Memes 101: Introduction to Meme Culture

Graphic by Fani Hseih

I think a large majority of people are familiar with what a meme is, but it’s doubtful many of us could define what exactly it is. Our classification of a meme will vary from person to person. Most will say memes are some form of joke seen on the internet; however, they aren’t restricted to the online world.

Many, including myself, repeat and imitate memes to everyone else’s disappointment and annoyance. Memes are so prevalent and widespread that they can be seen on everything from clothing, to references in movies and television shows. This raises the question of what memes say about us and our generation. I believe that memes will be our legacy and I think this is a good thing.

One beneficial thing memes have going for them, is their ability to bring people together. Memes have created large communities – not just limited to the internet – of people who are incredibly passionate about them. Do a quick search on Facebook for meme groups and you’ll see what I mean. They even get oddly specific, from groups dedicated to “stolen,” Vaporwave and “A E S T H E T I C” memes, to ones centered around philosophy.

Memes have created tight-knit, niche communities which have inadvertently connected people around the world through their passion for them. These connections can be vital in allowing people to be social, without being physically near others.

It’s healthy to be social right? This leads into how positive memes can be, specifically when encouraging and developing creativity within groups of people.

Memes have consistently demonstrated what creativity people have, while also saying something about their particular sense of humour. Whether or not you find them funny, there is certainly an audience for them – an audience that continues to encourage their cultivation and circulation. Creativity is nurtured online through this medium, shaping a new generation of designers that could potentially put their talents into jobs of the digital world.

While it takes a completely separate discussion to determine what constitutes tasteful, politically correct humour, it can still be said that artistry is developed through various memes, regardless.

Another aspect of memes that I think will have a lasting impact on this generation, will be their new function as a news source. Many events can be seen in memes extremely quickly after they happen. An example of this being  the events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia in mid-August. Updates surrounding the deaths of protesters and escalation of violence were just as quickly spread by memes as they were on the news.

Since a great number of people now directly get their information about the world online via sites like Facebook, these memes can often be the first look people get into world events. Whether you believe this is valuable or not, it is an astounding change nonetheless. We live in a world where people can get news and updates directly from an online, picture-based medium, showing just how far we’ve come.

The argument can be made that the above points are invalid, misguided even. Some may say  that memes are not a great, new form of communication due to the potential harm that they can cause.

I agree that memes can be challenging due to their content, but I don’t believe that it takes away from the power of the – dare I call it – art-form. Memes have risen to such a sophisticated plane of being, that this generation will certainly be remembered for them, if nothing else.

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