We see them everywhere we go: memes. For a long time I had no clue what those funny pictures with the big block text on them were actually called. Maybe you are, or were, in a similar boat? Today, we will take a look at what a meme is and hopefully share a few interesting tidbits of meme history!
Definition of a meme
The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that a meme (mi:m) is a noun:
1. An element of a culture or system of behavior passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
2. An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.
A few of you will know (okay.. VERY few) that the word takes its origin from the Attic Greek ‘μίμησις’ which translates to imitation or making a likeness (Perseus Encyclopaedia). So when you see something like the meme below, we can tell that the meme in question is by taking a popular image from the film ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’, and creating something similar.
This imitation is achieved mostly by using the Candy Man’s expression to make it appear that he really could be saying the new line of text. The first official use of the word “meme” has been credited to the well known evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”.
History of internet memes
One of the earliest internet memes came in 1996, when the 3D dancing baby model became one of the first viral hits. Versions of the baby showed up on a number of TV shows, most prominently on Fox’s hit dramedy Ally McBeal. Yet another early internet meme hit was the Hamster Dance web site in 1998, featuring animated GIF images of dancing hamsters and other rodents.
The popularity of the many internet memes that center on images with big blocks of white texts can be traced back to 2007. That’s when Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami took an image of a cat found on the Something Awful site and placed a new caption on top: “I can has cheezburger?”. The image was posted on their website and the rest is history. While similar images were previously posted on the 4chan site, the “I can has cheezburger?” meme caused the trend to really take off for a more mainstream internet audience.
Uses of memes on the internet
In today’s internet-centric society, we have been rapidly moving away from proper long-form conversations and have been moving towards instantaneous communication brought about largely by social media such as Twitter. We may be only allowed 140 characters, but that does not mean that we cannot stick a meme into our tweets to make them more impactful. Pictures, as opposed to text, have much more pull on our emotions. Memes have also made their way into the political sphere, proving that they can be used to spread more serious information. Making someone laugh, by showing them a meme, can impact the way in which they view a subject, which is one way that people can use memes to change the public opinion.
Memes play an important part in bringing us all together, and Facebook has proved to be a wonderful platform for that. Just by searching on Facebook, you can find meme groups and pages for a variety of pop culture topics. Even college communities have been making pages for their memes, one of the first being the UC Berkeley page which quickly spread, and now most of the Ivy League have pages dedicated to their humor!
Let us know what you thought of our detailed discussion on memes in the comments. And if you want to see some of the finest memes available, check out our gallery of the best Android memes!