Question: What Is a ‘Meme’? What Are Examples of Modern Internet Memes?
Answer: A “meme” is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. A meme (rhymes with “team”) behaves like a flu or a cold virus, traveling from person to person quickly, but transmitting an idea instead of a lifeform. According to Cecil Adams of theStraightDope.com, the concept of memes “is either really deep, or really, really obvious”.Historically, a meme is a discrete “package of culture” that would travel via word of mouth, usually as a mesmerizing story, a fable/parable, a joke, or an expression of speech. Today, memes travel much faster than simple speech. As internet email forwards, instant messages, and web page links, memes now travel instantly via the Internet.
Most modern internet memes are humor-centered (e.g. Rickrolling, Ask a Ninja, Lolcats, Domo-kun, More Cowbell, Numa Numa Dance). Humor usually reaches the most people, and is the most attractive to forward to others. But many internet memes are also about shock-value and drama (e.g. Angry German Kid,Dogs Go to Heaven). Other memes are urban myths that tout some kind of life lesson (e.g. The Littlest Fireman, Mel Gibson and Man Without a Face, Kurt Warner). A few internet memes are about deep content, and involve social commentary and intellectual absurdity (e.g. Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russell’s Orbiting Teapot). In a few cases, a meme can become a conversational expression as well as a viral curiosity (e.g. ‘You Mad Bro‘. In every case, a package of culture or personal experience spreads between people in a virus-like fashion.
The majority of internet memes are transmitted by adolescents and post-adolescents.This is largely because these two demographics like to message, and have a playful curiousity about memes. But today, the average age of meme-transmitters has increased, as users over 30 years old discover the chuckles and humor about forwarding memes to their friends.
The “meme” word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. “Meme” comes from the Greek word “mimema” (meaning “something imitated”, American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propogation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.
The Internet, by sheer virtue of its instant communication, is how we now spread modern memes to each other’s inboxes. A link to a YouTube video of Rick Astley, a file attachment with a Stars Wars Kid movie, an email signature with a Chuck Norris quote… these are a few examples of modern meme symbols and culture spreading through online media.
The bulk of internet memes will continue to be humor and shock-value , as these grab people’s attention more quickly than deeper meme content. But as users become more sophisticated in their thinking, expect memes to become progressively more intellectual and philsophical.
Examples of Modern Internet Memes:
Note: some of the following content is juvenile, and more targeted at adolescents. Some of these following memes are much more adult, and intended for more mature audiences.
- Nuts the Squirrel
is a Canadian critter who stole a front spot in a family photo. Today, you can “Squirrelize” your own photos to have Nuts in the foreground.
A prankster meme: people will pretend to send critical business email links in emails, but are actually sending links to Rick Astley music videos from the 1980’s.
The absurd gallery of people attaching human behaviors and captions to photos of housecats
- Numa Numa Dance This chubby lip-syncher, Gary Brolsma, has won the hearts of viewers everywhere.
- Lolcats. The lolcats have been around for quite a while now–years, in fact. Everyone has seen them. The meme consists of pairing pictures of cats with superimposed captions, often misspelled and with babyish grammar. I don’t know why the broken English makes it funnier, but it does. If you don’t like cats, no doubt the lolcats annoy the pants off of you.
- Grumpy Cat. Speaking of cats, the Grumpy Cat’s popularity has soared in recent months. She is a most unique-looking cat with an adorably omnipresent scowl. People have taken to applying scathingly gruff sayings over a picture of Grumpy Cat, sayings such as “I HATE YOU PEOPLE.” My brother has taken to periodically replacing his Facebook profile photo with one of Grumpy Cat. Unlike grumpy people faces, Grumpy Cat’s face, and corresponding hate speech, can only make you smile.
- Condescending Willy Wonka. The name sort of says it all. This meme features a screen-capture of Gene Wilder in his famous Willy Wonka role, possessing an all-knowing smirk. The accompanying text usually includes a semi-rhetorical question (“Oh, you’re ready for the weekend?”) with a really condescending answer (“You simply must tell everyone on Facebook.”). The great thing about this meme is that you can live vicariously through Willy Wonka’s patronizing zingers.
- Demotivational Poster. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away people actually put up non-ironic posters at their places of business that depicted some uplifting word and photo combo (such as a hang glider with the word “SUCCESS” and a motivational quote beneath him). But nowadays, you’ll only find mocking, sarcastic versions of these original pieces of art, and thank goodness. They’re far more entertaining! The demotivational poster meme really took off with despair.com, but now you can find versions in every nook and cranny of the internet.
- Ecards. These cards, which often feature text aside drawings of people in old-fashioned attire, have exploded online. And they take snarky to a new level. Many examples of this meme can be found at someecards.com, but the theme has been hijacked anywhere and everywhere on the internet. One of my favorites features a dutiful housewife flanked by the sentence, “Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.” Ecards can be clean or dirty, so peruse at your own risk!
Is the internet completely oversaturated with memes? Oh yeah. Are they still funny? I suppose that depends on the audience. Ifor one love a silly, sarcastic meme as much as the next gal. They’re funny because they’re true. Best of all, they express what we wish we had the guts to say ourselvesNow for the fun part/by Kristin Conrad
Make your own Meme at
http://www.memecenter.com or Google meme creator/generator/maker), which threw these up on a search for meme generator.
My favorite meme is Grumpy Cat and it seems I am not alone
2 other popular memes feature Gene Wilder when he played Willy Wonka, and Sean Bean who played Boromir in Lord for the Rings. I bet most of my readers have seen these two
and two that I have just made using the first meme generator that came up on a search