Memes: you either love them, or you love to hate them, but either way you know what they are…or do you?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a meme as, “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” This description is not specific to the Internet phenomenon, however, it belongs to a cultural and psychological theory of the ways in which ideas are spread. The phrase “meme” was actually coined by Richard Dawkins, amusing, as he is everyone's favorite troll. According to the all knowing Wikipedia, which, incidentally is most definitely a viable academic source, “A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.” This definition is closer to our purposes.
Most people’s first encounter with a meme was probably 4chan’s LOLCats, which has since sparked not only an obsession with the letter “z” and Yoda-like speech, but also a seemingly universal craving for hilarious cats:
. Seriously, just Google “funny cats”, and you’re pretty much set for life in terms of entertainment (just in case you ever exhaust the 13,100,000 results offered to you, you can always turn to websites such as www.breadedcats.com, www.catsinsinks.com, www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com, and www.invisiblecats.comto get your fix). Surprisingly, LOLCats’s medium of taking pictures of cats and adding humorous subtext isn’t new! I know what you’re thinking: , but it’s true! Late 19th Century British photographer, Harry Pointer, gained a reputation for doing very much the same thing, but with better grammar—what a forward thinker!
The kitten thing persisted until the late 20th century, with Harry Frees stating, “the kitten is the most versatile animal actor [above pigs, rabbits, and puppies], and possesses the greatest variety of appeal”. I happen to think he should have stopped thinking about his “versatile” kittens, and gotten some friends. Speaking of people who needed friends, Walter Potter took the whimsical kitten to new levels of creepy when he began damming small animals to an eternal afterlife of shame. Check it out, its weird.
(So. Creepy. Get a girlfriend.)
Moving away from cats, we enter the modern day meme. This internet subculture is fueled by the deviant minds of people who troll websites such as www.reddit.com, and create a life of their own on sites such as www.knowyourmeme.com/memesand www.quickmeme.com(and obviously St Andrews Memes!) Within these sites we find characters such as “Success Kid”, “Scumbag Steve” “High Expectations Asian Father” and my favorite, the Rage faces.
So why the obsession? What is it that makes memes so viral? Is it that we are so self obsessed as a society that we have to anthropomorphize kittens and house spiders and place them into absurd and unrealistic situations that none the less are logical and hold some small grain of truth? Yeah, probably. And also, they are so accessible! We all know a “Scumbag Steve”. What about us though? The non-scumbags, the endearingly awkward and adorably uncoordinated masses? Well, we can find ourselves reflected back to us in the likes of “Paranoid Parrot”, who naturally assumes that there is a killer in his house if he hears a noise at night, and “Socially Awkward Penguin”, who tries to dirty text her boyfriend, and ends up sending it to her dad. These are the universal truths of our times! For those of you out there who are as weird as I am, and find solace in these computer generated images, rejoice! You are not alone! And you will always be better than Walter Potter. That is something to celebrate.
So, what should you look forward to in terms of the next Internet craze now that you are a meme expert? The gif is definitely taking off, especially with sites like http://whatshouldwecallme.tumblr.com/popping up on Facebook every 2 seconds, and T-Rexs. I feel as though the T Rex could become the next kitten (a bit more difficult to taxidermy though…). Happy trolling!