By Jessica Pereira
The Dancing Baby, also named Oogachacka Baby or Baby Cha-Cha, a 25-year-old meme, has now become a piece of internet and web history. Its creation is owed to Michael Girard and Robert Lurye, with the help of a program originally created by Character Studio and used with 3D Studio Max, which was owned by Kinetix, and a Microsoft computer. In 1996, they released a revolutionary 3D character animation which showed a video of a dancing baby wearing diapers. However, the virality of this meme is also owed to Ron Lussier, who worked for LucasArts. He modified the original file called SK_BABY.MAX to share it via e-mail with his co-workers. In turn, they quickly forwarded it to people outside the company. Later that year, John Woodell, a software engineer, created a GIF using the Dancing Baby animation. This intensified the rapid spread of this meme.
Let us now briefly dive into the details of this meme’s history. The Dancing Baby is nowadays considered the proto meme. As stated, the original file was created by Character Studio. Michael Girard had also worked on an animation of a dancing human skeleton, while Robert Lurye created multiple animations, including an alien, a chicken, or a dinosaur. The Dancing Baby was their most successfully created animation. Lurye then decided to show it around due to its weirdness, since babies are not supposed to move this way. The animation was later made public and shared on e-mail chains all over the world. From 1996 to 1997 it appeared everywhere, even making the news.
The baby danced to many songs, including to the Bee Gees or the Macarena. Thus, it became viral. As will be further explained in the next part of this blogpost, it was also often referenced in popular culture and most notably appeared on episodes of a television series called Ally McBeal. Over the years, multiple variations of the Dancing Baby have been created and used for advertisements. It reinforced its viral status when it was uploaded on YouTube on January 15th, 2006. At the time it had over 3.3 million views and inspired other variations that were also uploaded on YouTube, such as the Gangnam Style Baby or the Kung Fu Baby version.
The Dancing Baby is considered a vital part of the birth of the internet, of memes, and of their virality. However, nowadays this meme’s virality is also continuously declining, while memes of babies are still popular. Nevertheless, there are also tribute sites that uphold the Dancing Baby’s importance within the history of memes.
How do different groups/people apprehend, use, and spread this viral phenomenon?
While this meme became massively viral in the 90s, not enough people owned computers to truly make this baby a worldwide phenomenon. However, the Dancing Baby was often referenced in pop culture. In the popular football video game called FIFA 99 by EA Sports, for instance, animations of players doing the dance were included. The baby also later appeared on The Simpsons, in the year 2000 in the episode called The Computer Wore Menace Shoes. In this episode, Homer, the main character, creates a website showing Jesus doing the dance. However, most importantly, this 3D animation truly became viral after appearing on several episodes of Ally Mcbeal, an extremely popular American comedy-drama television series from 1997. In this instance, the baby is used as a surreal hallucination that represents the main character’s obsession with her biological clock. This is where the variation of the Dancing Baby was born as accompanied by the song called Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, which gave this meme a nickname: the Oogachacka Baby.
These recurring references of the Dancing Baby allowed this animation to become quite influential. Due to this meme’s recognizability, advertisers and brands started repeatedly using babies. Evian, for instance, started incorporating animated dancing babies in their commercials in 1998. Later, in 2009, a few years after the animation was uploaded on YouTube, Evian reused the CGI dancing babies for an ad. However, this time the babies were also roller skating, which also became viral. These advertisements furthered the attention that this viral phenomenon acquired. Thus, the internet’s obsession with funny babies and, more generally, memes was born. Since then, many babies have become viral, and Charlie bit my finger is one such example.
Why is this viral phenomenon interesting?
One ancestor of all memes is…a baby. As previously stated, not only did this meme birth the interest in sharing an animation on web forums, websites, e-mails, or advertisements, for instance, but it also birthed the baby memes that are still popular today. This viral phenomenon was later repeatedly referenced all over popular culture, which shows the impact a meme can have. The continuous use in advertisement also exposes this meme’s longevity. Furthermore, this meme itself saw an evolution and multiple variations of it were produced, such as the Drunken Baby or the Rasta Baby. This meme’s changing format (from .max to .gif to YouTube) and its accessibility through the means of e-mails or broadcasting platforms, allowed it to rapidly become viral and, consequently, to remain popular for years. Interestingly, nowadays with the importance of social media and the abundance of memes, it is difficult to comprehend the Dancing Baby’s appeal. Today everything can quite quickly become a meme. However, during a time when only a minority of people owned computers or used the internet, such an animation was uncommon and represented the constant and surprising innovations in technology. However, one aspect that remains a concern is the circulation, usage, and appropriation of someone else’s work. The Dancing Baby appeared on e-mails, television shows, advertisements, and its creator, Lussier, was only rarely compensated, which raised also copyright issues. As explained by McGrath, Lussier agreed for a redistribution within the frame of private use. Thus, the Dancing Baby led to questions of fair use, that are also to be considered through the history of online virality.
To go further…
Higgins, Bill, Hollywood Flashback: ‘Ally McBeal’ Made Meme History With a Dancing Baby in 1998, in: The Hollywood Reporter, URL: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/hollywood-flashback-ally-mcbeal-made-meme-history-a-dancing-baby-1998-1027243/, 10.08.2017.
Lefevre, Greg, Dancing Baby cha-chas from the Internet to the networks, in: CNN, San Francisco Bureau, URL: http://edition.cnn.com/TECH/9801/19/dancing.baby/index.html, posted 19.01.1998.
MacGrath, J., “Memes”, in: Brügger, N., Milligan, I. (ed.), The Sage handbook of Web History, Los Angeles, London, Sage, 2019.
McCauley, Jim, Dancing Baby in HD is the ultimate ‘90s revival, in: Creative Bloq, URL: https://www.creativebloq.com/news/dancing-baby-in-hd, 11.02.2020.
Mufson, Beckett, Well, It’s the 10th Anniversary of “Oogachaka Baby”, in: Vice, URL: https://www.vice.com/en/article/z4qgjy/dancing-baby-turns-20, 15.01.2016.