Not so long ago, we were talking about the impact of superheroes on the world, and held this fellow up as an example:
We regret to report that apparently being named after two of the world’s greatest superheroes proved too great a burden for the guy, because he was recently jailed on multiple charges.
It’s sad, even tragic — but we only even learned of his existence because of the Internet fulfilling its purpose: the transmission of memes.
When you think of “memes,” possibly the first thing to come to mind is what are more properly called “image macros.”
While these are probably the most prolific examples of memes, the actual definition of “meme” is much broader and more powerful than captioned photos of housecats.
Origin of Species
Meme: an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.
The word was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins. In his book The Selfish Gene, he put forth the notion that in much the same way that physical information is spread around through genes, ideas are also transmitted, evolve, and are subject to natural selection.
Seems legit, right? After all, before humans had written language, cultures were preserved by the telling of stories, handed down orally through the generations. The stories mutated, became plays or songs; development of written language offered yet another mutation, and a faster, more certain spread.
Thus, memes are both the framework and the lifeblood of society. Art, religion, science — all can be considered memes. But human nature being what it is, there’s a high incidence of goofballery as well.
Like natural selection, it’s tough to predict what forms will succeed. As our friend Andy Herald of How to Be a Dad recently learned, sometimes a throwaway joke becomes the Internet’s favorite unit of measurement.
Here are some of the top memes of the past year; you’ll notice they’re not all image macros.
The Harlem Shake
One of the dumbest things we have ever laid eyes on, the Harlem Shake was ubiquitous last year. As a video, it’s about as far from an image macro as it’s possible to get.
Also, this is as close as we’re going to get to mentioning the other dance video sensation of the year.
These, we like. A lot. Starting out with Japanese schoolgirls cleverly recreating scenes from their favorite cartoons (or “anime”), Hadoukening eventually made it to the West, where it mutated into “Vadering.”
This is a great example of memetic mutation. Also, we find your lack of faith disturbing.
While this is an image macro, it’s notable not merely for its sudden (and polarizing) popularity, but because Doge employs a different bastardization of the English language, and is meant to convey an internal monologue rather than a verbalization.
While much of her popularity comes from image macros, in fact Grumpy Cat herself has become the meme. Her owners have parlayed what began as a few photos into a full-on franchise, including t-shirts, mugs, plushies, and even talk of a feature film!
The entire purpose of advertising is meme transmission. There is even a specialized term for it: Viral marketing. In the next Lunch Meat, we’ll examine those attempts to force corporate messages into memetic status.
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