Cyberspace is reverberating to the sound of one man swearing. His expletive-per-minute ratio might pale in comparison with Gordon Ramsay delivering a verdict on a sub-standard mushroom risotto.
However, in the space of five days, Christian Bale's tirade of fury at a hapless photography director who dared to walk across his line of vision during filming has been re-posted, chopped up, sped up, layered, re-dubbed, re-enacted and spoofed so many times that it has secured its place as the first major internet phenomenon of 2009.
We seem to derive enormous pleasure from sneakily watching people lose their temper, especially from a safe distance. Outtakes of weather forecasters exploding with indignation at malfunctioning autocues, secret tapes of rock stars bawling out hired musicians for sloppy playing – these kind of things have always been giggled over and excitedly shared. But these days, such treats get subjected to a range of digital manipulation techniques, or mash-ups, which extend the life of the viral and perhaps give its re-creator a few moments of fleeting online fame.
There have been countless examples. The "Tourist Guy" picture, which supposedly showed an unlucky soul posing for a photo on top of the World Trade Center on 9/11, was seized upon by anyone with elementary Photoshop skills in a race to place the same guy into as many horrific situations as possible – the assassination of JFK, the Concorde crash in Paris, the Hindenburg disaster. A scene from the German war film Downfall has been re-subtitled for countless scenarios, from the housing market slump to a 2-1 loss to Hull by Arsenal. Now it's Christian Bale's turn to suffer, as the computing techniques with which we make our own music or add soundtracks to our home videos are turned to satirical uses.
The speed at which this particular viral took hold was almost exhilarating. The incident that sparked it took place last summer, but it wasn't until last Monday that the tape was leaked, apparently to celebrity gossip site TMZ.com. Within minutes it had been posted to YouTube, dubbed over a suitably gruesome still from the film American Psycho. By Tuesday morning, the first slightly unsophisticated audio mash-ups had started to appear; but only two hours after someone had merely laid the rant on top of the song "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis – another American Psycho reference – what might be called the daddy of this viral made its grand entrance. Los Angeles-based DJ RevoLucian wasn't particularly well known before last week, and he may well slip back into obscurity next week, but his painstakingly constructed dance track "Bale Out", with its oddly catchy chorus of Bale screeching "it's f***ing distracting", has had 1.5m views at the time of writing, and is rising fast.
That was the cue for others to get to work. Later on Tuesday, The Mae Shi uploaded "R U Professional" – though one suspects it was a pre-existing tune hastily adapted for the snowballing craze; by Tuesday evening, the words "Christian Bale" were appearing in one in every 300 notes on the microblogging site Twitter. Some people's creative impulses were channelled into re-enacting the scene; one of these refocused Bale's rage on the inadequacy of a pile of unglazed doughnuts. Two days was long enough for some elementary video processing to have taken place, and by Wednesday the rant had been spliced together with other notable examples of temper loss on YouTube, such as those of Fox News political commentator Bill O'Reilly and veteran American comedian Lily Tomlin.
Later in the week, specially filmed multi-camera spoofs started to appear, including one where Christian's supposed sister, Christine, vents her considerable fury at a small dog in an Elizabethan collar that has dared to interrupt her commercial for a puppy leukemia charity. Or another slightly more straightforward piece of lip-synching, albeit by someone wearing combat gear and wielding a machine gun on an industrial estate. By this stage the TV networks had picked up on it, and the incident was sufficiently well known to allow US television comedian Jimmy Kimmel to present a "Christian Bale Meltdown Theatre" skit and for satirist Stephen Colbert to erupt in mock fury at his studio guest Steve Martin. All that remained, really, was for someone to post the obligatory redirect to a certain Rick Astley video – fast becoming the most predictable prank since moving a chair away when someone is about to sit down.
The audio-visual festivities continue to pile up on YouTube, food for thought for petulant celebrities next time they're thinking of throwing a hissy-fit: lose your rag, and you risk losing control over that carefully constructed public image.