Evolutionary ‘Meme’tics

The internet: a place where comic book fans can unite, tv series-bashers can freely hate, and total randomness is completely acceptable. In these recent years, memes have flourished all over the internet.

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The word “meme” was first used in a book called The Selfish Gene, written by Richard Dawkins in 1976. He defined the word “meme” as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”. The meaning of the word meme has changed in today’s world. It has turned into a cultural phenomenon that gives people the freedom to express their humor, creativity, and personal opinions publicly. However, memes have also caused people to be more open in showing hatred towards anything; be it celebrities, a certain subculture, a music genre, or a product. Internet memes have become powerful in shaping pop culture, bringing fame to a number of people, and even its usage as a new marketing tool. I was first introduced to memes about three years ago, and now they have become my main source for news updates. The popularity of memes through the recent years shows that they have made a reflection in our society’s humor, sense of connection, and political expression.

What makes pictures of cats with captions in broken english, purposely badly drawn comics depicting rage-causing everyday situations, and pictures of an individual’s random, yet hilarious misfortune so appealing to people nowadays? In these recent times, internet memes have shaped a new type of humor. In an article about memes, Bonnie Ruberg  mentions that there is “a connection between the economic crash and the popularity of Internet culture. Suddenly you have lots and lots of unemployed people sitting at their computers with nothing to do all day, creating lots and lots and lots of content,” (Ruberg 34). People now have the time to waste creating and browsing these memes. This shows how a certain incident can have an effect on a society’s behavior. In this case, there is a sudden shift in our society’s definition of humor due to a social issue.

I noticed that the most popular memes are about people’s “failures” and unfortunate circumstances. “EPIC FAIL” has become one of the most widely used internet slangs today.  Is it a bad thing that today’s society finds enjoyment in the adversity of others? I see to it that our society has found a way to laugh things off, despite negative situations, much like how our society found a new source of humor despite the unemployment issue.  Another great example of memes are the “demotivationals” which emanated from motivational posters seen in corporate offices. Demotivationals are images that have an all-black border and a white caption in all-caps. What used to be a method of inspiration and encouragement has completely been turned around by internet dwellers. Demotivationals illustrate a satirical approach on just about anything, be it a controversial topic or not. The internet is filled with enjoyable videos and captioned images that make people laugh, and also reveal something about the personality of our society nowadays.
Internet memes are user-generated and easily adaptable, which makes it very easy for everyone to recognize and relate to memes. Somehow, people of certain groups are able to unite because of certain types of memes. There are memes on just about anything: Student life, teenage life, working life, video games, and television shows. There are even local meme pages, such as for The Dank Tales or Scoopwhoop on Facebook. The only way one could understand these memes is if he/she is aware of what constantly goes on in the area. What makes memes so fascinating is the fact that they have turned the internet into a pool of inside jokes, where everybody and anybody has a chance to belong. Everyone has his/her own sub-group that could create and enjoy certain memes of their liking. How I Met Your Mother fans can share their favorite scenes and inside jokes from the show. True story ;). Students are able to rant about upcoming midterms in which one does not simply get an A. Gamers countdown in unison for a game that is about to be released. Brace yourselves!

The only way one could understand these memes is if he/she is aware of what constantly goes on in the area. What makes memes so fascinating is the fact that they have turned the internet into a pool of inside jokes, where everybody and anybody has a chance to belong. Everyone has his/her own sub-group that could create and enjoy certain memes of their liking. How I Met Your Mother fans can share their favorite scenes and inside jokes from the show. True story ;). Students are able to rant about upcoming midterms in which one does not simply get an A. Gamers countdown in unison for a game that is about to be released. Brace yourselves!

However, the unity created by memes have also caused so much hatred. There are lots of memes poking fun at hipsters, vegetarians, Game of thrones or other tv serieses, PETA, and of course, celebrities. Because of the anonymity the internet provides, derps are now liberated to express hatred towards others. On the internet, people are able to be creative and show their wit, but also be offensive. With all the vulgarity on the internet, it almost seems as if our society has become callous and insensitive about other people’s feelings. In an article, Rachel Arandilla mentions that “Rebecca Black is the epitome of ‘Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all’. Her video ‘Friday’ on YouTube has 3.1 million dislikes (or 87.1% of the total ratings). Despite that, she has amassed 167 million views and hundreds of parodies”. Dhinchak puja and Latest Aunty rap are other examples and sources of new meme content.

 

Had it not been for memes, I would be unaware of most of the current events that happened recently. Many of us have probably seen the countless images of  “Pehlaj Nehlani trolls” casually photoshopped in other pictures during recent times. Knowyourmeme.com states that “Compounded by previous episodes involving the censor board the incident itself was quickly picked up by nearly all major news media outlets, reaching its peak in June in terms of Google News volume”(Scott). This incident became powerful because, like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, people on the internet have created a community that works as a team of common people who freely express their political or cultural sentiments. The same situation goes with those who did not watch the news, but became aware of Modiji’s reference to  “mitron”.

 
Memes nowadays have gained the power to influence a community’s social values as much as any other major news source can. I noticed that a lot of memes had negative views about Romney, but positive ones about Obama, and sure enough, the results of the elections showed that memes have had an influence even in our society’s political affairs. In an article called “Speaking in Memes”, Nathan Jurgenson says “because journalists are disproportionally connected digitally, popular memes also burrow into mainstream-media narratives as a measure of what has captured people’s attention. Whether you watched the conventions and debates on one screen or three, there’s a good chance you encountered discussion of Internet memes afterward”. What started as a new type of local humor has turned into a powerful tool for political influence.

Before, memes were somewhat “underground”, and not everybody was able to recognize whenever a catch phrase is mentioned outside of the internet, but now everyone is able to reference the popular catch phrases. Memes have now evolved into an influential tool to our society, and it still continues to evolve. Some memes die, and new ones are created. I’m not saying that the growth of internet memes are a good or a bad thing, but it is definitely interesting to analyze how our society has operated since memes came to life. Although it may sometimes seem like it, memes are not a complete waste of time. What seems to be just a new source of humor has turned into something bigger. People who have created “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy”, “bik gayi gromint” or “sabke nehi hote laxman” memes are able to express their sentiments about similar situations they’re going through. The are also examples of regular people to which memes have given fame and attention. Who would have known that memes will have the type of influence they have today?

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