“Meme” is a word most familiar to people who are in tune with today’s popular culture, the passing of a humorous object through the small alterations in imitations. However, the term “meme” was first brought to life in a 1976 book called The Selfish Gene by a biologist named Richard Dawkins. He coined the term as a “cultural unit that spreads from person to person through copy or imitation” and reflects and shapes cultural discourse, mood, and behavioral practice. Interestingly enough, he even compares the meme’s concept of evolutionary process to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Like a population, memes can spread rapidly via the Internet (mostly through social media) referred through mostly catchphrases, images, and videos. Author James Gleick of the Smithsonian Magazine, says in his article “What Defines A Meme? ” that “our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate, and evolve” which supports said memes’ evolutionary process. However, the Internet meme is only a subset of Dawkins’s meme complex, specific to the cultural and environmental aspects of the world wide web. In Internet Memes: The Mythology of Augmented
Society, Jenny Davis says to succeed in the reproduction of a meme is to pull it from its inheritance, variate and mutate it, and compete it against other memes. This then allows memes to advance over others, shifting with the culture’s sentiments to survive. However, an author of the BBC article The Stuff Memes Are Made Of argues that the cause of a meme is virality, where an object is circulated on the Internet rapidly and widely. Viral content are catchphrases, images, and videos passed around unchanged. It is when the content is altered does it become a meme.
Thanks to the help of manipulating tools of the Internet, he community has the ability change a viral object or subject into a meme (BBC News). The World Wide Web eases the passing of creations to gain their audience. Memes have to start from somewhere. Believe it or not, the meme complex has been around even before the internet. In support of Richard Dawkins’s early theory of a meme, there have been many cultural subjects shared in history through people. For example, the popular World War II “meme” called Kilroy was here was typically seen as graffiti.
Another example is the famous face of Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot of the MAD empire. Alfred E. Neuman dates back to the 19th century, when the Irish were discriminated against. Alfred was a discriminatory caricature towards the Irish whose face was slapped onto products like painkillers to soft drinks to even political campaigns. Believe it or not, going even further back in time, the oldest noted meme in history is called the Sator Square. On it shows five words in a row of 4 saying “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” which approximately translates to “The sower is at the blow”.
The Sator Square is a palindrome and can be read in any direction: backwards, forwards, and upside down. This clever creation was then shared to the world for the next 2,000 years of its creation. It has traveled from Italy to France to Britain and further on. Internet memes are most prominent today through popular social media applications, popping up in either people’s Facebook or Twitter feed (although those applications are slightly slower at presenting newer memes). The newest memes can be found on websites 4chan and Reddit, which eventually make their way to the stage of Tumblr.
Though those websites may hold their position as the nursery of memes, the birth of a meme is mostly a mystery. A meme can come from anywhere, suddenly appearing all over the social medias’ feeds. For example, Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up” was released in 1987. However, it became a hit when the music video was uploaded to YouTube in 2007. Thus, the term Rickroll was a rapid trend-a “bait-and-switch” practice involving sending links to people of a topic that is seemingly not relevant to Rick Astley or his song but actually is.
The time span from 1987 and 2007 is far apart, proving that a meme can happen anytime. To find records of memes and each meme’s history, the place to go o is KnowYourMeme. com. There are countless instances of successful memes. There’s a spectrum of older to newer classic memes. Older classic memes pertaining to animals include the musical Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat-which are only examples of why cats are deemed to be the “lions of the animal memedom” (Ben Huh), the dramatic chipmunk, (honey) badgers, etc.
Other older memes involving more into music are “Chocolate Rain” by Tay Zonday, “Friday” by Rebecca Black, the Numa Numa song, etc. Then there are the newer classic memes such as Doge the dog and Pepe the Frog (both image memes, lso pertaining to animals). Another famous rendition of the bait-and-switch practice is the John Cena meme (based off of the famous professional wrestler). Today meme’s are also focusing more on famous catchphrases such as Damn Daniel, What Are Those (both oddly consisting the attention towards footwear, originating from the social media application Vine), 420 blaze it (a term concerning marijuana), etc.
Throughout the timeline, there has been a pattern of memes focusing towards musical dances as well. There was the Harlem Shake, K-popstar Psy’s Gangnam Style dance routine, and the much more modern hipping, nae-naeing, and dabbing. There are most definitely a lot more memes; the list goes on and on. To tie in the concept sharing through social and the patterns of musical dances, there are almost a countless amount of videos of people performing their own rendition of the Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style, whipping, nae-naeing, and dabbing.
Like dancing, the topic of “challenges” is brought forth. Through videos and the ability to share them, people are allowed to upload themselves representing a meme in order to, in theory, be a part of society and its (meme) culture. For example, the Ice Bucket Challenge (originally known as the Cold Water Challenge) is challenge where people are dared to pour a bucket of ice water on themselves. Then after, they were expected to nominate more people to play the game. It was largely affiliated as a form of fundraising for the ALS foundation (Know Your Meme). July of 2014, it went viral.
Despite a challenge for a good cause, there were other challenges made for Internet entertainment. Some challenges, however, were deemed as harmful. Brandon Parks of All Women Stalk lists a few in her article “Watch Out! These Stupid Challenges Can Harm Your Body”: the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge (a DIY lip plumper, that risks the participant’s mouth through trauma), the Cinnamon Challenge (to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon without water for 60 seconds, the Salt and Ice Challenge (to hold ice and salt for a certain amount of time, risking the participant’s skin for burns), etc.
A famous challenge that was harmless until the standards escalated was the planking challenge-also known as the laying down game- which involved the participant to take a photo of themselves mimicking a plank of wood, lying face down with their hands irmly against the sides. People often try upping their planking game, planking on more extreme areas which some result in injury and even death (Parks). In 2011, 20 year old Acton Beale attempted this challenge on the balcony of a seven story building, plummeting to his death. Being a part of the meme culture has its branches and boundaries and as a society, we need to be aware of what they are.
One ultimate branch is being a meme. What is it like to be an original meme? Olivia B. Waxman of TIME wrote an article on Vanity Fair’s interview with the the famous “Ermahgerd Girl”, an image meme of a young irl fanning three Goosebumps books with an excited expression deemed to say “Ermahgerd” (which is a speech- impetimized “oh my god”). “Ermahgerd Girl” Maggie Goldenberger explained what it’s like she experienced a lot of staying power, meaning being asked a lot about the photo, but not as much fallout from being viral. e a meme, saying that However, another example like the “Shiva”/”Thumbs Up Kid” delve much more in depth in the Vice article “This Is What Happens When You Become a Meme” by Emma Pryde.
For the Shiva, the meme originated from a man named Tim who ploaded his eighth grade school photo to Myspace. Through a process of going through forums and repurposing, the meme rapidly spread in January of 2012 through the website gyropedia. com. It was short-lived forced meme that was opposed but still outnumbered the amount of opinions (Gyropedia). Being asked how it felt to be a meme, Tim had a plethora of emotions.
His fame heightened his cynicism, reinforced his fear, and other times he just felt liberated. Tim is much more careful about what he is sharing on the internet, which then also makes him much more self-conscious about his mage. Altogether, he felt scared, mostly okay but not happy, and embarrassed but eventually came to the realization that it was supposed to be funny-that memes are supposed to be funny. A meme and its hilarity also now affect today’s marketing strategies.
Author Alex York of the Sprout Social article “Marketing Memes: Do They Work? states that companies utilizing a meme for their product rely on humor, posing the question “is it that funny? ” as a start to their meme campaign. Nowadays, marketing managers use memes as an advantage to up their game in the industry. This is also known as the term “memejacking”. Memes as a marketing strategy may be risky because it solely depends on the audience they’re presenting their brand to. A company utilizing memes may seem as a try- hard or, in some cases, it might be their ride to the way of popularity in the industry.
For example, companies like Old Spice invest themselves with humor-based social campaigns. It’s good to understand that humor isn’t for everyone and every business. Companies need to know what they’re getting into when it comes to integrating their campaigns with viral content York). On the other hand, there are several companies that have become the meme instead. Examples such as Jake from State Farm or Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world” have become memorable in today’s popular culture.
The virality of their campaigns, created into memes further helped them with their marketing. Memes also have been prominent in today’s politics, mostly in the content of catchphrases and videos. In light of this year’s election, Kanye West made an earlier statement on Twitter clain ng that he will be running as president in the year 2020. His statement caught on and has become a popular concept (i. e. Kanye For President, 2020). In relation to the actual candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump are making it big in today’s pop culture.
Hillary Clinton’s attempt of “being cool” by utilizing social media applications as a social campaign strategy on became a viral joke on social media. Clinton filmed and tweeted a snapchat video of a drink tackily labeled “more like Chillary Clinton amirite? ” and then herself saying “I’m just chilling in Cedar Rapids”. Supporters of Bernie Sanders created the hashtag #FeelTheBern (a nod to aerobics teacher Jane Fonda’s popularized quote “feel the burn”) and Bernie Sanders gladly accepted the trend.
Ted Cruz has his famous mock theory meme “Ted Cruz is the zodiac killer”. This meme originated in 2013, when Twitter user @RedPillAmerica claimed that one of Cruz’s speeches would be titled “This Is The Zodiac Speaking”. A year later, Twitter user @Flash2844 created the hashtag #Ted CruzlsTheZodiacKiller. It only really launched itself at the start of today’s presidential campaigns (towards the end of 2015). Interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel, Ted Cruz even sheds light on the meme when asked what his favorite cereal was.
Cringeworthy, he asks back “serial killer or cereal? ” As for Donald Trump, he has his famous phrases such as his campaign motto “Make America Great Again” or how his father gave him a “small loan” of a million dollars when starting his business. All of these memes are actually important in the scheme of politics. Since the meme culture is mostly made up of younger people however still old enough to be adults-their choices for future politics really rely on how well they control their priorities based on humor or seriousness.