An insight into the crazy world of Internet Memes


When the term “Internet culture” comes to mind, one of the first things you’ll probably think of is an Internet meme. Over the past 10 years or so, memes have become so popular that they are now an integral part of our Internet lives. While many have a love/hate relationship with memes, it’s easy to see why they are so popular. They are easily shareable and simple to create, only requiring an image and overlaying text to produce a punchy piece of Internet culture. Today, memes can also be in the form of videos, animations and songs. While memes may seem like a by-product of the crazy world that is the Internet, their origins actually date further back.

One of the most recent viral video memes

The idea behind the word “meme” came from Richard Dawkins book on evolution, The Selfish Gene way back in 1976. In this book, Dawkins introduces the term “meme” to acknowledge how much of our behaviour is affected by culture, not genes. While genes take generations to make changes, memetic changes, such as language, religion, fashion etc. have a faster speed of transmission.

How does this relate to Internet memes, you ask?

As Davidson describes, “An Internet meme is a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission” (Davidson, P. 2012) .  The difference between an offline meme and an Internet meme is the speed of transmission, as online memes are able to reach a larger audience in a shorter amount of time.

So why are memes important?

Memes are cultural symbols and social ideas that spread virally (website). While most memes are jokes often involving loveable characters such as Grumpy Cat and Stoner Dog  they can also be an effective form of political and social commentary, which can have an effect on the mindset of those who view them.

Here are a few prime examples of Australian political memes:

tony abbott meme

kevin-rudd-waiting-for-a-mate Kevin

Memes can also be used to promote products, either inadvertently through parody and the sharing of “banned” ads or adult themed content. While many companies deny responsibility for these ads, it’s hard to believe that they were an unwilling participant, particularly due to their high share ability.

NB: adult only content!

While memes are usually funny and witty, they also have the potential to be rude, crude, racist or sexist and since almost anyone can create their own meme, it’s often hard to find the person responsible. So if a picture of yourself ends up becoming a meme, you can always take notes from Blake Boston (aka Scumbag Steve) and regain control of your internet fame.

If you liked this post, you can find more info on memes from these websites:

Timeline of memes

7 memes that went viral before the Internet

The best memes of the past 15 years

Reference: Davidson, P 2012, ‘The language of internet memes’, in M. Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, pp. 120 – 134 New York: New York University Press

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