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Tom's Column - August/September 22

The Beautiful Weirdness Of Coventry’s Mega-Viral Moment by Tom Beasley

For about a month earlier this year, the entire world became obsessed with a chip shop in Coventry. And nobody really knows why.

Binley Mega Chippy was just another chip shop until May, when it became one of the most popular trends on TikTok. For those who are not up to date on their social media platforms, TikTok is essentially a rolling feed of videos governed by an algorithm which decides what people want to see based on the videos they've previously watched, liked or commented on. For example, my algorithm is sufficiently well-trained that I get videos of cute animals, football clips, stand-up comedy and musical theatre performances.

For some reason, though, a lot of algorithms decided to start feeding people images of a slightly garish-looking chip shop in CV3. By the start of June, it was reported that videos about the chippy had been viewed more than 500 million times.

Nobody has quite put together a coherent theory for why this happened but, like most things that go viral online, it's probably as simple as people finding it funny. There's something aurally pleasing about the establishment's rhyming name – it quickly got turned into an earworm of a jingle – and the juxtaposition of the “mega” in its name with its humble appearance definitely has a distinctly British feel. For a global audience, a “mega chippy” sounds like some sort of American hyper-restaurant with shiny surfaces, loud music and over-friendly service staff, rather than a humble little shopfront in the West Midlands where you can maybe get a bit of curry sauce if you're feeling really extravagant.

In the true spirit of virality, the thing soon developed and extended its vinegary tendrils all over the internet. One of social media's other fascinations this year has been the utterly terrible superhero movie Morbius, which has become an ironic object of affection. So when someone created a Twitter account for Binley Mega Chippy and started promoting a “Morbius Meal”, the double-whammy of meme infamy escalated the phenomenon even further. In a world in which every company seems to be intent on trying to contrive a big money viral moment, this whole affair just goes to show that accidental and organic meme recognition is far more persistent, entertaining and ultimately valuable.

I haven't been back to Coventry since all of this kicked off, but I understand that there were weeks of queues forming outside Binley Mega Chippy before opening time. Some of the visitors were from elsewhere in the UK, but others had genuinely crossed oceans and traversed thousands of miles to take a selfie in front of that red and yellow signage. No battered sausage can be worth that journey, surely?

Watching all of this unfold from London was decidedly odd. It's not often that Coventry appears at the heart of news bulletins and social media discussion, and it's rarer still that it's for a fun, frivolous reason. There is something truly hilarious about our city spending a year showcasing its genuine importance and significance through the City of Culture title, only to finally become known on the world stage because someone online made a funny song about a chip shop.

But perhaps the nicest thing about the whole affair is that it made social media pleasant for a while. Nobody was talking about Brexit or Partygate or JK Rowling's opinions on gender or the fact we're all messing up the environment to the extent that our grandchildren might barely have a world to live on. They were just talking about an ordinary chip shop in Cov with a funny name. The internet, thankfully, is capable of being a strange and wonderful place – much like Binley Mega Chippy.

© 2022 Tom Beasley

The opinions expressed in this article are personal to Tom Beasley. Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist living just outside London and originally from Coventry. He can be reached at tomjbeasley@gmail.com.