Memeby Vijaya Sidhartha Bommireddipalli
Meme, coined by evolutionary biologist Rickard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, is defined as “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. He expressed that memes would be an essential way in which cultural skills and traits would be passed on through a non-genetic mode, like imitation. He believed that memes were analogous to genes in the way that they are able to self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures in the environment.
Let’s put this into perspective. Take your ordinary Pepe the frog ‘Feels good man’ meme. Consider this the standard, self-replicating form in our culture, ever since his first (glamorous) appearance in Matt Furie’s comic series, Boy’s club in 2005. Now an instance of a mutation would be the Angry Pepe. Sometime later in 2014, some poor soul on the internet will have most likely experienced a severe rage inducing event. Obviously the first thing any sane person would do is try translate their emotions through a well-illustrated meme. More on that later though. We can understand how responsiveness to selective pressures applies through semantics. A prime, topical example of this would be the association of Pepe with the alt-right movement in the US, which has been tied to white nationalism through various sources. Here the use of the internet meme by a focus group skews its original meaning.
These characteristics apply Natural Selection to memes just as they do to genes. As Pepe has been able to display all three of these characteristics, he has been able to prevail as one of the staple memes on the internet. Believe it or not, memes do die out quickly when they don’t latch! Take Doge as a prime example, the loveable Shiba Inu shot to fame in late 2013 with it’s cute demeanour and disjointed grammar, but fizzled down less than a year later. Fortunately, it still stays somewhat relevant, though outdated. I could analyse the grammar for you, but it’d take all day, and I kind of want you to read the rest!
The spread and virility of internet memes should really be attributed to internet forums, namely Reddit, 4Chan and 9Gag (there’s always more, but not worth mentioning). The concept of anonymity and, as some call, “True Freedom of Speech” really bring out opinions and values that would normally not see the light of day in normal society. Now I’m not saying that everyone who partakes in these forums is abnormal, not at all. In fact, they might all be well integrated into society with no problems at all, but to be able to bring out these opinions under a veil of mystery gives people the sense of safety and confidence to simply, JUST DO IT. Sure you might come across some filth here and there, but the unadulterated environment present, so volatile and unpredictable, is perfect for internet memes to develop. The case usually is that for however many memes that are churned out on a forum, only a handful make it to mainstream social media for all of us to enjoy.
My purpose in this article is to just touch the tip of the iceberg that is internet memes. People associate memes mainly to humour. I ask you to consider it as a form of art. True, anyone could make a meme in seconds without too much thought, but does it not fascinate you how they are able to capture the attention and produce joy in such large proportions of the population? Being tied together with the progression of the internet, they are still relatively young compared to most other aspects of our culture. I’d love to see them develop and integrate themselves more so into our lives.
Your friendly neighbourhood spicy memes dealer