If you are at all active on the web and social media, you know that memes are everywhere. But how would you explain what a meme is to someone who has no idea what it is?
What is a meme?
Wikipedia defines “internet meme” as “an item or phenomenon that is repeated and spread widely on the Internet”. A meme usually consists of an image – normally derived from popular culture such as cartoons and viral videos – followed by a caption above the image that refers to scenarios that people identify with or something else related to any relevant social, economic or political situation. Memes are most often transmitted on social networks and their purpose is to entertain. This last point is what gave rise to the term “meme culture”.
Why do we talk about meme culture?
In the beginning, memes were simply images that people stumbled upon from time to time on the Internet and that we enjoyed sending to a friend for a laugh. Today, memes have become such a common part of social networking that they are often quoted outside of the Internet, as people find ways to incorporate them into any conversation.
And this culture doesn’t just apply to millennials or Generation Z. In fact, a quick trip to Facebook shows us that older generations have jumped on board with the phenomenon as well, with posts and images that look just like them.
And therein lies the strength of memes: as they are created directly by users on the web, they can touch on an infinite variety of concepts and messages, thus reaching everyone’s interests and social referents.
The ingredients of a successful meme
Remarkable events in popular culture are fertile ground for meme creation. The proof: this year, Instagram hired Saint Hoax, the Syrian socio-political activist artist behind the Instagram account of the same name, who specializes in creating memes and has a following of 3.2 million, to cover the Met Gala as its first ever meme correspondent. According to Saint Hoax, “Memes are essentially editorial cartoons for the Internet age. The power of a meme lies in its transmissibility and its unique ability to be cross-cultural.
“Memes have the uncanny ability to capture a moment while distracting people from reality. They sum up the times we live in while reminding us that it’s not that bad,” said Lola Tash, one of the founders of the meme account My Therapist Says.
The future of meme culture
Meme culture is constantly evolving, and while they are generally popular with Internet users, their future remains unpredictable. Some of the most popular meme creators have their own hypotheses, ranging from memes as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as paid consumer goods to memes as integral parts of more traditional media and reporting. Only time will tell what will really happen.
Some memes that have made history
You’ve probably seen them pass by because of their immense virality. Here are a few popular meme characters from the past few years.