Meme Freaks

A defining characteristic of the millennial generation is undoubtedly our love for using memes whenever possible. Memes can take on a variety of forms, but always have that element of repetition which increases their spreadability. According to Richard Dawkins, a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. They often carry social meaning and provide a vehicle for transmitting cultural information throughout that culture. Internet memes are a kind of subset of this idea, and have largely shaped the way we interact in our daily lives.

Meme Evolution

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Internet meme culture is incredibly diverse and catalogued. There’s actually an archive of every meme on a site called KnowYourMeme. Browsing through all of the popular entries, I was overwhelmed at the sheer volume of Internet memes that have been produced during my lifetime. You can spend a whole day looking through it (and cringing). They’ve been around since the early 2000s, but since then there has been a wide variety in form and scope. My understanding of memes began with things like “Can I Has Cheezeburger?” and “Me Gusta” on Tumblr, but most of those are no longer as regularly used.

At a certain point, it became more popular to use real-life events and people to create memes. This is what we see more dominantly in our culture today. For example, in 2012 we got this guy. Zeddie Little, otherwise known as “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy”, became an instant icon after his smiling face appeared in a photograph taken at the annual Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, South Carolina.

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I mean, it is a good face. When Little’s face was discovered, people spread it around social media like wildfire. It didn’t last for long, but most of us can remember when this guy was all we could talk about the next day at school.

This approaches the category of memes that I find we use most often today: situational GIFS or images that often come from short videos or television show screen grabs. These are often the shortest living memes, but the most instantly successful. Unless you’re on Tumblr or Twitter 24/7, its also extremely difficult to stay up to speed.

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Sometimes, this highly popularized meme from an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants is actually pretty representative of how we feel when we’re left out of the meme loop.

Meme Appeal

So why, then, have memes lasted so long and evolved so much over the past decade? It seems that the appeal of memes is that they provide us with scripts for interactions in our communities. What may have once been confined to online spaces has now trickled into our everyday lives and senses of humor. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is something to be said of their pervasiveness in our cultural climate. They give us a sense of unity and belonging, and oftentimes provide us with comic relief during turbulent times.

It seems that recently, the most heavily circulated memes only last for a month or two before they are no longer relevant in our discourse. Some stick around (i.e. Pepe the Frog), but it’s much more common to see memes constantly overlapping and replacing their predecessors. While it is true that each meme may come and go with time, meme culture is alive and well, and I don’t think it plans on going away any time soon.

 


References 

Humphreys, Ashlee. “Chapter 12: Cultural Representation and Practices.” Social Media: Enduring Principles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. 222-224. Print.

Images from KnowYourMeme.com

 

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6 thoughts on “Meme Freaks

  1. Even though newer situational memes often replace the older memes, I still believe that every old meme is relevant and timeless since we can now create them using apps like GroupMe. In my GroupMe chat for residents assistants of Tower B, we constantly post new and old memes and change the description based on the antics that happen in our building. I do not understand half of these new situational memes so I tend to use the old memes for the best responses. The caveman SpongeBob is possibly my favorite meme and I was sad to find out that this meme is rarely used. For the past two weeks, I have been changing the wording in this meme to cause comic relief in our GroupMe, hopefully bringing back this incredible meme. I think this meme culture lasted so long because memes not only help us feel connected in a community, but also allow us to contribute to it with our own sense of comedy. There is no right or wrong situational meme, regardless if the meme is of new or of old. I wish others will start using the older memes because these newer memes are being developed too fast, which does not allow me to appreciate the comedy.

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  2. Jen,

    I really liked your focus on the fact that memes don’t stick around that long. I haven’t thought about this until now but it is SO TRUE! I think that our culture in general burned out trends quickly. For instance selfie sticks were EVERYTHING for a couple of months now I don’t see anything about them anymore. Our trends are short lived just like memes. I also enjoyed your point that memes create a sense of community. I absolutely feel left out when I see a meme and don’t know where it is from or what is is referring to.

    Thanks for the read!

    Olivia

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  3. I definitely understand your point about how meme’s are appealing. My friend has a whole groupchat dedicated strictly to meme’s. Him and about 4 other people post in that group EVERY day, all day. I enjoy a nice meme every once a while, but I think the craze has its limits. It’s interesting to see how meme’s come and go, and I also liked your point about how they aren’t “forever”. Great post!

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  4. Our generation typically thinks of memes as mindless entertainment, when in fact, they are actually an important part of today’s society. The amount of shared cultural knowledge required to understand a meme is incredible. For example, when reading through your post, I could visualize almost every meme that you referenced without looking at the corresponding images. As you mentioned, hundreds if not thousands of memes have been created during our lifetimes. Yet these impressions stick with us longer than most other social media tweets, pictures, or posts. Maybe because memes have an ability to describe our feelings in a relatable and humorous way – like you say, they provide us with scrips. When stuck in an awkward or unpleasant situation, my friends and I always report to each other “I felt like caveman Spongebob,” referencing a meme in which Spongebob (dressed as a caveman) appears on edge, as if he’s ready to make an escape. While this may seem silly, it saves time and explanations by providing social context. We’re no longer required to say, “I was put on the spot in class today and scrambled to come up with an answer only to fall short and look ridiculous,” when we could instead say, “My professor called on me and I was like caveman Spongebob.” The pervasiveness of memes and this kind of language make a statement about the influence of pop and digital culture on our every day lives.

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  5. JEN! This is very well written, let me first say that. You definitely touch on things that I haven’t even thought of regarding memes. Recently, I’ve been tagging my older brother in dumb videos and photos I find on Facebook that have actually made me laugh. He keeps saying to me, “when did you become such a meme girl?” And that confused me!!!!! I didn’t know that what I was tagging him in were considered meme’s, but I guess they are. It is strange, because, like you’ve said, memes are kind of hot for a moment and then gone. So, I guess without realizing, I’m looking at the current “hot” memes, and because I don’t look super often, I don’t realize that they’re kind of everywhere. There you have it—I am a victim (or opposite of victim?) of the meme culture. I have become a part of it without even realizing that I was looking at memes.

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  6. Jen,

    I so enjoyed this post, considering how much joy memes bring to my life on a daily basis. I often browse Instagram for the newest trend in memes each morning over coffee. I think that old memes have a lot of carrying capacity over time, considering new phrases and pop culture moments are occurring all the time. The Dr. Phil moment, “Cash me ousside, how bow dah” moment has risen to considerable amounts of infamy in the meme world, breathing new life into old images.

    I like what you mentioned about memes providing a sense of unity, because often they bring me closer to my friends. If we haven’t spoken in awhile, I will send a funny meme to a friend and it rekindles a sense of closeness for us. Also, memes let me know who has what kind of humor on my social media feeds so I feel like I know relative strangers better.

    Best,
    Hannah

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