern cinema. In addition, contextual resources and reference sites like Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDB) and TV Tropes also fueled the creativity behind the rise of Supercuts.

Most early examples found on YouTube were centered around pop culture fandoms, like the montage of David Carusoe’s cheesy one-liners in "CSI: Miami" (2006) or a back-to-back reel of couples’ kiss scenes (2007). The original example of Supercut put forth by Andy Baio himself was also a fan-made montage of every “what?” said in the TV series "LOST" (2008).

From 2008 to 2011, hundreds of Supercuts were uploaded by various users on YouTube, opening up a new era of multimedia discourse in film criticism. There are genre-specific ones ("mirror scenes" in thrillers, “turn in your badge and gun” in police dramas, “no signal” dillema in horrors), actor-specfic (Brad Pitt eating things in movies, Shia Labeouf’s frantic “no no no”) and even director-specific Supercuts (Michael Bay’s epic spinning shots or Steven Spielberg’s signature face).

Beyond the fictional world and into IRL

While it remains most relevant in the context of popular films and TV shows, some have gone to explore real-life clichés through the lens of Supercuts, especially in the world of politics. From President Obama's "spending" talk and Rick Perry's "I'm not a talker" excuse to George W. Bush's silent pauses during the State of the Union and Sarah Palin's audible breathing during interviews, such fast-cut style of editing has proven to be equally effective in deconstructing the public images of politicians through clichés and catchphrases. Another spin-off trend in Supercut montages is a comedy skit series known as “S**t _____ Says,” which follows the formula of single topic blog-turned-Web series set by “Sh*t Girls Say.” Using the repetition motif as a means of emphasis, “_____ Says” parodies have quickly become a witty way of exploring clichés within an ethnic or social stereotype.

Why Supercut?

Both Supercuts and "Sh*t X Says" montages follow the zeitgeist of specializing in single topic subjects and have recently gone through exponential growths in volume. By compiling molecular, niche content (whether it be Lana Del Ray's Lips on People or Homer Simpson's "D'oh") into simple, accessible formats of Tumblr blogs and video montages, popular media tropes and social clichés are boiled down to their essences for our viewing pleasure and what is more, food for thought.

It also exemplifies our ever-growing obsession of mapping the vast world of our pop culture relics; just as the milestone of the Human Genome Project went on to inspire the Music Genome Project after the rise of Napster, Supercuts can be ultimately seen as its successive movement in the booming age of video-sharing and remixing.

For more examples of Supercuts, visit our video gallery page in the Know Your Meme database and be sure to check out Andy Baio's Supercut Database.