If a person has ever been on the internet for an extended period of time, they’ve probably come across a meme or too. Whether they would recognize it as such or not is up for debate, and it’s relevance either way is doubted by many people.
And while this paper is certainly not an attempt to make a case of the importance of whatever malevolent suggestion Bad Advice Dog gave while looking innocently at someone through their monitor, it will stress that internet memes are rapidly changing and growing aspects of internet culture that act as digital evidence of how culture is spread utilizing the internet. The idea of a meme, however, is much older than the internet itself. The word was coined in the British biologist Richard Dawkin’s book, The Selfish Gene. It is defined there as an element as culture or behavior passed from one person to another by non-genetic means. Human’s memic ability, as Dawkin calls it, is the main difference between human beings and animals; anything an animal manages to learn during it’s life dies with it, while humans can pass on their knowledge to their descendants and peers before they finally pack it in and die. (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, pg.
192-202) Internet memes are a literal subset of this concept, being cultural elements that are spread from person to person that have originated on the internet. While these more humorous elements of culture are considerably less important to pass around than instructions on how to gather food and not starve to death, the first “memes,” humans have long since passed the hunter-gatherer rung on the evolutionary ladder, and now that entertainment is a large part of our culture, it’s a large part of our memes too. One meme that very few people didn’t hear about by the end of it’s prime was Gangnam Style, a korean pop song by Psy. It reached number one most popular track in 34 countries, and hit one billion views on Youtube last december (Gangnam Milestone). In past times, this kind of popularity was nigh impossible, and at best would take years to spread half as far as what Gangnam Style did in less than six months.
But, being passed from person to person on the internet rather than in actual personal reactions, Gangnam was able to break records as one of the fastest moving and most popular internet memes in the internet’s admittedly short history. Popular memes aren’t limited to music, however; troll/rage face memes are also extremely popular among social networking sites and have even worked their way into products and offline interactions in a much more lasting way than Gangnam Style did. “Rage” comics can be made by anyone by copying and pasting the same set of faces into panels to tell stories that follow one of the many patterns that have scarcely changed since they were invented. The illustrations continuously used in Rage comics are of poor quality and the dialogue usually differs by a couples of words before concluding in a repeated punchline. But unlike Gangnam Style and Rage comics, some memes are ideas in their simplest form; significant examples of this are Drawing Challenges, usually thirty days, and artists add to the specific tag as they complete the challenge. One such drawing meme was Tumblr’s 30 Day Monster Girl Challenge, which featured a classic monster for each day to design a female character around.
The monsters drawn came from many different cultures, from the japanese Y?kai to a greek satyr and so on. Thousands of artists contributed to the Monster Girl tag, and despite the fact that the original challenge took place in August 2012, the tag is still being added to on a regular basis. (Alexandra Schoell) Entire websites, in fact, have been created solely to house the ever-growing amount of memes on the internet, and as these websites were created, industries were built up around them, and advertisers clamored for the attention of the enormous flow of users flooding the sites; Quickmeme, for example, receives half a billion pageviews every month, and advertising fees are directly proportional to that staggering amount. (Simon Owens) As internet memes and the sites they’re hosted on are being viewed and used more and more, they have become such a popular trend that both large companies and singular retailers have made efforts to make money off memes; as memes are all completely in the public domain, products with memic sayings and pictures are completely legal and very popular across the world. (Internet Meme) To conclude, memes are trends in the literal sense, and an internet meme moves much faster than a normal meme.
While internet memes are always gaining and losing popularity, the process in which they are spread shows us how new trends can and are being made and spread utilizing the speed and wide reach of the internet.