This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the absurdly brilliant sketches and movies from Monty Python. For this celebration, I encourage anyone reading this to brush up on your silly walks, check in with the Knights of the Round Table and make sure your parrot is still alive. However, imagine my shock, with my decades of being both a Monty Python fan and digital marketer, when I recently realized that one of the internet terms we all use frequently, we owe to this motley crew.
Before reading further… can you guess which internet term I’m talking about? Because I promise you will be kicking yourself, like I was, when you find out how obvious this one is.
Monty Python’s “Spam” Sketch
The “Spam” sketch first aired on Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1970. The sketch takes place at a greasy spoon cafe where our two main characters, a couple, are lowered from the ceiling with the goal of having breakfast. To add to the nonsense, the rest of the cafe is filled with Vikings.
As the couple begins to order, they find that every dish on the menu contains Spam. But, the woman in the couple does not like Spam what-so-ever. As she is offered every combination of still Spam-contained dish, the Vikings break into song repeating “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam… Spammity Spam! Wonderful Spam!” over and over again. This continues for three and a half minutes until a historian abruptly cuts into the scene to begin talking about historical fact, but ends with talking about… you guess it, Spam.
The word “Spam” was mentioned over 132 times in the sketch, not including the Vikings song. And, at the end of the episode the word “Spam” was interlaced throughout the credits. The sketch is also immortalized at the Spam Museum on a constant loop. The sketch was also released in an audio version as the team’s first 7” single.
Where Did The Sketch Come From?
The sketch was originally created because of the ubiquity of Spam after World War II. In the UK, there was a period of rationing as the country rebuilt their agriculture. So, Spam and other canned meats were everywhere, so the British public grew tired of it.
How Did “Spam” Become an Internet Term?
Internet Historian Brad Templeton recalls the earliest uses of the word “Spam” in relation to the internet. In the early 80s, there were online text-based fantasy games where Templeton recalls the internet use of the word “Spam” first began.
The term spamming got used to apply to a few different behaviours. One was to flood the computer with so much data as to crash it. Another was to “spam the database” by having a program create a huge number of objects, rather then creating them by hand. And the term was sometimes used to mean simply flooding a chat session with a bunch of text inserted by a program (commonly called a “bot” today) or just by inserting a file instead of your own real time typing output. – Templetons.com
“The nerds of that generation had grown up with Monty Python” Brad Templeton said in an NRP interview on the topic, “and, if they posted the same message again and again that reminded people of the repetition of the sketch. So, people started saying that if you did this, you were spamming. So it wasn’t advertising, it wasn’t junk mail.”
In 1994, the term jumped in popularity when two lawyers from Phoenix named Canter and Siegel hired a programmer to write a script that posted an ad for a U.S. “green card” lottery on every message board on the world’s largest online conferencing system USENET. It was posted to several thousand boards.
The use of these types of scripts turned towards junk email marketing and the rest is history.
Now For Something Completely Different…
So, without further ado; Monty Python’s “Spam” sketch: