What’s in a meme?

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Special thanks thanks to all the brilliant folks on the image boards for the image macros.


Chances are even if you don’t know what a meme is you have already participated in the proliferation and dispersal of a meme.

  • If you have ever forwarded a video or an image of a cat with a funny caption you have helped spread a meme, and in doing so you have passed a unit of culture or an idea to your friends. If they like the content in turn they will pass the image or video to their friends, and so on… 

Memes in the brain? Its more common than you might think. (I just planted one right there)

Why talk about memes on the Artlarking blog?

Memes are fascinating and more sophisticated than they are given credit for. They are a fundamentally collaborative endeavor.A meme is more or less an inside joke or common idea shared amongst individuals, some times in real life(IRL) and sometimes on the internet(OTI).

Not to say that all memes are merely related to humor, however the vast majority of new memes have some sort of humorous component. A meme can be a poorly photoshopped picture. Or a piece of crudely made art done with ms paint. Or a picture of a cat with a caption on it. Or a clever phrase repeated. But a meme is actually a subtle and nuanced act of brutal sophistication.

If “Language is a virus from outer space.” as William S. Burroughs said, then a meme is a parasite from another dimension that lives in your brain. Gross. But it’s all the more strong than just language. It has the full powers of all known aspects of media. Language, photography, illustration, video and internet where all these media now live and are capable of spreading at the click of a button.

Only strong memes are capable of being spread and proliferating throughout the global super-conscious.

If an organism with powerful jaws is adapted to eating tortoises it will pass that trait to it’s descendants. A particularly clever meme may find a niche and pass itself on to like other susceptible hosts.

The meme featuring George Bush above will find its home in the minds of liberals. However, to fully understand the meme, one must have also been a viewer of Sesame Street. Cookie Monster’s famous line was, “I saved you a cookie, but I ate it.” You also have to be politically savvy enough to remember George Bush’s mission accomplished speech.

Thus the niche of this particular meme is the minds of liberals who grew up watching Sesame Street and know of the mission accomplished speech. A fairly specific niche if you think about it.

Furthering the similarities to organisms is the way only successful memes will be passed to new hosts or survive to be reproduced in the minds of others. How many times have you told someone about something that sucks? Maybe a few, but you can bet they forgot about it rather than pass it on again.

The greatest survival trait of a meme is its ability to change over time.

A meme is capable of changing through the process of selection to represent what the people most need or desire. Memes display aspects of Lamarckian and Darwinian schools of evolution.

The “Bitches Don’t Know X” series of images show the evolution of a meme.

  • The first image is altered. Other memes are incorporated into it. Its domain expands.
  • From the original to Wilford Brimley. From Brimley to Rick Astley. The evolution of the meme  is tangible.

This shows the meme’s ability  to acquire new parts of other memes. And to improve its viability in new niches.

Think about that the next time you laugh about something and forward it on the internet!

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a meme?

  1. Pingback: Meme Sites Are Spreading Cultivating Cultural Information Mind To Mind | Internet Billboards

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