Sunday, 30 November 2008

Robocop on a Unicorn: An Unlikely Combination?

Some Internet memes are fairly simple to figure out, even though they may give you the occasional strange dream. The dancing hamsters, rickrolling, the Numa numa dance. These files may have been propagated on the internet without the proper health warnings but at least they were fairly straightforward to figure out. Then, occasionally, one comes along that really gets heads scratching – precipitating a global cascade of dandruff that will keep L’Oreal in business for years. So it is with one of the latest – Robocop on a Unicorn.

Yes, that’s right. A unicorn. And Robocop. An unlikely combination, all said and the reasons for the combination should realistically be kept close to the chest but no doubt a certain Doctor Freud would have a lot to say about it – as have, indeed, the denizens of he internet.

Is there greater meaning in the marriage of the two symbols, one ancient the other modern, or is this simply an irresistible combination that induces a chuckle (or an indignant splurt of the morning coffee) before the viewer moves on to the next banal but entertaining web page? What could Mr Rokne and his cohorts be getting at? Is this new net phenomenon visual spam or a profound statement about the times in which we live?

Well, first there is the sublime combination of the names. A unicorn gets is name from the Latin – ‘uni’ meaning one and ‘cornu’ meaning horn. Ah! So, one might imagine that Robocop derives his name from a similar classical root. Well, not quite. The word comes from as recently as 1921. Karl Capek, a Czech playwright of the early twentieth century was writing a play featuring manufactured humans, created to be servants in the future (eastern European satire never got so fine).

He looked at Latin origins for the name of his machines and discovered that labori (from labor – to work) just didn’t have the same ring. His brother suggested the Czech word ‘robota’ meaning, literally, horribly hard work or drudgery. Had he stuck with the Latin etymology we may well have ended up with Laborocop or something akin to that.

So far, so good. The origins of the word cop are a little older – but not much! Around the year 1700 the word ‘cop’ entered everyday English usage and it meant to catch, capture or get a hold of. It showed up in print about a hundred and forty years later and came to define one who combats and contains felons a little while later. It is not, as many people believe, an acronym for “Office On Patrol”.

So, even the origins of the two words have a delicious dichotomy! The fantasy version of the Actress and the Bishop, perhaps! We have the coming together of the RoaU which is dichotomous enough you may think. Then take the fact that their names are themselves a bipartition of elements which are mutually exclusive from each other and your head may begin to hurt a little.

So why bring the two together in forms of this kind of imagery? Does Robocop have a purity that is unattainable, that being the purity of the law? Or has he been lying about his son all this time and is in fact still virgo intactus?

Perhaps they share some personality traits that bring them together to fight crime. They are both essentially good but misunderstood, selfless but solitary. Both have a mysterious beauty about them and generally speaking can only be captured by foul means. And of course, both are the stuff of legend, one ancient and pastoral, the other contemporary and urban.

Some people have spoken about the imagery of RoaU representing a resurgent United States, which is quite a hoot considering the origins of this meme are Canadian. Others have started serious discussions about the theology behind the imagery. Yet more are using the various pictures for their X-Box avatars. Whatever the real meaning behind the pictures, people will make their own minds up and create their own legends.

Perhaps the real reason is dichotomy, after all! Two such unlikely friends are bound to cause a stir! Or maybe, just maybe, this is just a bit of fun, which like anything has the potential to do – just got a little out of hand?

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