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Does the future of popular shows rest on a show’s ‘memeability’?

With the rise of internet-based television services and a wealth of television shows all vying for our attention, it is often difficult to make the choice of what new television show is worth dedicating time to – do a shows ‘memeability’ make it easier for us to pick?

For many of us, we no longer rely on rave reviews from journalists or favourable suggestions from friends and family. Instead, we pick shows that we’ve heard about or seen on social media, often in a desperate attempt to understand obscure references and memes so that we too can join the back and forth tennis match of tagging our friends in the newest, funniest creations.  Indeed, the popularity of media stacking – the concept of using multiple media devices at once to consume and digest content – in recent years suggests a braiding together of television and internet culture and an interesting new approach towards deciding which television show we should dedicate our time to.

As Love Island begins again, I’ve found myself compelled to watch the show. Having missed out already on last year’s memes and inside jokes, I knew I couldn’t experience the same feelings of confusion and exclusion again. My daily ritual of questioning whether it’s worth settling in at 9pm to watch a largely uneventful hour of reality TV, before deciding that I might as well, is motivated by the prospect of scrolling through Facebook at 10.01pm to see what the rest of the UK thought. In an age where we are accustomed to the ad free television provided by Netflix, ITV’s adverts are made bearable by the knowledge that this will be the optimum time to scroll through Twitter for live meme updates that mock the ridiculous things said by contestants and confirm that my opinion on things is shared by the masses. For an hour, group chats are rife with discussions and meme sharing, producing bursts of dopamine in the brain that can barely be achieved with the hardest of drugs. My choice to watch Love Island does not come from a belief that it is entertaining or because I have nothing better to do. It comes from a desire to engage with the popular meme culture that emerges as a result of it and is an unfortunate prerequisite to understanding and connecting with the humorous community that emerges during this time.

Television shows have to do more than be television shows

Whilst some people have yet to give up their beliefs about the brain-numbing nature of reality television and embrace the memes that will surely infiltrate all timelines and newsfeeds over the next eight weeks, Love Island is not the only example of the value of a television show based on its ‘memeability’. The Royal Wedding, thought only to appeal to a generation that had watched Prince Harry grow up, brought entertainment to even the staunchest of republicans as Twitter turned into a live meme factory, dissecting everything from the Queen’s remarkable similarity to the Teletubbies to the worrying nature of the US political climate that led Meghan Markle to seek out universal healthcare in a novel way. Furthermore, a discussion on memes and TV would be incomplete without a mention of the wholesome family-friendly Great British Bake Off. Its broadcast on both the BBC and Channel 4 resulted in a fair share of quality memes that remain a staple of reaction memes today, highlighting the continued shelf life of television-based memes.

In a world of ever-growing choice and variety, television shows have to do more than be television shows. To gain publicity and a mass audience, the ‘memeability’ of a show is becoming more and more important. Television-based memes add another layer of enjoyment to media consumption (and at times, even exceed the enjoyment gained from the original show). They effectively foster a unity and create a community that is tempting to want to be part of. The future of popular TV viewing may well rest on memes.  


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