With the impending doom and gloom of exams fast approaching, let us cast our minds back to the happy times of 2012’s glorious summer. Britain was smashing it in the Olympics and the Avengers assembled for the first time. Frank Ocean’s debut album soothed the airwaves and a certain Korean pop song reached number 1 in the UK charts.
I am of course referring to Gangnam Style. The music video, currently sitting on nearly three billion YouTube views, became an instant meme taking social media by storm, blowing up Facebook, Twitter and even making news headlines across the world. But why? How did it become so popular? How does anything ever become that popular on the internet for that matter?
It’s a meme-eat-meme world out there, as they fiercely battle each other for space in our brains.
Fear not friends, the answer may be simpler than you might expect. In 1976, Richard Dawkins first proposed the term ‘memetics.’ His theory described memes as packets of cultural information which spread when one person imitated another, similar to the way hereditary information is passed from parents to children through genetics. It also borrows heavily from Darwinian evolution, suggesting that memes compete, survive and evolve just like genes do. Only the strongest, or in this case the ones that are best suited to widespread repetition and communication, survive. It’s a meme-eat-meme world out there, as they fiercely battle each other for space in our brains. Many people can serve as hosts for a meme, although it is very difficult to define exactly what a meme is. Loosely, itcould be anything from jingles, clothes fashions and even certain ways of making pottery.
Memes have been around as long as human beings have been on the planet, although these scientific memes differ vastly to our understanding of the meme today. Mike Godwin first coined the ‘internet meme’ in 1994 to characterise the rapid spread of ideas online. He noticed unpopular posters on online forums were often described as “Nazi’s” or “Like Hitler”, and the longer an online discussion went on the higher chance there was of a Nazi-comparison meme being made. Today, memes can literally refer to anything, from Grumpy Cat to How Italians Do Things and even Here Comes Dat Boi.
Today, memes can literally refer to anything, from Grumpy Cat to How Italians Do Things and even Here Comes Dat Boi.
Despite these differences, scientists believe there are three factors pertinent to both types of meme that help it to successfully spread. Firstly, memes which are genuinely useful to the host, such as an idea or joke, are more likely to be spread to others. Secondly, memes that are easy to copy have a competitive advantage: think of all the variations of Cash Me Outside that plagued your newsfeed earlier this year and you’ll agree. Finally, memes that answer ‘pressing questions’ are more likely to be spread, as humans enjoy the pursuit of curiosity.
So there you have it. Getting your meme to go viral could be a lot easier than you think. What are you waiting for?