I wouldn’t be surprised if the world is overrun by memes soon. And I wouldn’t hate it either. I love memes, I think they’re funny, often clever and satirical, and relate popular culture to political and entertainment news – anyone who knows me knows I love them. Memes are a cultural phenomenon; they are urban legends, viral crazes or funny pictures, and they hugely influence modern language and culture. From seemingly ancient ones such as all the Harlem Shake videos and bad Chuck Norris jokes to the relatively recent bamboozled doggos and tales of the Obama/Joe Biden bromance, anyone with an online presence will be familiar with memes.
The unique characteristic of a meme is its ability to spread like a virus. They are highly unpredictable and usually untraceable, and despite some scientists even beginning to study the science behind them, there is no real way to know which gag will go viral next. One of the best things about memes is their amazing capacity to bring people together; they often identify a common feeling or experience, and leaving you thinking ‘yeah, that’s so me!’ Oddly enough, they are personal and universal at the same time. Even if it’s just a funny picture to have a little chuckle at, memes create a sense of unanimity, as the laughter is a common factor that unifies people from different walks of life, all over the world.
In my opinion, memes really speak to the power of the internet, and its incredible ability to open up debates and spread real news very quickly. Within about 5 minutes of finding out Theresa May’s General Election news, a distressed-looking David Mitchell appeared in a meme on my Facebook newsfeed. Internet campaigns and quasi-radical memes remain popular, dotted amongst silly viral jokes.
One of the best things about memes is their amazing capacity to bring people together; they often identify a common feeling or experience
Take the Muslim girl smiling in the face of the EDL, for example. Meme culture has become so prolific that brands have cottoned on to its marketing power, as memes are always at work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even when you’re offline, it’s the easiest marketing ever. Only a couple of weeks ago, Gucci commissioned so-called ‘meme artwork’ for publicity of their new watches – genius.
Despite my absolute love of memes, nothing comes without a price. And I don’t think I’m alone in fearing that the price we pay for memes is a belittling of serious issues and the corrosion of regular language. In our modern, social-media crazed age, almost everything is temporary (apart from maybe the Cloud, which sort of terrifies me with the data it might keep ) – Snapchats delete themselves within 10 seconds and you can edit and erase Instagram posts in a heartbeat.
I don’t think I’m alone in fearing that the price we pay for memes is a belittling of serious issues and the corrosion of regular language
Except, meme culture doesn’t let that happen. It’s an interesting paradox that something so fleeting, such as a viral meme, popular out of nowhere and quickly replaced, takes away the subject’s right to be forgotten. Did ‘Alex from Target’ go to work expecting to be a meme because he’s ‘really hot’? I think not. It does sound over-dramatic, but they have literally changed the lives of the subjects; especially in America, it seems that becoming a meme is step one in a sure-fire route to fame, via the Ellen Show, of course.
As much as memes spread real news quickly, they also tear news stories apart. As well as changing ordinary people’s lives, celebrities are always in the crossfire, and memes belittling politics for example can actually be very damaging. During his election campaign a few years ago, Ed Miliband literally became a meme – ‘internet people’ loved him, because he was hysterical to laugh at. In fact, they have the power to disparage anything serious. In recent weeks I have seen lots of memes ripping into the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why – a show created to combat the very serious issues of suicide, bullying and sexual assault.
Ed Miliband literally became a meme – ‘internet people’ loved him, because he was hysterical to laugh at
As much as I do love memes, and I can definitely see that they are a very unproductive use of my time, and they are often pessimistic and relate to negative topics. There’s even a meme making fun of the fact that all memes ‘relate to being lazy, fat or drunk – very meta. People all across the internet can relate to memes without ever stopping to take a breath and think that there might be more serious implications of why they relate. With the guise of humour, do memes reinforce unhappy thoughts about our character and society? And is that okay?