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All Your Base...

“All Your Base Are Belong to Us”
What follows is a transcript of the opening cut-scene of the English version of the Japanese videogame Zero Wing:
Narrator: In A.D. 2101, war was beginning.
Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
(spoken in the Flash animation as Someone set us up the bomb.)
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It's you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha Ha Ha Ha ....
(spoken in the Flash animation as Ha Ha Ha.)
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every 'Zig'!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move 'Zig'.
Captain: For great justice.

According to its Wikipedia entry, the phrase “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” (AYBABTU or AYB for short) first appeared on the Internet in 1998. It is part of “a poorly translated opening found in the English version of the Japanese video game Zero Wing, originally produced by Toaplan in 1989.” Following its introduction in subsequently spread like a virus, first appearing in Internet message boards. So, while it could have disappeared into the oblivion of the Internet, greater forces were at work. It soon promulgated itself into realms far beyond the web-geeks’ message boards, and even beyond the Internet. How did this random fragment of a poor video-game translation become a quasi well-known piece of pop culture?

“The cultural model of communication draws a very close connection between the processes of social communication and the production of a common culture” (Grossberg, et. al. 1998). The model essentially states that when humans communicate with each other, they are creating a culture of symbols and codes through their use of social language. Consequently, our ability to communicate with each other depends on our being able to understand and utilize a common social language. That assumes that humans have already established a common culture, which is often taken for granted. Additionally, the cultural language is endlessly expandable, a property that makes it possible to describe things that are outside of the established language with the established language. The growth of a cultural language, then, must involve already established aspects of our common culture. It must be noted, however, that the cultural model of communication is intrinsically paradoxical because it seeks to explain communications between persons based on a culture within which it is immersed. Nevertheless, it will be a useful tool for seeking an explanation for the seemingly unexplainable explosion of AYB into the mainstream media.
AYB falls into the category of an object that began outside of the common culture of the United States. The game Zero Wing in which it appears was never released in the United States. So why was it posted in the first place? Why on Earth did someone find it amusing? Using the cultural model, we can draw a couple of conclusions.

SomethingAwful.com hosts the forums on which the phrase initially appeared. Someone on the forums, who somehow gained access to the game, realized that AYB is a prime example of “Engrish,” which is a slang term for when Japanese media makers attempt to create English dialogue. Wikipedia explains: “Engrish is most often considered by English-speakers to be a humorous misuse of English.” Here we find the cultural basis for the humor of the phrase. The American culture finds the way that Easterners speak English to be humorous. The term itself pokes fun at the lack of differentiation in Eastern languages of the sounds for the English letters ‘r’ and ‘l.’ The difference is that AYB is not just one line, like examples found in assembly instructions for Japanese products (“LETS DECOMPOSE & ENJOY ASSEMBLING”); it is an entire dialogue.

Not to mention the fact that the Internet has an extremely large potential audience base, especially a site like SomethingAwful.com, which currently has over 50 million posts (includes posts that have been archived) in its forums. A post in an infrequently used message board would not have spawned such a phenomenon.

Additionally, the phrase appears in a videogame, a new media that continues to grow in size and force. More people play video games every year, especially since the current generation has grown up with video games. The user that originally posted the phrase more than likely did so when he played the game. The phrase never would have become known if video games had not been integrated into our culture.

These connections make what happened after the original post a bit less of a mystery. Soon web-geeks were Photoshopping the phrase into a plethora of pictures, some already almost famous from being circulated on the Internet. For example, there is a picture of confused construction workers who have just painted SCOOL on the road; the original letters are replaced with ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US. Soon, the fad moved beyond the visual realm. “In 2000, Jared and Canadian Gabber group The Laziest Men on Mars created the song "Invasion of the Gabber Robots" using samples from the game theme by Tatsuya Uemura (including a robotic voice synthesis rendition of the complete cut-scene dialogue).” The flash video that integrated all of the modified images and the song pushed the phenomenon beyond the world of the geeks and message boarders and into the public eye. This was the final step for AYB in becoming a part of our cultural language. Wikipedia lists countless references, anything from a front page Boston Globe article in late 2002, to references in Futurama and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, to Easter eggs in a multitude of videogames. The phrase has also become a battle cry or victory cry in online games such as Counter Strike and World of WarCraft.

Word of mouth (or of keyboard) acts as a powerful tool for propagating even the most seemingly random catchphrase. Even so, not everyone will know what AYB is, or why it is supposed to be funny. It is important though, to examine the roots of a fad such as this in hopes of explaining the new media culture in which we now live. Through the cultural model it is easy to see that the humor that English speakers derive from Easterners attempting to speak our language, and the integration of video games and the Internet itself into our culture, are largely responsible for the AYB fad.

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